Behind the School Gates at Kings’ Nad Al Sheba
Claire Malcolm provides us with a candid run-down of what she discovered at her recent visit to one of the UAE’s top schools.
Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba is an educational anchor point spread across 1.3 million square feet of privately owned land. The first thing that strikes you about the school is the welcome at the gates, where School Principal, Darren Gale and his team greet every child by name, often taking time to ask them about something they’re working on or family news.
This level of personalisation and attention to detail extends throughout the school, from the school café where parents swap notes over a latte or healthy fruit salad (there’s a clear nutritional mission that includes the grown-ups as well as their offspring!) to the unflappable admin staff, who have a real warmth in their manner.
Foundation Stage 1 & 2 is a riot of colour and activity where the ‘learning through play’ philosophy is brought to life across every square inch of space; from the indoor garden and interactive central construction site-themed area, designed to help children develop fledgling motor and communication skills; to the Emirati cultural majlis and wall art, showcasing personal performance and class projects.
Children requiring one-to-one support or quiet time also have their own activity spaces as part of the Kings’ inclusion policy. The hands-on vibe pervades through the classrooms, each of which connect to a second classroom to encourage socialisation and expand friendships, as well as into shaded interconnected outdoor spaces. A key Kings’ focus is to seamlessly integrate learning with play.
There’s also a brief moment of wanting to turn the clock back when the door opens up on either of the two temperature-controlled swimming pools where children learn to swim or get their first taste of aquatic competition; and the sports hall, dance studio and outdoor sports field only add to the flash of envy.
Parents can relive their school days with a monthly early morning outdoor ‘wake and shake’ exercise session for all the family, and occasional dance/drama workshops. In fact, the parents at Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba are incredibly involved in the ‘edutainment’ side of school life with the Friends of Nad Al Sheba School group organising everything from Zumba lessons to international days and school decoration projects.
But when it comes to facilities, it’s the STEM building that really differentiates Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba from other FS/Primary options. Something you’d traditionally expect at senior school level, the dedicated block houses its own black box theatre and green room; a domestic science area; space with sewing machines for aspiring fashion designers; and access to metal and woodworking. And an eco-garden too!
The school and the wider Kings’ community of schools offer access to a remarkable programme of over 85 extra-curricular activities. Children are encouraged to try new things and get involved, either on their own campus or at the other Kings’ campuses.
Cross over to the Primary side and a purpose-led design helps with the transition of FS2 children to Primary, and even before they’re ready for Year 1 they get to use the ‘big school’ library and periodically hang out at snack time or use the climbing frame. In addition, the Year 6 students act as ambassadors, helping the younger children with their reading and writing as part of the school’s ‘responsible citizens’ programme.
Memories of growing up in the UK and the school ‘house’ system are alive and well at Kings’ Nad Al Sheba, where children are split between four royal houses with a fun performance and attitude token rewards system. Weekly assemblies are a high point for mini Tudors, Windsors, Stuarts and Hanovers, eager to find out if their house will reign supreme for the next seven days.
Impeccable behaviour during lunchtime also equals points, with the end of term ‘best table manners’ winners enjoying a VIP experience with the teachers as waiters and a special foodie treat such as ice cream and fruit salad.
Up in the library, reading is anything but a chore with visiting authors. A ‘have you been caught reading’ programme with prizes for reading in your own time, and the ‘mystery checkout book’ initiative, where children pick plain brown paper-wrapped book to take home, aims to expose them to different genres.
While Primary level education gets a little more serious than the FS years, the learning process is a world away from what many of us experienced at the same age. The ICT suite has virtual reality facilities and its own 3D printer; with Year 1 children already coding (the school also ran coding lessons for parents just so they could keep up!). A Dragons’ Den initiative was another big hit last year. Based around a chocolate factory visit, the children then had to write about how chocolate is made, make their own chocolate, incorporating maths and science skills, and then present their project to an audience of dragons (teachers).
The Kings’ core value is to ‘do the best by every child’, and a tour of Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba definitely delivers in spades.