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Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai

Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai

The Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai is located in a quiet location close to the remaining boat building yards at Al Jaddaf, a short distance from the Business Bay bridge. Currently the school stands entirely alone and makes a striking impression from all sides.

There is something slightly bizarre about seeing a mural of the Swiss mountains on the outside wall at roof level on the school, but this serves only to reinforce the uniqueness of the building and surroundings. Across the road from the school is the extension to Dubai Creek and it is planned eventually to offer water sports from this spot.

If Switzerland is known for its efficiency and punctuality, this is more than reflected in the completion and opening of the school which occurred on time in 2015, as planned. A second phase of building has been opening during Q4 2016 including a purpose-built gymnasium, hall and full size pool. Outdoor space includes a grassed football pitch and plenty of open areas. From 2016/17 SISD also offers an Olympic sized 50m swimming pool, basketball/volleyball/handball courts, tennis and paddle courts, a full sized football/rugby pitch, an indoor and an outdoor running track, a climbing wall, a gymnasium, dance studios and a gym.

Swiss International will eventually have the capacity for 2442 children, including 350 boarders from 2018, but presently is home to almost 640 pupils (up around 300 from last year) within its phased opening to Grade 9. The school continues to enrol new students “almost every day”, and its current numbers are a mere 35 off its stated target of 675 – the kind of narrow miss most new schools in the UAE would envy. Some of this growth has clearly come from newly offered grades 7, 8 and 9. SISD launched the IB Middle Years Programme this academic year.

If this year proved something of a milestone for SISD, next year promises to be an even bigger one for the school. Not only will Grade 10 open in September 2017, but so too will its Boarding School.

The school is open to boys and girls and classrooms are mixed. Students currently come from 57 different nationalities (up 7 on last year) with the dominant ones being French, Swiss, German, British, Canadian and American.

On entering the school, the first impression is one of space and light.

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The stunning entry features a three storey oval atrium which is reached by a double height curving bridge to the first floor. To the right of the entry is the “pencil wall” with 3m high coloured pencils bringing some striking decoration to the muted white and grey walls and floors. Other splashes of colour are added by the green and grey pouffe seating and carpets and the natural moss wall behind the reception area, which is kept moist by the humidity in the building. The building has been designed to be environmentally efficient and this can be seen in the drinking water fountains, where children are encouraged to refill their bottles, with an electronic tally being kept to show the bottles saved.

From the main reception area, the KG classrooms are organised in small groups, with pre-KG to the left, KG1 set behind the Reception area and the KG2 classes located to the right. All of the classroom groups are set around an open air quadrangle, each with suitable play equipment and fully shaded for the younger children. There is also an indoor soft play area for use in warmer weather. Classrooms are light and bright, with soft seating areas, appropriate size light wood tables and chairs, plentiful play and study resources and cubbies for shoes and bags in the corridor. There are 8 pre-KG classrooms (each 90m2 in size) of which two are currently in use. Class sizes are between 12 and 16 with a maximum at capacity of 22. Each class has a teacher and a teaching assistant.

Not only is the Swiss School an IB curriculum school, but the main focus of the school will be on the provision of a bi-lingual curriculum to children from KG onwards. Pre-KG children receive one informal lesson per day in either French or German (depending on which language stream has been chosen). In KG1 and KG2, the 3 classes in each grade are split into language groups of French/English, German/English or English/ELL with a formal language lesson per day and a native-speaking teaching assistant per class.

The school operates a curriculum based around weekly language blocks – where children are taught in English for week one and then in the second language of choice for week 2. All lessons aside from Art, Music (and other specialist lessons) and Physical Education are taught as part of the bi-lingual programme. This requires close coordination between the teaching staff, since the programme is a progressive one, with each week’s lessons building on the previous one. English is the main language of the school, and for non-native English speakers, there is additional English Language Learner support which forms the second language stream. KG children are also offered Arabic as an after-school activity. In fact, the school also offers a number of language clubs as after-school activities to boost students’ language skills. These are provided free of charge.

SISD’s English with foreign languages programme gives core lessons in English with 5 lessons/week of French or German as well as 6 lessons/week of Arabic. This gives students the opportunity to gain a strong proficiency in 3 languages.

Grades 1 to 6 are housed on the first floor of the building with classrooms based around the exterior of the building. All are light, bright and well equipped with white boards and specialist Art, Music, ICT and Science facilities are on the second floor of the building. A central courtyard area on the first floor overlooks the KG play areas below and offers shaded, outdoor multi-courts. From grade 1, in addition to the bi-lingual programme, students all receive 6 lessons per week of Arabic (A or B) and Islamic or Social Studies. From grade 4, there is an option to take a further Modern Foreign language. Currently, there are 2 classes each in grades 1, 2, 4 and 6 and 1 each in grades 3 and 5 and because of the language split actual numbers being taught are in much smaller groups.

Once the Secondary School is fully operational, the Swiss School will add the Diploma programme. Students will be given the option of whether they follow a full bi-lingual programme with Language and Literature taught in both languages, or whether they follow the English language programme with the second language as a Modern Foreign Language option. This is unique in Dubai.

The Swiss School is in many ways three separate schools in one and the focus on language means English Language Learner support as well as After School activities are included within the school fees. These are inevitably on the high side, given the additional specialist staff required to meet the language requirements of the school. The school is also strongly committed to supporting children with additional learning needs, provided that they are able to access the curriculum and can be adequately supported by staff and there is no additional fee for this support.

The school has attracted a diverse range of families with 39 nationalities, and over 50 signed up so far for 2016/17. The majority of children are French, German or Swiss with the French stream ratio approximately 3:1 compared with German stream students. The Swiss School certainly seems to have a very clear view of its identity and direction and children seem settled, happy and productive in a very attractive and thoughtful environment.

SISD says it has an inclusive policy, “and aims to support the needs of all of its registered students”. It currently has one Special Needs teacher who works with all types of learning abilities. It says its aim is to adapt and modify its curriculum to ensure students with learning disabilities are supported and are inclusive in mainstream classrooms. With regard to gifted and talented students its aim is to support higher achieving student needs by using the same modifications and adaptions to curriculum.

Swiss International Scientific School works closely with external services to support students that need Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy and implement recommendations from external learning centers in the classroom.

The school currently employs 39 teachers with 57 teaching staff in total. That gives the school a teacher to student ratio of 1:7. The school told us it has a “rich mix of staff,” adding that is is “important to employ recently-qualified teachers because they have cutting edge knowledge gained from up-to-date professional study. That said, more experienced colleagues are quick to absorb this expertise and provide excellent mentors.”

Teachers are recruited from around the world, “as long as they are native speakers”. English speaking teachers come from UK, Australia, USA, Canada, Ireland and S. Africa. French teachers from France and Switzerland. German teachers from Germany and Switzerland and Arabic teachers from Iraq, Syria and Egypt. More teachers have been recruited for the school’s second year, from a slightly wider geographical range. Teaching staff will come from Switzerland, UK, US, France, Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada and Ireland.

School drop-off time starts at 8 am. For Early Years students (Pre-KG, KG1 and KG2), lessons start at 8.30 am and run until 2 pm. Early Years children have the option to remain at school until 3.30pm for after-school activities and a hot lunch option is served in class to keep children going until this time. Primary school hours are from 8.20 am until 3.35 pm with after-school activities until 4.45 pm. The school operates a number of buses to popular residential areas of Dubai.

Swiss International Scientific School’s list of after school activities is impressive, many of these are free, however activities provided by external providers each have a fee.

Tuition fees we have noted are premium, ranging from 65,000 to 110,000 AED. This is, however, an ambitious school, and there is no doubt those fees are going into creating something rather unique. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com will be keeping close tabs on SISD to see how the innovative plans unfold.

 

Update on October 10, 2016 | Reviewed by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com on October 10, 2015

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