What is Contextual Learning?

At Oaktree Primary we’ve adopted the theory of contextual learning. This way of teaching allows our team to deliver a more fluid class using experiential techniques. There will always be an element of repetition in teaching. Multiplication as one example requires a student to remember a sequence of numbers. Once memorised patterns form in the mind which help not only with multiplication but with addition, subtraction, scientific equations, and more. But what of subjects like language?

At Oaktree our non-English language classes are taught by native speakers. This allows students to learn first-hand how to experience a language, not just to speak it. Our teachers have the freedom to use examples from their own lives and the students to appreciate language is a part of life. A teacher may mutter something to herself as she goes about teaching. Perhaps making a mental note to make a phone call, or one to remember to collect the dry cleaning.

This may seem like inconsequential chat on the surface, but in the context of the classroom the student is immersed in the language they are learning. A native speaker won’t think twice about using their own language to ask a student to sit down, or stand up, or work with another student. Similarly, a native speaker will have experience of the country or culture the language comes from. This allows the teacher to use relevant examples when teaching. For example, would you know what an abra was if you hadn’t lived in the UAE? An English native teaching Arabic in London could teach the word boat, but abra does not mean boat. The word abra relates to a specific type of boat.

Something we believe strongly in at Oaktree is teacher choice. We have dedicated portions of the day to allow teachers to focus on the needs of children away from the curriculum. This could be allowing French speaking children to follow elements of the French curriculum. It could be extra art classes for those displaying creative tendencies, or it could be story time for those still getting to grips with punctuation or spelling. Schooling should never be a rigid experience.

Using an Online Resource to Teach Children

As we move closer to middle age our minds often remember our own school experiences. Scraped knees from slips in the playground, different coloured chalk, bunsen burners, and equally healthy doses of nostalgia for almost every aspect of school life. Now it’s the turn of our children. Should they expect the same experience?

Well, no, is the short answer. Our experiences were different to those of our parents, as will those of our grandchildren be to those of our children. This generations’ hot topic is the use of technology. You may be of the opinion that pens and books are adequate, you may feel that there is no use to this type of analogue ‘technology’ and that children can learn using tablet devices. At Oaktree we’ve embraced technology. Here’s how:

Our children aren’t given tablet devices to work from. At school they use pens, pencils, paper (but not as much), and almost everything you used as a child. But, we also use educationcity.com, a huge database of UK curriculum quality information and learning tools. Instead of using a dusty blackboard and chalk we use whiteboards. Instead of sending home heavy books and crumpled paper, we reference web-pages.

You will be able to access the same course material we use in school just as easily. There is no need to buy a dedicated machine for your child, you can use your laptop or tablet. We want the homework process to be as easy as possible.

Using technology to teach with is inevitable. Someone once asked why a child would need to learn science, or a second language; someone questioned the pen over the quill and healthy food instead of fast food. At Oaktree we aim to balance proven techniques with newer ones. After all, our children aren’t living in the same world we did. Progress doesn’t stop.

Why a Small Class Size?

One of the most important aspects of Oaktree Primary in relation to your child’s’ education is its class size. We purposely created the school with small class sizes so as to break down the artificial walls that often stand in the way of a child’s educational development.

Some benefits of small class sizes are obvious. The teacher will be able to spend more time with each child. There is a greater chance of all children participating in activities (such as question time). It is easier for teachers to track individual progress outside of books and test results. But, beyond this, small class sizes allow for the healthy maintenance of the student / teacher / parent relationship.

My hope for every Oaktree child is a better future. Test results alone won’t achieve that. Our approach is to build a relationship with the family of the student. We’d like to know what his favourite food is, what her favourite toy is, if he has a brother or sister, or if she has a grandmother in another country. This is not necessarily a new concept, most of us achieve this every day with friends and colleagues. It’s simply the process of getting to know someone better.

At Oaktree we’re not fearful of parent teacher interaction. The more you can tell us about your child the better we can teach them. Our aim is to build self esteem and confidence as much as it is to ensure your child can pass exams. School is not a pass or fail experience, it is one from which children learn to ask questions. It is only with your help that we’re able to help them ask the right ones.

Meet Louise: Our Foundation Stage Artist!

Meet Louise. Louise is one of our FS teachers and also an artist.

Louise is responsible for the wonderful ‘Founding Tree’ you can see in the pictures. Not all of those hand prints are hers however, some of those belong to our students 🙂

Louis 1

louis 2


Visit to the USA with the KHDA and other Schools

I’m currently talking to delegates at the Festival of Positive Education in Dallas, Texas. The receptiveness of attendees to the ideas and goals of the UAE is impressive and welcomed. It has been a great experience and I am honoured to have been asked.

Education ME has written an article on the visit, you can read the full article here.

KHDA Visit

A delegation of more than 25 teachers and principals from Dubai’s private schools have shared best practices in positive education and wellbeing at the Festival of Positive Education in Dallas, Texas.

Principals from Dubai schools including Indian High School and Sharjah American International School Al Warqaa, presented a workshop to an audience of policy-makers and educators from around the world. The workshop was based on What Works, the collaborative series of events initiated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

Participants learned about the importance of wellbeing to the continuing improvement of education in Dubai, and how to run What Works in their own communities.

KHDA director general Dr Abdulla Al Karam said…continue here.

First Aid at Oaktree Primary School, Dubai

A school is not just a place to learn, it is also a place to socialise, to experience and, given the amount of hours children spend with us daily, a place to live. Understanding that the most precious thing in your life is in our care we make sure we’re able to look after them as well as we educate them.

Something we look at very seriously is first aid. Fortunately serious incidents on school properties in Dubai are rare. We hope that the worst we’re going to see is a scuffed knee or a mild fever but we do need to prepare for the worst as rare an occurrence as it may be.

Preparing for the August 2016 term we’ve been working with Edward from Algebra Safety who has already trained some of our Admin team and will work with our teachers as they arrive. If you have any questions about the training or other safety matters please ask, we’re happy to answer.

First Aid Oaktree Primary Eid British School in Dubai UAE

What is Eid al-Fitr?

Eid is the Arabic word for festival. At the end of Ramadan the UAE will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast.’ For many expats Eid marks the moment they are allowed to eat and drink in public again. Indeed everyone is, as according to tradition it is forbidden to fast on the first day of Eid. Instead, people will celebrate their efforts during Ramadan and enjoy the holiday period that the government mandates for all employees.

As with all Islamic tradition, Eid al-Fitr is not without a spiritual element. If you want to help your children to understand why the mall is adorned with coloured lights and why Mum and Dad haven’t gone to work today, here are a few ideas from us (depending on the level of understanding of your child):

1. Zakat is the name given to the mandatory charitable donation that takes place prior to Eid al-Fitr. Before you eat lunch (if you are eating at a restaurant) you could encourage your child to drop some coins into a collection box, explaining that you are helping others to eat as you are about to.

2. You might arrange to meet with friends for lunch, or host a play-date at home. Hospitality is a large part of the Eid celebration and as an added bonus; your children will see their school friends outside of school term.

3. Share food with your neighbour. Even though your neighbour will probably have eaten, taking round some cake or small savoury snacks will help your children understand that in giving food they will receive thanks and a smile. Positive reinforcements like this grow confidence and build self-esteem.

However you choose to celebrate Eid this year we hope you have a happy one. Eid Mubarak from the Oaktree team.

What is an ‘English Village Approach’?

At Oaktree we believe that a community spirit helps education. Rather than forcing a regimented business-like approach to schooling, we want to achieve the feel of an old English village school. If you’re not sure what that means specifically, allow me to explain.

Traditional village culture in the UK is not that different to many other places. In a village everyone knows everyone else; In an English village you know the shopkeeper by name, you’ll see officials in the supermarket, and you’ll meet by chance a teacher in the park. When you meet you’ll pass the time of day and then ask how little Johnny is doing. His teacher will tell you he’s doing okay but needs to pay better attention. You’ll then go about your day.

There was no need for a scheduled meeting; you took advice on your child’s behavior by chance. When you get home you can tell Johnny you bumped into (an English colloquial term for a chance meeting) Ms. Jones and she said he should pay more attention in class. Johnny then knows his teacher and his parents are on the same team, one that he is also on but perhaps doesn’t appreciate that yet.

Of course, ‘bumping into’ one of our teachers in Mall of the Emirates during a busy weekend may not be the best time to discuss classroom activity, but we want you to feel that you can approach our teachers. Yes, you’ll need to schedule an appointment, simply to make sure we’re as prepared as you need us to be, but we won’t hide our teaching staff from you. We have the same goal, to give your child the best. We feel that is done well when we’re all part of a community.

New to the UAE? 3 Ways you can Help your Child Understand Ramadan

Ramadan can be a confusing time for children. They may ask why you aren’t drinking even though it’s hot and they are. They may ask why a restaurant has black curtains covering the windows. They may simply ask what Ramadan Kareem means as they hear it on the radio.

1. If this is your first Ramadan, here are three ways you can help your child to understand what Ramadan is. Ramadan is a month during which people think of those less fortunate. You could use this time to donate some old clothes to a charity drive (malls will have collection areas and you can find deposit boxes in some neighbourhoods).

2. During Ramadan adults cannot eat or drink in public. Depending on your child’s level of understanding, you might suggest that they wait until they get home before opening that chocolate bar, because some children can’t afford chocolate bars. Perhaps your child could consider those in less developed countries.

3. Ramadan is a time for family. During Ramadan people are thankful for what they have, and family gatherings are a great way to emphasise this. If you don’t have family in the UAE you could leave the TV switched off and play board games (remember those?!) Alternatively make extra time for video calls to extended family.

Interview with Which School Advisor

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Which School Advisor.

Why should Oaktree Primary be on the parents’ shortlist?
Oaktree Primary School should be on every parent’s shortlist because it is, in many ways unique. It is unique, first because of its size. In a world in which huge schools and large student numbers are the ambition of many school organisers, Oaktree Primary School has made it a deliberate policy to remain small. Our total size, when the school is full, will be 608 students; with 32 classrooms, this means that we shall have a ratio of 19 students per classroom overall, with a limit of 18 in the Foundation Stage and 22 in Key Stages One and Two.

If you combine this with our location in Al Quoz, close to The Oasis Centre, you will see that we are right in the centre of Dubai, so there is easy access across the city.

We have not only concentrated on size and location. The school has a high-quality teaching staff, recruited mainly from the United Kingdom, and a Principal who has led Outstanding schools in Dubai and England.

Why do you think prospective parents are less receptive to sending their children to a new school?
One might imagine that it is because there is always the fear of the unknown in all of us, and that this fear is even greater when we are considering what we should do for the most precious people in our lives, our children. It is this sense of security and certainty that has led parents, over the years, to seek schools that emphasise tradition. We often hear schools talking about traditional values, which provides greater assurance in an ever-changing world.

Similarly, there will always be emotional reasons behind people preferring more traditional artefacts. There will always be a market for old oil paintings and vintage cars, but, certainly in the case of the vintage cars, they need a good deal of maintenance and, even then, they could not possibly complete with brand-new modern cars in terms of performance.

We need to be very careful when we allow ourselves to believe that because something has been around for some time it is, therefore, better, or even more secure. We need to question what we mean by the word ‘new’. If an established school is wedded to the educational practices of the past, turning its face away from all modern research into how the brain works and how children learn, is it really what we should be looking for?

Further, if an established school has had a high turnover of teaching staff, and this is more likely in a transient society such as Dubai, is it really ‘established’ in the way we might imagine?

I went to a very traditional school myself, one where we sat in rows and did not speak unless asked a question by the teacher. As the saying goes, Ours was not to reason why. Our role was to follow rules, listen to our teachers and take notes. Did this prepare us for the modern world? Of course not, but we had to pass an exam to get a place at this school, so my parents felt that it had to offer something better.

At Oaktree Primary and in the modern world, we believe that the opposite is true. It is every child’s job to reason why and every teacher’s job, working with parents and carers, to stimulate that sense of curiosity, to ask Why? and then, often working with others, to search for possible answers.

What do you think are the ‘cons’ of sending children to a new school?
In a nutshell, I would say that it is this: if you start a new school, with all the sense of…

You can read the full interview here