Founded in 2015, the Swiss International Scientific School Dubai (SISD) stands out for its two bilingual academic streams, senior boarding offering and spacious campus.
In the Dubai Healthcare City, surrounded by science and medical businesses. The fact that the campus is outside the centre means it’s far larger than other schools. It’s split into early years (pre-kindergarten, kindergartens 1 and 2), primary (Grades 1 to 5) and secondary (Grades 6 to 12). There’s parking aplenty but SISD also has a fleet of buses to ferry pupils to and from the site.
Irish head Ruth Burke has worked in Dubai for 20 years and has an impressive track record for elevating her schools – including Jumeirah English-Speaking School, GEMS Wellington International School and Deira International School – to achieve Outstanding ratings from the emirate government’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). She joined SISD (currently rated Good) in 2021 and we found her to be really passionate about the school’s strengths. Eager to expand the boarding (and thus compete with Repton School, Dubai), she also very much wants to develop the arts offering to its full potential.
SISD recently reached its target of 1,500 pupils (400 in the early years, 700 in primary and 400 in senior; the school is keen to grow the latter but this will happen naturally as the lower years grow older). It is non-selective academically but language knowledge is key for the bilingual streams (and must be supported at home), especially with the older children.
In secondary, prospective pupils have assessments in written language skills, numeracy and critical thinking. There are also minimum requirements at IB Middle Years Programme, GCSE and IGCSE. Academic and sport scholarships are available for gifted and talented pupils.
Academics and university destinations
SISD has three learning streams: English and French, English and German, and English and STEAM. Arabic is compulsory in the UAE, so pupils can attain fluency in three languages.
In secondary, pupils follow the IB MYP followed by the IB Diploma or IB Career-Related Programme. Alternatively, there is also the option in Grades 6 and 7 to do hybrid classes (either German-English bilingual or IB combined with the Swiss Baccalaureate curriculum) in preparation for the Swiss Baccalaureate at Sixth Form level.
There are two teachers (one for each language) for every class of 22 pupils and, together with an assistant, they can accommodate all abilities well. There is lots of emphasis on science, as well as enquiry-based and peer-led learning – the older children regularly read with the younger ones. The STEAM stream does a huge amount of construction, programming, robotics and woodwork but the superb facilities are open to all.
SEND and EAL support are excellent. The inclusions department ensures that everyone is part of the community, providing classroom help, individual support, study-skills assistance and guidance on independent learning. About 90 per cent of leavers head to British, Canadian, US and Swiss universities to continue their studies.
Space is so unusual in a Dubai school – which means that sport really comes into its own here, with facilities that include football pitches, an athletics track, tennis courts, two dance studios and a climbing wall. SISD competes in basketball, tennis, football, golf and athletics. It is also a centre of excellence for swimming. Sports scholarships are offered but pupils must be competing at regional and national level.
Until recently, performing arts had largely been relegated to after-school clubs rather than part of the timetable but the head is addressing this, beginning with the appointment of a new head of music (there are currently music groups and an after-school theatre company). Art is also getting stronger and will be further developed over the next few months.
Pupils are allowed to take part in two internal after-school activities. In the senior school, these include Digital Design, Pop and Rock Group and Young Entrepreneurs. Additional external after-school activities are available at a charge.
SISD offers full, weekly and flexi boarding in the Secondary School. Boarding houses are a proper home-from-home, with en-suite double bedrooms, fully-stocked pantries and plenty of space for pupils to relax. Every boarding house has a dedicated team of staff who are on hand to keep an eye out for boarders’ pastoral and practical needs.
There are 93 nationalities within SISD, including an influx of European families keen to tap into the bilingual streams. The four values underpinning the school are bilingualism, excellence, sustainability (the school building was made from sustainable materials and uses less energy than most) and what it calls ‘together’. The latter is helped by great pastoral care, overseen by a new head of inclusion whose role is to ensure that anyone with a barrier to learning can thrive here. A survey has just been carried out so that pupils know that their voices are heard. Parents are welcome on site and there is a café in the campus to encourage them to meet up and spend time here.
As one of the few IB-through schools in the world plus one of only two boarding options in the UAE, this is a brilliant option for families looking for a bilingual education, with space and sports facilities away from the city.