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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Learning Journey at Repton

At Repton Dubai, we encourage the children to take the lead in their learning. In Maths lessons, rather than ask ‘what is the answer?’, we instead ask, ‘how do you know that is the answer?’ and ‘can you prove it?’. Proving and justifying an answer requires a much deeper understanding of the concept and a much wider explanation; it requires the children to use their reasoning skills. To aid this, we need to draw upon an important element from our toolkits – manipulatives.

Manipulatives provide our children with a way of constructing physical, concrete models of abstract Maths ideas, allowing a deeper understanding through exploration and investigation. For us as teachers, they are a vital tool when illustrating concepts. Manipulatives include resources such as Dienes blocks, place value counters, cubes, numicon, Cuisenaire rods, number lines or fractions strips, to name just a few. Dienes blocks allow children to explore and understand the value of numbers, particularly the powers of ten. Once understood, this concept can be applied to multiplying and dividing by 10, 100 and 1000, and to a real-life context – converting measures. Place value counters enable a deeper understanding of exchanging and regrouping in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Cuisenaire rods and fraction strips are the foundations of understanding fractions and provide the base for developing an understanding of the bar model method. Numicon allows the children to discover connections and relationships between numbers. In short, manipulatives allow children to discover Maths for themselves.

Now a core part of Maths lessons across the school from EYFS through to Year 6 is incorporating the use of manipulatives into learning, which means our lessons are becoming more and more hands-on and practical. Through this, the children are also making connections and links between concepts themselves, creating a web of Mathematical knowledge in their minds. These connections can then extend beyond the subject of Maths, into the realms of Science, Technology, Engineering and Computing.

Through the use of manipulatives, we are providing our children with the means to discover the world for themselves, make sense of it, and apply their knowledge far and wide. As the saying goes, ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ – it truly is exciting to witness the beginning of a journey of discovery here at Repton.

Victoria Willars
Head of Maths – Repton Dubai


The Power of Music

Many of us, this summer, will have found ourselves covering great stretches of road as we reacquainted ourselves with loved ones or made our way to our holiday destinations. More often than not, these journeys are accompanied by the sound of the radio, easing the monotony of the motorway or the agony of queues. It was on one such journey in July – Dover to Calais, to be precise – that I found myself completely stationary for many, many hours. I settled myself in for the long haul, turning up the volume on Heart FM. To my delight, every song that was played was one I knew. In fact, from the very depths of my mind, I was able to draw forth every single lyric to virtually any hit from the UK in the ‘90s. It was as if I had discovered a super power!

The connection between music and memory has been long acknowledged, with Harvard Medical School stating that ‘music doesn’t just help us retrieve stored memories, it also helps us lay down new ones.’ Let’s test the theory: try to recall key dates and names from a topic you studied in history. How quickly do you find yourself wanting to reach for your laptop? Now, think back to your school song. Not only might the lyrics come to you as if it were only yesterday, but I suspect you may even find yourself consumed by the smells, sounds and feelings connected with singing it as a student.

Teachers take full advantage of music’s unique power from the very first moments children join Foundation Stage. It seems that giving melody and rhythm to all manner of topic – from a child’s first colours or the Periodic Table – enables the learner to access that memory with great ease compared to other learning strategies. Music taps into emotion; it creates memories with high ‘retrieval strength’ (how quickly we recall information) and ‘storage strength’ (how long we remember it). If your child is struggling to retain an important fact or formula, simply singing it to a familiar tune could significantly increase their chances of remembering it for years to come.

Researchers at The University of Edinburgh have, this year, released findings that show that the impact of music learning may be even greater than first imagined; their study suggests that learning an instrument in childhood may lead to improved cognitive ability – thinking skills – in older age. These factors may have contributed to the Department of Education in the UK this year publishing a paper, ‘The Power of Music to Transform Lives’, which lays out plans to improve the access students have to high quality music education in its schools.

At Repton Al Barsha, enormous value has always been placed on pupils’ musical experiences. With specialist music taught from FS1, a range of ECAs, access to the best quality digital resources, regular concerts, and instrumental lessons encouraged, our students are well placed to feel the impact of music as a subject its own right but also as a powerful tool to create deeper learning in any lesson across the curriculum. This academic year, you can expect your child to come home singing songs about rivers, planets or their times tables, as we harness the power of music to the full. (Just please don’t be surprised if you hear me singing my new phone number to a Spice Girls tune!)

Mrs H Cunningham 

Deputy Head Academic –  Junior School 

Importance of Inclusion by Louise Dawson

Born in Norfolk, England in the late 60’s, I attended school in the 80’s. I began my working life as an office junior in a publishing house and over the years grew to a VP’s Personal Assistant in a shipping company in Hong Kong. In my 30’s, I became the proud mother of three children. All three of our offspring have been blessed with having neurodiversity (different ways of thinking, learning and working). I say blessed because their challenges within education have been the making of all of us and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

My first son was different as a toddler. He met only a few of the development milestones on time (milestones such as crawling, speaking, socialising) and despite my very limited knowledge, I recognised this early on. When he was 5, we made the decision to return to the UK to enable us to access services. What followed was 6 difficult years! Fighting to be heard, fighting for support, researching and upskilling on all things neuro-divergent. The journey was emotional and time-consuming. Juggling three children, full-time work, and study, in addition to medical and occupational therapy, speech & language along with educational psychology appointments was lonely and tiring.   When he was 10, I made a life-changing decision. With the desire to provide him with the best support possible, I put aside my career to start again as a Learning Support Assistant.

Two of the Science teachers took me under their wing (despite the age difference) and I will forever be grateful to them. The school funded my degree and after teacher training, I became an Additional Needs Science Teacher. Having spent a few years in mainstream and a few more years in a school for children with behavioural conditions, we decided to relocate to Dubai. My experiences in Hong Kong taught me that international education, and international mindsets, made tolerance and understanding much more prevalent.

After qualifying as a Special Needs Coordinator (SENCo)/Head of Inclusion, I have now spent ten years working in the UAE. I have been fortunate to have interacted with some incredible practitioners along the way. Not only does it take a ‘village to raise a child’, it takes mentors, coaches and leaders to help grow our own personal skill sets. At every school I have worked, there has been someone I looked up to and learned from; this is still true today.

At the time of writing, all three of my children have a range of identified additional needs: social communication, attention, literacy, numeracy and visual. Traditional schooling was challenging and exhausting but accommodations such as the use of technology, different methods of teaching and assessing, high expectations and teachers that care, made our journey easier. Two have completed university and are currently working, and the third is in her second year (on the Dean’s List for all her semesters till date).

I am often asked ‘what is your philosophy on inclusion?’ I have to say that after 25 years of parenting neuro-diverse children and 17 years working in education, my philosophy grows and develops with each person I work with and each module I study. In the shortest form, I answer ‘Inclusion is Belonging,’ whether at home, in the community, in education or at work. Being safe, wanted, respected and supported is all we need, although not always easy. I am also asked ‘why is it so important?’ My answer is a little more complex – Inclusion is important because we should all have access to the same opportunities and be able to access the same premises as our friends and family (i.e.: playing sports, going to school).

As a community, we need to continue working together to reduce stigma and isolation around being diverse and increase tolerance and acceptance. This includes changing our thinking around language, culture, heritage, gender, ability, education, finance and different conscious and unconscious bias. With regard to special needs, physical/cognitive abilities and mental health barriers, we need to change our perspective and celebrate the successes these can bring. Where would we be without Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk or our home-grown Abdul Salam who champions Emirati Sign Language on Instagram?

I am blessed to have led inclusion in three schools in Dubai. I consider myself a champion of diversity and advocate for equity and access via parent, community and school staff training. Each person I work with is different and I am reminded that when you have taught one child with autism, you have only taught one child with autism. With Inclusion, the important thing to remember is not ‘what has been done before’ but ‘how can we improve going forward’.

How mindfulness can help you and your child

It is so important for you and your child to practice mindfulness in your daily lives, especially at a time when everything has turned upside down.

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying full attention to something. It means slowing down to really notice what you’re doing.  Being mindful is the opposite of rushing or multitasking.

When you’re mindful, you’re taking your time and focusing in a relaxed, easy way.  Practicing mindfulness can improve your focus and increase your learning capacity, among many other things.

Practicing mindfulness can help you:

  • Pay attention better
  • Be less distracted
  • Learn more
  • Stay calm under stress
  • Avoid getting too upset about things
  • Slow down instead of rush
  • Listen to others better
  • Get along better
  • Be more patient
  • Feel happier

Try these 2 exercises to help you practice mindfulness:

Mindful Word
Choose a word that seems calm or soothing. For example, this could be a word like “peace”, “love”, “snowflake”, “sunlight” or “calm.”

1. Think the word to yourself. Say it silently and slowly in your mind. Say your word to yourself with each breath you take, in and out. Keep your attention gently focused on your word.
2. When your mind wanders, guide your attention back to your word, and keep saying it gently and slowly while you relax and breathe.

Can you do this for a whole minute? Can you do it for 5 minutes?

Mindful Breathing
With this exercise, you focus your attention on breathing. Pay attention to your breath on purpose, but not forced.

1. Sit up in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
2. Notice your breathing as you inhale and exhale normally. Just pay attention to your breath as it goes in and out. Can you feel the place where the air tickles your nostrils?
3. Pay attention to how the breath gently moves your body. Can you notice your tummy or your chest moving as you breathe?
4. Sit for a few minutes, just paying attention to your gentle breathing. See how relaxed you can feel just sitting, breathing in and out.
5. When your mind starts to wander and think about something else, gently guide your attention back to your breathing.

The Importance of Practical Science

The desire to understand and explore the world around us, has existed since before there were schools and will doubtless exist after schools as we know them, are a distant memory.

Over millennia men and women from all cultures and backgrounds have conducted experiments which have contributed to the shared knowledge of the human race.

But why is practical science so important to us here at Foremarke School Dubai?   

One answer might be to encourage us all to look around us! We live an increasingly complex and technological world where an understanding of how things work is critical. Moreover, in these times of fake news and misinformation, the ability to try and discern fact from fiction, truth from falsehood, has never been more important.

That is not to say that science is a dull exploration of scientific facts, laws and theorems; quite the opposite. Our pupils start by learning the scientific method, but always at Foremarke School Dubai, Science is very much practical subject. Wherever possible we recreate classic experiments so that students get to experience discovery, in exactly the same way as Newton, Darwin or Galileo. Our aim is to enthuse students with a love of the unknown and a thirst for answers, in the full knowledge that the answers we discover today, may only supply us with yet more questions!

Foremarke School has a carefully crafted science curriculum that develops the skills of our students, be they practical so that they are confident using an ammeter or burette, mathematical, so that they can calculate frequencies and relative molecular masses, or literacy based, so that they can write a reasoned conclusion or experiment evaluation. We are determined to ensure that science is not a collection of knowledge to be memorised, rather it is training the mind in how to think logically about the world and yet still hold it in awe and wonder.

Encouraging independence among children

Encouraging your child to be independent will play a very important role in their character as an adult. It will give them a sense of responsibility, make them feel respected and improve their overall self-esteem.

It will also help them greatly in their learning journey as they take more initiative to complete tasks on their own.

There are 5 specific things you can do to help them in their day to day lives at home:

1. Consistency is key
If you are not consistent, your child will not think that it is important enough. Any change you need in their behaviour, you have to be consistent in communicating it.
2. Answer questions with discussion
If a child comes and says, “mommy I’m bored”, refrain from suggesting what they can do and instead ask them to give you suggestions on what they could do. This way, the child knows they can think and make decisions on their own. It gives them a sense of responsibility.
3. Routine
Have and encourage a routine. If you don’t have one, your child is likely not to have one either. Children are always watching and learning, they learn best through observation. Praising routine will also help them stick to it.
4. Assign tasks
Assign your child general jobs around the house that you believe they can do well, such as making their own sandwich or folding their own clothes. You can supervise and direct them but give them the independence to do the tasks.
5. Praise
Praise their specific work, but make sure you don’t overpraise. Be sure to encourage the tasks that they are completing on their own.
This should work with all children, but if you have not practiced this while they are young, you will have to mix authority with flexibility in their day to day decision making. It will give them a sense of responsibility and respect.

At Foremarke, we ensure that we instil independence in our students through carefully planned hands-on activities and individual work to improve independent learning.

Selecting a School? Four Questions to Reveal All

Four questions that cut to the chase and identify whether a schools really is, or will be, delivering the results for your children. By Christopher Morgan, Assistant Head, Foremarke School Dubai.

There are two words that are more important than all others when selecting a school; Attainment and Progress. That is to say, to what level do children achieve and how quickly do they get there? Keep these two words in your head when selecting a school because they will give you the evidence you need when choosing a school.

It is easier to find benchmarks of attainment for secondary and senior schools. Certainly GCSE, IB, and A-level results are available on most school websites. However, there are no publicly available benchmark tests for primary or middle schools, and many schools are reticent in providing them. Yet we all have to take benchmark tests.

So how can you accurately find a potential school’s progress and attainment? We are going to give you four clear questions to ask potential schools that will help you decide on whether schools really are progressing the children and the level of attainment of its children.

ASK: What are the average Progress Test results in the school, by year group, across core subjects?

Schools should be measuring every pupil’s progress and attainment. This is very popular with schools in Dubai as it is a standardised test, meaning GL has taken the average UK pupils’ score and made that score 100. This means that, approximately, half of children will score under 100, and half over 100. The sample to standardise the score was taken from 100,000 UK pupils and it is verified every year by half a million pupils’ marks from the UK and over 100 countries around the world.

Thanks to the standardised tests, we are able to compare our school against the UK and international averages. A year group with a mean score of 100 is considered average attainment, anything over 115 is considered exceptional.

So what is the average progress test result for your child’s year group in that school in each core subject? Your current school may have your child’s last progress test score, how does that compare?

ASK: Does the school use CAT4 data to ensure that a pupil exceeds his or her predicted attainment? What measures does it put into play for a child not reaching his potential?

CAT4 tests are common in schools in the UK and Dubai. They test four areas of a child’s “innate ability”; Verbal, Non-Verbal, Quantitative, and Spatial abilities. This is their underlying potential.

Schools should be comparing a child’s CAT scores with their end of year progress test scores. For example, a pupil scores 110 in his or her CAT Verbal test at the start of the year and 120 in their English progress test at the end of the year, then the child is doing well and exceeding their expected potential. However, if the scores were the other way around then you may want to ask questions.

We consider this “Value Added”. We compare each pupil’s expected attainment with their actual attainment using the CAT4 and Progress Test scores at the end of every year. Any pupils who are not achieving their expected attainment are highlighted and provisions put in to boost them.

ASK: How does the school track progress? Does it have a pupil progress tracking system and how does it use it?

Progress can be measured on a yearly basis between Progress Tests. Each year a pupil’s report will say whether he or she has made expected progress. However, does the school monitor progress in between those annual tests? They should be able to share with you your child’s achieved targets at any point in time throughout the year. If they have a good pupil tracking system (normally a computer programme) to “monitor targets” then they will be able to pull that information from the system at any given time and explain to you where your child’s focus areas should be.

ASK: How does it stretch those identified through data as “Gifted and Talented”, or how does it support those pupils identified by the data as possibly needing something extra?

Data should have a purpose. It is not merely a series of numbers that only Rainman can understand. Schools should be using data to identify those who need some kind of provision. That provision could be to boost up their knowledge to get closer to their peers; or it could be to stretch those who are More Able, Gifted and Talented (MAG&T).

What extra provision does the school put in for these pupils?

Schools should, of course, be differentiating in the classroom in order to challenge those who need stretching and support those who need some “scaffolding”.

Schools should also be providing targeted extra-curricular sessions and invited clubs for these pupils to ensure that all children are being extended and pushed to be their best. For example, those who may have a low Verbal ability (as identified in their CAT4 tests) could, one term, have an invited morning club to concentrate on building up that understanding. Those who are talented at mathematics could be asked to attend an after-school problem solving club.

Schools know all this and now you do too.

So, you now have the four questions to ask. Any school proud of the answers will want to encourage more transparency for parents to be able to make a very informed decision when choosing the right school for their child.

There will always be a lot of noise when choosing schools. You will be drowned in information, some of it relevant, some less so. However, as the English say, the proof is in the pudding; when you ask these questions, can the school answer and show you the evidence?

Be prepared to speak “data”, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, they do matter.