The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls, Al Musalla
• 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
““The Sheikh Zayed Academy is one of the most exclusive and prestigious schools in the region.” Sunny Varkey. Chairman. GEMS Education
Updated November 2016
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.
Making sense of the school objectively does, however, present some difficulties. Information provided by the schools themselves are limited, particularly with regards to the curriculum. To understand the context of American schools we recommend that prospective parents read our High School Diploma Guide which can be found here. Whilst both schools are effectively accredited (by the New England Association of Schools And Colleges (NEASC) and secondarily by the Council of International Schools (CIS)), we have ongoing concerns at the value of the High School Diploma in isolation of parallel full Advanced Placement provision.
Positively, both schools do adopt the Common Core curriculum standards for the teaching of the Arts, and Next Generation standards in Science. The latter is not advertised on either of the school’s web sites and highlights a general weakness in the depth of information provided to parents, and particularly prospective parents considering the school for the education of their child(ren). Neither school has a Facebook presence, something expected of today’s schools – and equally there is a complete absence of published newsletters celebrating the achievements of children.
We feel that both of these issues should be addressed by the schools over time. To be fair, the boys school opened in 2015 and there any new school needs time to bed-in provision and develop. It is hoped that with two schools now operating under the same umbrella, and given GEMS expertise in this area, the curriculum will eventually evolve to match the clear success of the school in nurturing and inspiring a love of Arabic culture within its students. There is some history here; 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, however, 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 frustration in three areas. First, the school has 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.
Second, teacher turnover continues to be worryingly high. In 2014 it ran at 25% and in 2016 only marginally improved by a single percentage point to 24%. This scale of teacher turnover is out of step for GEMS schools and it will be prioritising resolving this. Teachers, not bricks and mortar, are the drivers of school performance and this level of ongoing inability retain 25% of its staff will inevitably be having knock-on impacts on children.
Finally, inspectors raise broad concern with external examinations. We think these issues fall broadly within the context of our concern above that the school needs to strengthen its curriculum by incorporating effectively integrating Advanced Placement as an expected outcome for students – this will in itself drive up standards and provide the examination data that is currently so lacking. As it stands, it is simply not possible for parents to benchmark the examination performance of the school against its sector.
Prospective parents should note that school fees offer good value given the balance of prestige and (expensive) US and British faculty. Ranging between 27,600AED at KG phases to 63,700AED in the Diploma years, they only just fall into the very lowest end of premium fees in later years. 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.
The school’s Principal and CEO, Lisa Haydon Hewitt, joined the school in August 2015. She brings 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 has been limited, but ADEC inspectors rate 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 record 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.” Critically, Ms Hewitt is also seeking to address quickly issues with staff turnover by de-centralising management and empowering teachers across the school with the result that staff morale is now “high” and a new sense of “real Pride in the school” has emerged during her first year. This said high staff turnover remains a concern for governors and school leadership.
Pulling all this together in terms of a recommendation for prospective parents is difficult. The school is clearly midway through a journey. Positively we can say that under the current Head all of the issues are being addressed. It will, however, take time – and this is a school that parents will need to visit for themselves to define the level at which it is currently able to best meet the needs of their children. The stakes are high – this is a school with the potential to be outstanding. As it stands that is some way off – but the capacity, drive and GEMS backing are at least in place to make it happen. Time will tell.COMING SOON on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com COMING SOON on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
Under review 2017-18
YEAR 1: 40,800
YEAR 2: 40,800
YEAR 3: 40,800
YEAR 4: 40,800
YEAR 5: 46,400
YEAR 6: 46,400
YEAR 7: 51,500
YEAR 8: 51,500
YEAR 9: 57,000
YEAR 10: 63,700
YEAR 11: 63,700
YEAR 12: 63,700
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
1:20 - 1:25
(1) KG/FS: 1:25
(2) Grade 1 - Grade 12: 1:20
(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: 87%
(2) Jordanian: 3%
(3) US: 1%
(1) KG – Grade 3: Mixed
(2) Grade 4 - Grade:12 Female
(3) Special Educational Needs excluding G&T: 26
(4) 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%)