Full steam aheadJanuary 14, 2018, 3:55 pm GMT
Ten years ago, Abu Dhabi-based developer Aldar entered the education sector with the opening of its first primary school The Pearl Academy, which launched with 247 students in the UAE capital's Al Dhafrah neighbourhood.
Following the success of The Pearl Academy, Aldar then launched the Al Muna Academy in 2008 previously a government school property that was renovated and reflagged as a primary.
With two primary schools under its belt , Aldar opened Al Yasmina Academy its first through school in 2009, followed swiftly by Al Bateen 2010, a secondary school that catered to primary school students from Al Muna and The Pearl who were looking for secondary school places.
Given the capacity at Al Bateen in its early days, the school also housed a temporary primary campus called Al Mushrif, which eventually merged with the Al Mamoura Academy when it opened in 2016. Today, Al Mamoura functions as a co-educational primary and girls only secondary school.
Also in 2016, Aldar Academies opened Al Ain Academy its first school in the city and West Yas Academy, the first American curriculum school for the operator.
Since 2007, Aldar Academies has invested over AED 1 billion in education, and the seven schools today cater to more than 6500 students.
Overseeing the group's growth is CEO Nilay Özral, who joined Aldar in 2010 and was appointed CEO of Aldar Education in 2013.
Impressively, three schools Al Bateen Academy, Al Mushrif Academy, and Al Muna Academy have also been rated Outstanding by Abu Dhabi's Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK). In fact, Al Yasmina Academy and The Pearl Academy are the only two schools that will not be inspected by ADEK for two inspection cycles under its new rule for schools rated Outstanding or Very Good in more than two consecutive inspection cycles.
Aldar Academies' schools have also shown year-on-year improvement in IB, GCSE and A Level results, beating world averages every year.
Recently the operator also launched the Academy of Excellence, which will help exceptional students across the seven schools fulfil their potential in academics, art, sports and music.
Every year, the Academy of Excellence will select students from Years 5 to 11 across Aldar Academies schools to participate in tailored programmes that include learning initiatives and activities such as masterclasses, workshops, discussions and specialised educational visits.
Every year, one student from each category will also receive an AED250,000 award toward their university fees.
In addition to its own schools, Aldar Academies also recently signed a contract to manage four ADNOC schools in the Al Dhafra region. These include the Sas Al Nakhl campus, Ruwais campus, Madinat Zayed campus, and Ghayathi campus.
The management contract, which added more than 7000 students to Aldar Academies' remit, doubled, overnight, the school operator's size.
All in all, Aldar Academies today provides education to close to 7500 students, and appoints more than 2000 staff in total.
Given the overnight expansion of the group's portfolio, you'd think Aldar Academies would be happy with its current haul. However, the group has several plans for the next five years, we learn.
First, the school group will enter the nursery sector with its first early learning centre, scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2018. The Al Forsan Nursery will open in Al Forsan International Sports Centre.
The nursery will offer the British Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum for children aged two to four years old, with priority admissions to Aldar Academies schools offered where possible, Özral tells Education Journal Middle East.
With one nursery set to open soon, the operator is eyeing a minimum of eight to 10 nurseries in the next five years, a number that is achievable given the availability of buildings suited for nurseries, Özral reveals.
She explains: "In our strategic plan, over the next five years we want to have a minimum of eight to 10 nurseries. Opening nurseries is much easier you can also rent some available buildings. We did find a lot of buildings for our first one, but we really wanted something that was very different than the current nurseries. This one is in a horseshoe shape; it's a bungalow, all on one level, so it's as if it was built for us."
Another area of focus for Aldar Academies is entering the mid-market school sector. The operator has already picked a brand name for its mid-market portfolio, but details won't be revealed until the first school is announced.
The operator is currently working on at least one British curriculum school, which Özral says will most likely open in 2019. However, plans for the mid-market sector are equally ambitious, with Aldar eyeing six to seven schools over the next five years.
"We want to go into the mid-tier sector because there's a big demand there, and one of our aims is also to lead the education sector in the UAE," Özral states.
Despite the mid-market tag, Özral is keen to assert that quality of education across the operator's schools will not be compromised.
"You cannot compromise the quality of education, whether it's a mid-tier or high tier school. Students from both types of schools should be able to pass the exams and earn the grades required to get into the Harvards, and Oxfords and MITs of the world. It's the delivery of education that's different maybe in the high tier schools you experience and see the concepts you're studying… there could be more art trips to Florence for example. In a mid-tier school, you may not have the design and technology labs or swimming pools, while a high tier school is expected to offer more facilities. So in one what you see and experience is slightly different than the other. But the quality of teaching is not compromised," Özral says.
"The other difference is that in the high tier schools that offer the American or English National curriculum, we make sure that all our teachers are native speakers. In the mid-tier schools, because of the tuition fees, of course that gets very challenging. You've got to have a sustainable business, otherwise you don't have any teachers left to teach your children. So in this case you have about 20-25% native speakers, and the rest are other nationalities, so you have a mixture," she adds.
Given the new market segments, the school operator is in the process of setting up a new legal entity called Aldar Education, which will oversee the high-tier Aldar Academies branded schools, the new nursery segment, the mid-tier schools which will be operated under a different brand name, the management of third party schools such as ADNOC Schools, and other areas Aldar Academies is looking at expanding into, including a teaching academy and branch campuses of premium international schools.
Creating Aldar Education also allows the operator to provide more shared services across its entire network of schools, including functions such as HR, sports, admissions, and more, so that "the schools can focus on the quality of education", Özral points out.
The shared services will also include CPD for teachers to ensure the quality of education remains consistently high.
"Aldar Education is going to set the educational excellence to the sub-brands that we will be managing. Because CPD will be a part of the shared services, I'm not too worried about the quality of education in mid-tier schools because all that teaching and learning and professional development ensures you deliver high standards of curriculum. So we will be able to transfer knowledge from one to the other across our community of schools," Özral explains.
The CPD element will also help raise standards in schools Aldar Education earns management rights for, similar to its partnership with the ADNOC schools.
Given that the management of the four schools is a new experience for Aldar Academies, the operator is currently working on changes to the organisational structure in order to make policies and processes more efficient. One of the key changes will be the recruitment of a head of curriculum to direct curriculum design across the American curriculum schools.
Özral explains: "We've done a lot of CPD training to strengthen the delivery of the curriculum. We're looking also to find a head of US curriculum for the schools. While the English National Curriculum is very much a defined curriculum, the American curriculum is not that defined. The American curriculum tells you what the outcome should be, but it's the teacher who looks at the outcome and works backwards and takes that curriculum and designs it to be delivered.
"What we're trying to do is find someone who can design this curriculum for us. I'm assuming that not all my teachers have that capability, right? Some do, but I don't want to go wrong. So when I bring in this curriculum head, they will design the curriculum that students can access. We're trying to strengthen the curriculum, and the delivery of the curriculum through more pedagogical skills, 21st century ways of teaching how do you inspire students and engage them."
Aldar Academies will also open at least one more high-tier primary school by 2019. Located near Al Raha beach, the campus will accommodate 1200 at full capacity and will serve as another feeder school for Al Yasmina, which will also see an expansion of its secondary section.
"It makes more sense to build schools in phases than a through school economically. Sustainability wise it's much better. There's a bigger demand in the primary market… the school market is like a pyramid more demand at the bottom, less at the top in terms of year groups. Less at the top because when students apply to a different school they may not have that attainment or access to your curriculum, so we may refuse them a place sometimes. So bottom up growth ensures more confidence in the quality of the students you're bringing in because they're in your system," Özral explains.
Also on the cards is the introduction of BTEC courses at Aldar Academies' secondary schools. However, the operator is currently waiting on directions from ADEK about which courses will match qualification equivalency standards set by the regulator for Emirati students.
Another project in the pipeline is a teaching academy. Although it's not currently a priority, Özral points out, the teaching college will offer PGCEs and other accredited courses from US and UK-based universities.
Given all the developments in store for Aldar Academies, Özral is prioritising the development of nurseries and mid-tier schools, in addition to operating and managing third-party schools.
"Consolidation in the market needs to happen. When you have the experience and the knowledge, it's easy to take these other schools under your umbrella and provide that expertise," she says.
When asked whether Aldar Academies is looking at expanding into other emirates, Özral states: "Today our focus is Abu Dhabi, but who knows? We won't say no. I think we have the right to win in the GCC market. We're a home-grown brand, we know how to deliver the Ministry of Education curriculum in terms of Arabic and Islamic Studies with that cultural link.
"And if you look at our results, our IB results are above the world average, our IGCSEs and A Levels across have been above average. Being a company that was born 10 years ago, I think our results are phenomenal. So I think all these things give you the right to win in the GCC market."
"Comment: The road to outstanding
echo $body; ?>January 14, 2018, 11:48 am
"Hamdan Bin Zayed School hosts Chinese student delegation
echo $body; ?>November 23, 2017, 1:02 pm
"Abu Dhabi releases affordable land for education
echo $body; ?>October 25, 2017, 6:36 am
"Aldar Academies to open more affordable schools; establishes Aldar Education
echo $body; ?>October 11, 2017, 6:00 am
"ADEK announces changes to school inspection system
echo $body; ?>September 26, 2017, 6:40 am