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Dubai: international city

Dubai is a city like no other, experiencing extremely rapid change, drawing in people from across the world and playing an increasingly prominent role in the global economy. The number of international schools is increasing at an incredible rate. But what’s it like to live and work there? What’s it like to go to school there? We get the inside track for Winter’s readers by speaking to Jacquie Parr, Principal of Jebel Ali School in Dubai.


Thanks for speaking to Winter’s Jacquie. How long have you been at Jebel Ali? Why did you decide to teach in Dubai?

I’ve been in Dubai for 6 years. It’s a place of innovation, change and transformation; an exciting place to work and live. Previously I was a headteacher and educational consultant in the UK.

I joined Jebel Ali Primary School in September 2014 as Primary Headteacher; I’m pleased and proud to have been appointed as the Principal of the whole school from the next academic year.

Jacquie Parr, Principal of Jebel Ali School in Dubai

What’s life like at Jebel Ali school? How does it differ from a school in the UK, for example, and how is it the same?

Our school has a reputation of being a true community school. We really value the partnership with our children, parents and the wider community, and we believe in providing a strong academic context but also developing the whole child. So we try to ensure opportunities are available for each child to develop personally and socially, as well as to experience a range of artistic and aesthetic pursuits.

The school offers the best of the English curriculum, which is internationally recognized, but then our local context does mean some things are different. For example, we offer smaller class sizes of 24, supported by a team of teaching assistants. We also offer specialist teaching in music, PE, languages and Islamic Education for our Muslim students.

Where do your students come from? What are some of the distinctive experiences for students at Jebel Ali, and how do you help new students to settle in?

The school is a truly international, multicultural environment, and currently our children hail from some 42 countries around the globe, with UK passport holders forming the single biggest group. Our children are proud of their own culture but have a keen awareness and appreciation of local heritage and traditions, as well as those of their fellow students. This is developed not only through experiences built into the formal curriculum but also through celebrations of, for example, UAE National Day, and participation in local events.

New students and parents are warmly welcomed, and this process begins with the first contact with the school by parents – often an orientation tour conducted by senior staff where the school ethos is explained – through to contact with a parent class representative once the child starts at school. On arrival, our staff actively take an interest in each child, their interests and hobbies, their strengths and achievements, whether these are academic or recreational. A buddy is also identified to ensure that, right from the start, new children are supported in daily routines and have a friendly face to rely on at break times in the crucial first days.

Where do most of your staff come from? What draws them to come and teach in Dubai?

Most of our teachers are UK-trained, and tend to stay with us for the long-term. Dubai generally, and Jebel Ali specifically, draws teachers for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s the opportunity to experience teaching in a different and culturally diverse environment and thus develop professionally. For others, it’s the life experience of spending time in a different country that is attractive.

"...we take keen account of the local context and any initiatives designed to enhance our students’ experience at school here in Dubai...."

Dubai is a city like no other, experiencing tremendous growth, tremendous change. How does this affect Jebel Ali? What is Dubai like as a place to live, whether for teachers or students and their parents?

Our primary school was established in 1977 and has evolved and grown over the years, developing its own, unique identity within the educational landscape of Dubai. That we are still here, and indeed still growing and developing, I think bears witness to the contribution we make to Dubai and our families. In the years of rapid change, which are only set to continue as Dubai further expands and develops its global presence, our school will continue to be true to its core values. We also, of course, take keen account of the local context and any initiatives designed to enhance our students’ experience at school here in Dubai.

The city itself offers those who choose to live here many and varied benefits, not least the climate as anyone from the UK will appreciate! For many parents, access to top quality education is key. For children, however, there are opportunities here to engage in a multitude of sports and personal interests beyond those available in their home countries.

"Most of our teachers are UK-trained, and tend to stay with us for the long-term." Photograph: Jebel Ali Primary School

Choosing a school is always an important and pressing decision for parents. In your experience what are the major considerations for most parents? What advice can you give to parents going through this process?

For parents relocating, securing quality education for their children is one of the major drivers; without this, many families would not make the move. Parents need to know that their children will, above all else, be safe, secure and nurtured whilst receiving the best education.

Parents searching for a school place should do thorough homework, especially if they’re new to Dubai! They should seek information from a range of sources to get a feel for the educational landscape. Personal recommendations and word of mouth can be invaluable. However, nothing beats the first-hand experience of actually visiting a school, taking a tour to see how it ticks and having a few, well-thought through and relevant questions.

What are the plans for Jebel Ali?

Well, we’re now looking ahead with a lot of anticipation to our new campus at Akoya which will help further expansion of the school. The primary and EYFS phases will grow to be 5-form entry, and the school will eventually become 5-form entry at all phases.

The new secondary school will grow gradually, opening for Year 7 pupils in September 2016. It’s anticipated that a full extra year group will open in secondary in each subsequent September until the establishment of the sixth form.

The new campus has been entirely designed around the needs of students, from wide green areas for active and imaginative play, to shaded outdoor seating for reading and relaxing. There are lots of new facilities, too many to mention, right across Science, ICT, drama and a whole lot more – it’s an exciting time for us.

The new campus will include a new secondary school, opening for Year 7 pupils in September 2016. Photograph: Jebel Ali Primary School

It sounds like a momentous time for the school. Thanks for talking to Winter’s Jacquie, and good luck with these changes at Jebel Ali.

The top image shows the new campus at Akoya. Photograph: Jebel Ali Primary School

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