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Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) is a high achieving primary school in Dubai with a renowned reputation. Our globally diverse register of over 700 children includes students from many nations, including the Emirates, many of whom have English as an additional language but the majority are accomplished English speakers.

As with many international schools, the student population is very transient but no matter how long a child is with us, we take our responsibility to spot barriers to learning very seriously.

Some children have additional learning or language needs that we know about on admission, but we don’t want any child to slip through the net. To gain an insider view into a child’s strengths and areas for development, and enable us to respond early to need, we have carefully selected which assessments we use.

As a starting point, we use the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4). This assessment measures the four main types of reasoning ability that are known to make a difference to learning and achievement: verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial ability.

This helps us explore academic potential, and we use the data alongside other tests to check for a disparity between ability and achievement. Inclusion is a focus for the UAE and an important part of how we operate at JESS. If we are not seeing appropriate progress for a child’s ability, we need to either adapt the curriculum or delve further.  

We have high expectations for all our children, so it’s important to root out any specific areas of difficulty for them. We analyse results carefully, discussing results in regular meetings to examine the progress of all our students. 

If a child’s attainment isn’t aligned with CAT4 scores or there is a discrepancy of more than 20 points between the individual strands of the assessment, we apply our ‘graduated response’ strategy.  

On a case-by-case basis, this calls on additional assessments to identify the potential barriers to learning – for example, assessments ofvisual and auditory-verbal memory, as well as reading and reasoning. This approach gives us a telescopic view and pinpoints specific areas of difficulty. 

The school keeps parents informed at all stages. We need to work in partnership for children to be happy and successful. Any issues are discussed with parents as part of our process of evaluating the whole child and unlocking individual learning challenges.

As part of the Knowledge and Human Development Agency (KHDA) requirements, schools must test ability. Using external assessments alongside our internal ones absolutely helps with our KHDA inspection, but it’s not just a mark on the page for us. It allows us to internationally benchmark our pupils, and personalise their learning. It also enables us to create a dialogue across the school, which in turn helps us meet the children’s needs.

Our approach brings consistency across all year groups, and helps us spot trends and patterns. We can filter and identify those who aren’t reaching age related expectations as well as those who are gifted. And not only can we explore these groups in detail, we can respond to them very early on to appropriately support and challenge all our children.


By Emma Dibden, Head of Learning Support, Jumeirah English Speaking School, Dubai