The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls, Al Musalla – The Review
““The Sheikh Zayed Academy is one of the most exclusive and prestigious schools in the region.” Sunny Varkey. Chairman. GEMS Education
Updated January 2019 -Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls ADEC 2018 and SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2019
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls, established in 2000, is the founding school for what has, since 2015, been a group of two schools, one for boys, one for girls operating under the same brand and mission of the “Sheikh Zayed Private Academy”.
Both schools are bi-lingual American curriculum schools that have are part of a growing cluster of schools seeking to provide both a traditional, faith-based curriculum for its children that nurtures a love, knowledge and respect of/for Arabic traditions, history and culture, but strengthened with first class Western academics so that students on leaving the school can access the broadest range of options globally, whether in industry or further study.
The school, whilst owned by the Private Office of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan through his Al Ain Educational Investments company, is managed and run by GEMS Education. For many parents, this unique combination of the prestige attached to what is effectively seen as a Royal school with the day-to-day management expertise of GEMS schooling, is one that is unequalled in any other school in the Emirate. Both schools are seen as Tier 1s in the eyes of parents and there is significant demand for places.
Curriculum information demonstrates outstanding subject breadth with the High School Diploma strengthened with Advanced Placement provision.
Both schools adopt the Common Core curriculum standards for the teaching of the Arts, and Next Generation standards in Science.
Historically the girls school briefly (2005) looked at founding its education on the Canadian system with later IB provision, something that was eventually replaced with its current American core curriculum approach, this we are guessing because the US curriculum provides much greater latitude for integrating the Arabic and faith context so important to the school’s almost completely Arabic Parents (>90%).
It is that Arabic context that really shines. Facilities and design, particularly at the boys’ but also at the girls’ school, really emphasise the combination of and play between Arabic and ultra-modern Western culture. The approach works beautifully – the school environment is inspirational, impressive and warm in equal measure. ADEC does identify a need to increase investment in technology and IT, but this is a rare weakness in other wise exceptionally high standards of design and facilities.
These include (in both schools) a dedicated exceptionally equipped Play Area solely for the KG phases; multi-purpose Gymnasiums by KG and secondary phases; secondary “Knowledge Centre” and Elementary library; ICT labs by phase; Separate Prayer rooms for primary and secondary children; Individual labs by each of the sciences at Secondary phase; a dedicated Elementary lab; indoor swimming pool; a “Diner” Cafeteria; and variety of colourful and “comfy” reading, meeting and chill areas dotted throughout the school. In its combination of design, breadth of facility provision and warmth it’s a genuinely lovely school environment.
Teaching itself is mixed, co-educational until Grade 4 at which point the school is for girls only. Prospective parents should note that Teachers are exclusively female. There is some disadvantage to this approach because of a lack of male role models in each child’s education, but it is a necessary trade-off of an all-girl education.
In an overwhelmingly otherwise positive inspection, ADEC does express some concern at ongoing difficulties in enforcing punctuality. This is an issue not uncommon in Arabic schools, but as the inspectors point out, late children disrupt the education of those who do arrived on time and it really does need to be addressed. The school enjoys very good relationships with parents and hopefully this will enable it to build consensus that punctuality is important.
Teacher turnover continues to fall. In 2014 it ran at 25% and in 2016, 24%. In 2018 this has now fallen to 19%, below average for the UAE, but higher than we would like. We think all schools should be aiming for single digit teacher turnover. Teachers, not bricks and mortar, are the drivers of school performance and a child’s experience of a lack of consistent teaching faculty does have knock-on impacts.
Inspectors have also historically raised broad concern with external examinations. As Advanced Placement embeds itself as an expected outcome for students this will in itself drive up standards, provide the examination data for effective benchmarks – and open significant post-graduation pathways for students to universities worldwide.
Prospective parents should note that school fees are extremely expensive Tier 1 but we think offer good value given the balance of prestige and (expensive) US and British faculty. Ranging between 29,500AED at KG phases to 68,00AED in the final years, these will be beyond the menas of many parents. The Girls School too, notwithstanding that it is an older school, offers comparatively good value against its boy school counterpart until Year 9, running with between 7,000AED and 20,000AED lower fees per year depending on the Grade.
In terms of school leadership, there has been significant Principal turnover/gaps. As of writing (January 2019) Huda Al Tamimi, Vice Principal, is standing in as Principal. This follows the leave of Janet DesJardins, whose leadership was rated Outstanding by ADEC, after around a year in post.
Prior to this, School’s Principal and CEO, Lisa Haydon Hewitt, had joined the school in August 2015 and was in post for just two years. Ms Hewitt had brought with her 15 years’ experience in schools worldwide, including posts in her native Australia where she took a Masters specialising in Gifted and Talented children (G&T), as well as leadership positions in both Singapore and Hong Kong. Feedback to our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com had been limited, but ADEC inspectors rated her management and leadership “outstanding.”
One test of a Principal is their capacity to be realistic and ADEC’s praise of her understanding of the school’s weaknesses, and capacity to address them, is significant. They recorded in just one year her “positive impact”, “clear vision” and strategic planning” and highlight her “recognition that the school has not given sufficient prominence to the pursuit of academic excellence benchmarked to international standards.” Ms Hewitt de-centralised management and empowered teachers across the school with resulting higher staff morale and a new sense of “real Pride in the school.”
Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls bottom line. The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2019.
There are relatively few pure US curricular schools in the UAE that go beyond providing the, in or view insufficient, High School for graduating children. There are three ways that the best US schools strengthen their post-16 provision so that children can access top tier universities worldwide on graduation: Advanced Placement, the International Baccalareate Diploma (ideally with the Career-related Programme) or A Level.
The purest form of American schooling combined the High School Diploma with Advanced Placement – and arguably this is also the best for an Arabic School seeking to protect its culture whilst also providing global context and accreditation.
Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls does this whilst also providing very high cache and history.
Academics and child progress are first rate, subject choice strong and facilities this side of Outstanding.
The school does need to provide better continuity of leadership ideally – and provide more transparency on AP performance, but otherwise this is a school that delivers for its children – if they can afford the fees. This sort of an education does have a proportional price tag and we would like to see the introduction of bursaries to broaden the school’s inclusive focus.
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls has been shortlisted for the Best Arabic Blended Curriculum School in the UAE 2019 at the SchoolsCompared.com annual education awards to be held on March 7th 2019.
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Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Under review 2019-20
YEAR 1: 43,500
YEAR 2: 43,500
YEAR 3: 43,500
YEAR 4: 43,500
YEAR 5: 49,500
YEAR 6: 49,500
YEAR 7: 55,000
YEAR 8: 55,000
YEAR 9: 60,800
YEAR 10: 68,000
YEAR 11: 68,000
YEAR 12: 68,000
YEAR 13: NA
American/US -Arabic (Bilingual)
New England Association of Schools And Colleges (NEASC)
Council of International Schools (CIS)
Common Core (Massachusetts)
Next generation Science
(1) Students have to "demonstrate academic and behavioral readiness."
(2) Application process includes confidential letters of recommendation; school records; assessments in Mathematics, English and Arabic; and,and an interview with School Personnel.
(3) Admissions testing is required for all students from Grade 1 to Grade 12 for entrance and grade placement. Students must be at appropriate academic levels in Reading, Math and Arabic (native speakers) to enable them to successfully access the SZPAG curriculum.
(4) Students who are non-native Arabic speakers or native speakers who hold passports from non-Arabic countries may be exempt from the minimum language requirements.
(5) The school only considers children with mild Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
(1) KG: 282
(2) Primary: 653
(3) Middle: 309
(4) High: 161
(1) North American: 54
(2) UK: 20
(3) U.A.E.: 2
(4) Note: Female teachers only
Al Musalla / Al Bateen Abu Dhabi
Emirati (largest nationality)
(1) Emirati: 89%
(2) Jordanian: 3%
(3) US: 2%
(4) SEND: 31
(1) KG – Grade 3: Mixed
(2) Grade 4 - Grade:12 Female
(3) G&T: 140
Private Office of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Al Ain Educational Investments (Alain Holding)
(1) Fully managed and runs by GEMS Education
+971 (0)2 619 5555
(Note: KG 100%)
(Note: KG 60%)
• Outstanding new school leadership
• GEMS Education backing
• Meets unmet demand for all-girl schooling
• Hybrid faith-based curriculum
• Inspiring curriculum framework for the teaching of Arabic culture and nurturing its appreciation within children
• Excellent facilities and design – inspiring genuine warmth
• Borderline mid-tier fees for a high profile school
• Significant weaknesses in curriculum at secondary phases
• Lack of structured AP provision
• Poor transparency and information
• Historically available scholarship provision is no longer advertised
• Weakness in IT infrastructure
• High teacher turnover