Once this firm foundation is established, we look for the hallmarks of excellence in Early Years education: a focus on child-initiated learning through play and positive relationships between staff and children.
For learning through play to be truly effective, children must be surrounded by highly skilled professionals and here our focus is on staff qualifications and continuous professional development.
Finally, we observe staff and child relationships, looking for natural warmth, empathy and how well staff know each child as an individual.
The physical environment of a nursery is not only important for health and safety, but as many Early Years experts agree, ‘the classroom is the third teacher.’ We look for superb facilities, high quality toys, books and resources and a good balance between indoor and outdoor space.
Operating mostly in developing countries across Asia and Africa, AKES chose to open a nursery in Dubai to be a training hub and centre of excellence in the region. Staff from the Dubai centre travel to developing countries to share their skills and expertise.
Our team were wowed by the architecture as soon as we entered the school on our latest visit.
Traditional Arabic design features, such as domed roof tops, archways and beautiful windows, can be found throughout. Corridors are light and wide (large enough to be used for small group activities), windows are large (with thoughtfully lowered window sills so that children can always see out) and classrooms incredibly spacious.
Mums also appreciated that the nursery provided a healthy, balanced menu, which their children enjoyed. Food is included in the regular fees.
We also met Nadia, a parent volunteer (and one of around 20 community volunteers, all of whom are vetted and given training before working with the children), who run the centre’s library. The AKELC library is a well-stocked lending library, with children of all ages encouraged to borrow library books each week. All children, even the very youngest, visit the library for around 30 minutes per day.
Teachers use an “emergent’ style of planning – topics are chosen based upon the interests of the children and are followed for as long as the children are engaged and learning.
The centre operates a ‘100%’ inclusive admissions policy and is adapted for wheelchair access.
Impressively, Fazilat was the National Day Nurseries Association – Runner Up – Practitioner of the Year in 2017, beating nominees from across the UK and internationally. More on this can be found here.
Overall, the formative education offered at AKELC we rate as beyond outstanding.
This is a beautiful nursery that is focused on implementing a truly child led and holistic programme, with superb, committed and qualified staff and impressively low fees. Nursery schooling here matters, children matter – the sense of vocation, care for every child, whole child investment and the sheer wonder of learning created here sets education for children alight. Aga Khan deserves its reputation as a beacon school in the sector.
The Aga Khan Early Learning Centre is also a not for profit school created with the singular aim of being a centre of excellence for early years teaching and training across Asia and Africa. This bigger picture conspires with a stand-out nursery school in day-to-day practice to create something hugely special in UAE education – and a stand-out winner in this hugely important part of each child’s founding educational journey.
The Backstage Interview
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com and SchoolsCompared.com rating: Outstanding
Curriculum: EYFS (England)
• 1:3 ages 10-20 months
• 1:5 ages 21-29 months
• 1:6 ages 29-35 months
• 1:8 ages 36+months
Staff qualifications: Each classroom has one qualified English-speaking Early Years teacher and one qualified Arabic speaking Early Years teacher. Assistants either qualified or working towards.
Average price (based upon 45 hours per week for 3 terms): 38,000