First look: GEMS Al Barsha National SchoolNovember 15, 2016, 9:30 am GMT
GEMS Al Barsha National School is one of six new schools launches by GEMS Education this year.
Located in the Al Barsha neighbourhood, the school offers the National Curriculum for England, with a focus on Arabic and Islamic Studies.
"The focus is very much to have a high quality British education, but alongside a high quality Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies education. We are aiming that our boys and girls will be bilingual, bi-literate in English and Arabic and also benefit from the British curriculum," principal Lesley Isherwood tells Education Journal Middle East during our visit to the school.
To this end, students from FS1 to Year 2 benefit from a co-teacher model, where classroom instruction is split between English and Arabic.
"In every classroom there is an English native, UK trained and experienced teacher, working alongside an experienced Arabic teacher. The teachers work alongside – 50% of the time the children are immersed in English language and learning through English, and then 50% of the time, they're learning through Arabic," Isherwood explains.
The school recruited 45 teachers ahead of its opening.
"We have been very focused in terms of our recruitment. We've got UK qualified and UK trained and experienced teachers. A number have got UAE experience, but what is really important is they've got a really good understanding of the national curriculum because we really want to have that high quality. For our Arabic teachers, we have a number who were recruited from Jordan because we wanted that high quality, and some again with that UAE experience so they've got that local context which is really important," Isherwood notes.
Splitting lessons such as Math between two languages can't possibly be easy, but Isherwood says teachers plan their weekly lessons together to ensure there is no overlap.
She explains: "Imagine a timetable of a week from Sunday through Thursday. It is planned so that a morning will be English and afternoon Arabic. And then the following morning Arabic and then English… so it flows through for the week. The teachers work within phases so we have early years and Key Stage 1 and 2 and 3. Within early years, FS1, they're working very much together and planning – how their Arabic and English will link and vice versa. And that also in terms of that thematic curriculum – how it will look in terms of the English delivery and the Arabic delivery as well. We have lessons in Maths but in Arabic. So they're complementing each other so the children are getting the language immersion but also getting the conceptual side, depending on what they're offering.
"We've adopted the International Primary Curriculum, which is linked very closely NCE objectives, but it's really well structured so it' s a really useful tool for the English medium and Arabic medium teachers to plan together."
The school currently has 182 students enrolled from FS1 to Year 8. The majority of students (59%) are Emirati, followed by 8% Jordanian. Other Arab nationalities make up 35% of the school's student body.
While students study together in FS1 and FS2, boys and girls are educated separately from Year 1 onwards. While all students currently occupy the same building during phase one, in the future, Al Barsha National Schools will have separate campuses for boys and girls, while sharing facilities such as sports pitches and swimming pools.
"We use the building and timetable to ensure that the boys and the girls are accessing facilities at different times and at different parts of the day. So lunch and snacks are at separate times and use of facilities are at separate times. One day the boys would use the gym and pool and girls would use it the next," Isherwood says.
Facilities at the school include specialist science and ICT labs, a 25m swimming pool, indoor and outdoor play areas, separate libraries for boys and girls, a performance theatre, and specialist rooms for robotics, design technology, and visual arts.
Fees at the school range from AED 42,000 for FS1 to AED57,000 for Year 7-8. The school is currently offering a 20% discount on fees for its first year, and 10% discount during the second year.