Our Good Schools Guide Review

We are proud to announce that the internationally recognised “Good Schools Guide” has chosen SISD as one of its first international schools to review.

The Good Schools Guide stands as an independent, candid, well-informed, and unbiased resource, lending it distinctive authority and garnering trust from parents and educational institutions globally. With a 35-year track record of being relied upon by parents, the guides feature unbiased and frank school reviews alongside comprehensive articles addressing education-related matters.

Discover our review below or here.

What the Good Schools Guide says


Principal


Since 2021, Ruth Burke BEd MEd. Attended Trinity College, Dublin and later University of
Bath, completing her master’s in educational leadership. ‘My mum always tells the story that
on my first day of school I came home and declared I was going to be a teacher. I never deviated
from that,’ she says smiling.
Teaching career started in Ireland, and then moved to the UK where she got stuck in with early
years education in Melksham school, Wiltshire and Westlea school, Swindon. In 2007, her
husband’s job moved them to Dubai, two small children in tow, and she joined JESS Jumeirah,
as a teacher, working up the ladder to head teacher over an eight-year tenure. She then spent
three years as principal at GEMS Wellington International school and two years as director at
Deira International school before taking up the helm here.
‘The bilingualism was the biggest attraction for me, having been brought up in a bilingual home
in Ireland,’ she says. Parents agree she is a great fit for the school, as while she doesn’t speak
French and German fluently (French to A level though!), she understands what a multilingual
education looks like, having completed her degree in both English and Irish.
Vivacious in character, giving a firm nod to a stereotypical Irish national, we found a passionate
head, energetic about the journey the school is on and always thinking about the next step in
its development. Diplomatic and kind, according to parents, she also likes to engage with the
students: reading in KG, dropping into PE classes and offering principal award stickers.
Married with three children (two grown up, living in London and New York), and one
grandchild, she proclaims she’s a football mum (to the youngest who lives with them in Dubai)
and spends most of her free time outdoors. When sport isn’t at the forefront, they love beach
time and trips to the picturesque mountains of Hatta for some well-deserved relaxation.


Entrance


School has capacity to reach 2,450 students, but with pockets of space. Secondary places
generally easier to come by as they are not pinned to a particular language pathway.
Entry assessment is play based for early years (‘it’s great that the room has glass walls so the
kids can still see their parents’), primary children have a written maths, English and language
(French or German) test, and secondary students undergo a standard CAT4 and supply school
reports. For those entering grades 10 and 11, there is a short interview with the IB academic
head and for boarders they meet the head of boarding, mainly to validate that they are fit for
boarding emotionally but also to explore personality and check in on food/medical issues.


Exit


Early exit is due primarily to relocation. There are no other comparable schools in the city with
the same quality in bilingualism (and offering boarding). Careers planning starts from grade
six and university counsellor is diligent in organising coffee mornings, uni fairs etc, creating a
real buzz amongst the students.
‘We are hearing from employers that languages will take these children far,’ says head
confidently. And if university choices are anything to go by, they are certainly on track.
Many choose British and European universities with University of Bristol, University of
Edinburgh, University of Groningen and Stockholm School of Economics all popular
destinations, but school has seen recent expansion towards Canada and America too eg
Columbia, UCLS, and University of Pennsylvania. A number also stay in the Middle East.


Latest results


In 2023, the average IB score was 32, with a highest score of 42, and the average MYP score
was 41 with a 100 per cent pass rate. In 2022, the average IB score was 34, with a highest score
of 41, and the average MYP score was 41, up from 2021, when the average was 33 and 40
respectively.
School is fully inclusive and yet encourages all students to take the IB as they see it as ‘the
gold standard of education’.


Teaching and learning


SISD offers three learning streams: English/French bilingual programme, English/German
bilingual programme, and (in primary only) the IB STEAM programme which sees young
children learn in English (building knowledge using STEAM subjects to enhance critical
thinking) and experience four hours a week of either French or German with two teachers in
the classroom co-teaching in their respective languages.
Feedback is that children gain confidence in languages and embrace the curriculum with
inquisitiveness and freedom to choose how they learn and explore. Class sizes are 24 at
capacity, which didn’t feel too big, especially with two teachers working in groups; only
snipe from parents is that they would like all the teachers to be native speakers which isn’t
always the case. We loved the external opportunities too: giant chess, mud kitchens with
planting troughs and even an outdoor classroom used for physical development or
glockenspiel music lessons.
In secondary, students can continue to follow their bilingual pathway (or English only) with
an option to study three subjects in French or German. They work through the IB middle
years programme in grades 6 to 10 and onto the IB diploma in grades 11-12 or choose a more
vocational pathway with the IB career pathway and BTEC options. The main school building
is contemporary and colour coordinated by subject on each floor, with sixth form at the top.
As you might expect in a school with science in its name, there are many (11 at the last
count) science labs to support the popular subjects of physics, biology, chemistry and
environmental science, and head tells us that economics, business and psychology have also
taken off.
Libraries in both primary and secondary shelve English, French, German and Arabic books,
the latter with modern study booths and study rooms attached.
Homework in younger years is reading and times tables with French/German language
learning for bilingual pupils. From grade 3, there is usually a handwritten piece and tasks via
an app. Weekly communication to parents in English and complemented with appreciated
social media key reminders and events. United praise for the yearly calendar of events which
helps families with organisation.


Learning support and SEN


Wonderful head of inclusion, committed to educating community and parents on what it
means to be an inclusive school. She manages a large team who work on identification,
observation and assessment of students. Around eleven per cent of students are on the SEN
register (ranging from level 1 to 3) with moderate to more severe learning difficulties,
including dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, ASD, ADHD, non-verbal (these children use
basic communication with prompts and have a modified curriculum based on life skills) and
physically disabled students. Push-in and pull-out support offered depending on the lesson
and child’s needs.
School uses a self-guided, online therapy programme in French and English and can also
bring in external therapists, including speech and occupational therapists.
Fully accessible campus with lifts including in the boarding houses. Classrooms have flexible
seating and there is a sensory room with calm music, softer lights and even a physio bed. A
new inclusion room is also being designed which is set to have a Lego station, climbing wall
and a swing – all brilliant additions!


Language support


As children are bilingual (most actually multilingual with 40 languages spoken in family
homes), good language support is essential, and the school does not come up short. Around
fifteen per cent of students receive extra help from the language support team. There is one
lead for each language in both primary and secondary and a wider group of staff members
working under them. Students get outside support in small groups of six to ten over a period
of six weeks before reintegration into the classroom.
Mother tongue lessons (eg Russian, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin) are offered with an
outside provider during timetabled Islamic lessons.


The arts and extracurricular


Art spreads deeper than just fine arts and we really enjoyed exploring the grades 8-11 Junk
Kouture projects (department lead is ‘mad about sustainability’), with its competition worthy
designs including dresses made of Halloween sweet wrappers, carrier bags and café receipts –
fantastic!
Performing arts is growing, with a yearly end of year show and a dance programme newly
added. The barre studio and black room were both full of life on our visit. Parents enthuse
that the school’s recent acquisition by Nord Anglia will avail more opportunities, especially
with their link with Julliard in New York.
Reasonable opportunities for the musically talented. Instruments are explored in primary,
along with individual music lessons twice yearly concerts. While there is a choir (Super
Singers) there is no school orchestra though ‘tuneful Tuesdays’ allow students to perform,
and there is a live lounge on the roof top after school.
ECA’s are allocated on a first come first served basis, and plenty of language options eg
German creative writing club, French book club and many clubs in English such as gardening,
Lego etc. Some mutters that there isn’t enough availability for the one to two free clubs in
primary, but the secondary offering seems broader with photography, art and junk kouture
alongside sports and enriching council groups eg digital, bilingualism and sustainability. Bright
students can join the maths club for extra challenge – there is no segregation of kids in lessons.
Many paid activities on offer and school is open to student requests eg adding extra piano, a
water polo club and the crochet club in the lunch time opportunity hour.


Sports


Teams participate in the DASSA league in six main sports: basketball, golf, tennis, swimming,
football and athletics. Top notch facilities with two full sized tennis courts, basketball courts,
large football pitches and both indoor (280m) and outdoor (400m) running tracks. No rugby or
netball but we are told there is ‘no audience for it’. Athletes from grade 6 upwards are supported
with a well-stocked weights room, circuit training sessions and a cardio suite (treadmills have
a beautiful bird’s eye view onto the pitches and the Dubai city skyline in the distance). Squads
in general are evolving; tennis performance already strong and encouraged as an after-school
activity too. Students incorporate sport into their everyday life here – it’s not all about winning
cups. Beyond the main sports, children also play padel, beach volleyball and table tennis with
fabulous amenities, and the large indoor sports hall has climbing walls.
One of only a few schools in Dubai with an impressive 10 lane Olympic size (50m) swimming
pool so you would expect swimming teams to compete at the highest level, but parents say its
work in progress. An external club offers early morning swim training – students eat breakfast
with the boarders which swim parents say is a bonus. A partner athletics academy will soon
offer morning and after school training too.
Primary has a small ‘learn to swim’ pool and in the warmer months, an indoor assault course
is built in the corridor between the playground and pool which the children say they love. They
also have skipathons and Zumba – sounds fun!


Boarders


Only 15 minutes from Dubai International airport, the two boarding houses, aptly named
Geneva (boys) and Zurich (girls), sit nearby the sports facilities and lodge just over 50
students each from grade 6 (majority are grade 8 upwards). Mainly full boarders with around
20 per cent weekly and a handful of flexi boarders; 35 different nationalities. The
weekly/flexi boarders tend to live a little further out in say Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) or The
Palm or are sporty kids who use the facilities late or have early morning squads. There are
five members of staff in each house and no day students are allowed inside. Boys and girls
houses can mix on the ground floor only.
Dorms (if you can call them that – two bedrooms in grades 6-9 and single beds for grades 10-
12) are modern with inbuilt shelving, wired up desks and are all ensuite.
We spied a box in the common room full of mobile phones (not locked up – this is Dubai you
know) alongside organic juices. Boarders check in and out using an app which parents can
also access and can grant permission for their child to leave on the weekend eg with a friend.
There are no fixed exeats.
Secondary staff lean into boarding life and join students for help with studies. Prep time is
between 5pm and 8pm and is supervised in the common room for the younger students,
whereas seniors can retreat to their bedrooms. All meals are eaten in the canteen (with buffet
breakfast and dinner, and live cooking stations) and the boarding house kitchen, fridge and
pantry are fully stocked.
Parents of non-boarders say their kids are ‘a little jealous’ and that they are treated as a
separate group, firmly labelled ‘boarders’. And we totally understand why they would be!
Weekend time is busy with a fun Friday of a pool party and movie night, a Saturday
excursion and Sunday chill day. Trips, organised three weekends a month and incorporated in
the fees, include visits to Ferrari world, Atlantis and Ski Dubai. Experiencing the UAE and
its culture is important too so organised hikes in RAK and visits of the Old Souk also feature.


Ethos and heritage


Founded in 2015, by Omar Danial, a Swiss national (hotelier and financier) who moved to
Dubai in 2010 and, as a parent of six children, realised there was no bilingual school option
for them.
Every part of the school has words written in three languages with a firm nod to its values
and desire to be an authentic bilingual school. Parents say the main reason for choosing the
school is the language offering and most also appreciate the ‘freedom’ (from exams) that
comes with the IB curriculum, even if some would like a bit more structure.
Its 2023 acquisition by Nord Anglia Education is largely seen as positive due to the global
infrastructure that the school can benefit from. These links have started already eg grade 2 pen
pals with College du Leman students. Teachers are also obtaining more training via workshops,
and children are excited about upcoming links with MIT and Julliard.
Located in Al Jaddaf, the large campus overlooks Dubai Creek and while not in a residential
area, access is plentiful with almost 40 bus routes.
Strict uniform in primary: ‘If you don’t have the right hoodie you would be cold in class,’
however in secondary, students can express themselves with their extremities – think cool
footwear (the Doc Martens and Jordans were out in full force) and coloured hair accessories.
Dress down Friday’s see everyone in house shirts and teachers in red polo shirts.
School feels energetic. On our visit the auditorium stage was decorated and fully alive with
children singing and playing instruments for the German Fest. The feeling of harvest really
resonated through the performance and carried through to the cafeteria, complete with trays
of food by parents wanting to share fruits of their land. The canteen is open seven days a
week providing hot and cold meals; the tuck shop too.
Students join one of four houses, Geneva, Lugano, Bern and Zurich and house spirit is strong.
House points are given for academics, behaviour, participation, and sporting events.
Leadership opportunities wide. Yes, they have the typical house captains in both primary and
secondary and a student council made up of grade 12 students, but they are also open to
student-led initiatives – the green, inclusion and animal welfare committees are strong.


Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline


Huge diversity with students from a variety of cultures and speaking different languages –
everyone has a mutual respect. Where problems arise, school adopts a restorative justice
approach. ‘It’s an opportunity for the student to learn and reflect,’ says principal. School has a
full time, multilingual counsellor in both primary and secondary (who visits the boarding house
twice a week). In primary the class teacher, parent or leadership refer pupils; in secondary
students reach out independently.
School seen as brilliant with feedback eg putting together a fun programme for secondary
students to enjoy their school life, including non-uniform days and pool parties.
Pupils and parents
Over 100 nationalities; with French, German and Swiss the top three. On walking around the
playground, it was clear that children switch languages naturally. No huge segregation though;
with few cliques and children seen as accepting and open minded.
Some parents get very involved, playing a huge part in the day to day at school. They decorate
class doors, volunteer at events, and talk careers to the class. It’s apparent that the bulk of
students here are very entrepreneurial and come from innovative households.


Money matters


Fees high (one of the most expensive in Dubai) and comparable to popular UK public schools.
Parents moan about the additional costs (donations, resources, trips etc) but improvements are
constantly being made with the campus evolving and new sports kit for example. Academic,
sports and boarding scholarships offered.


The last word


The ‘Little people, big dreams’ books spotted in reception sums the school up perfectly. This
is a school dedicated to offering students the ability to explore what they enjoy, in their
languages of choice, while learning skills and gaining good results along the journey. With a
growing boarding programme and more opportunities ahead under the Nord Anglia Education
umbrella, its future looks promising.

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