A LEADER IN LEARNING
Based in Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, Jeddah, Thamer International Schools (TIS) is a truly multicultural learning environment, with some 45 nationalities represented from across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Canada, Pakistan and India. Its exceptional exam results at Cambridge GCSE, A level and the American Diploma Program SATs (Scholastic Assessment Tests) places it in the highest tier of private independent schools in Saudi Arabia. “Our motto is Students First,” says TIS Deputy Chairman His Royal Highness Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz. “Our vision is a unique academic experience, but it is also about being a leader as well as a learner.”
By any measure of success, exam results at TIS are outstanding. Eighty per cent of its students achieve A* or A grades at A level and those in the American SAT stream achieve exceptional marks giving them entry to respected American universities. This, says HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, is due to years of preparation, beginning at the lower primary stage. “We prepare our students very early, but without pressure,” she says. “We plan the curriculum, we teach, we revise and we provide rigorous exam practice. We have some of the highest exam results in Saudi Arabia because of our early preparation.”
TIS takes pupils from lower primary at the age of three through to senior school graduation at 18. Although selective, the entrance exam at TIS is not so difficult in order to include children who would potentially flourish in the school’s nurturing environment. “The exam and the school tour are really a chance for us to get to know the students and for them to meet us. It’s a time to address any concerns or anxieties, especially for pupils who might be joining us from overseas.”
Classes cover the spectrum of early years learning until Grade 9, when pupils have the option to follow the UK IGCSE programme or the American Diploma Program SATs. Each student’s progress and potential is keenly monitored to ensure that they are guided towards the subjects they are best suited to. “Among other assessments, we use Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) of Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which is an online progress exam,” explains HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz. “Pupils take this twice a year. It stretches them, automatically taking them on to more difficult questions and gives them projected goals.”
Students from TIS progress to further education across the Middle East, the UK, Canada and the USA. To help select the right university for them, TIS arranges visits from about 30 university representatives who help guide students and their parents through the process. “We also invite a number of American universities,” says HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, “who hold orientation sessions with the students. We then help the students fill in the application forms at school.”
Integral to the success of the pupils is the ongoing and intensive training given to the teachers at TIS. They begin each academic year three weeks early for training and professional development, mastering the learning processes that will allow them to teach different year groups. They also stay on for nearly a full month at the end of the year to continue training, often working through programmes devised by Cambridge University and the British Council.
Learning how to integrate technology into the curriculum is a key part of teacher training and one that requires regular revision. “Our students are digitally fluent,” says HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz, who sees technology both as the key to the future and an essential tool to encourage independent learning. “Times are changing. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet.”
TRAINING TEACHERS FOR EXCELLENCE
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects are taught weekly from Grade 1 onwards, through project-based, hands-on activities. The STEM Festival at the end of term invites groups of pupils to present the activities they have been working on during the year. Implementation Days give pupils a chance to exhibit group projects, for example a challenge to design and construct a city from cardboard. Creativity and eco-awareness come together in the school Trashion Show, which sees students making dresses from recycleable, discarded material for a fashion show. “It ends, like a real catwalk show, with a wedding dress entirely made from recycled material,” says HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz.
Providing creative and sporting outlets for students is an important part of TIS life. “We have debates on stage as well as drama productions such as Macbeth. We call on pupils from our Student Leadership Committee to host the graduation ceremony, to build character and leadership skills. Our students are competing and succeeding in arts and sports events as well as academic exams.”
Understanding the pressures that pupils can put themselves under, pastoral care is taken very seriously at the school. With around 3,600 pupils across the lower primary, upper primary, middle and senior schools, keeping in touch with a child and assessing their progress one-to-one is essential. “Pupils have 15 minutes every day with their form tutor, which gives the tutor a personal connection to their pupils and time with them to work out any concerns.”
TIS is one of the few schools in Saudi Arabia to operate a quality assurance department, which monitors both pupil progress, teacher performance and the overall safety and discipline of the school. Great emphasis is placed on good manners, respect and tolerance among the student body. “Each class is multinational, which is healthy as the children learn to accept each other and understand different cultures,” says HRH Prince Thamer Bin Faisal Bin Abdulaziz. Pupils are encouraged to learn about each other’s religions and countries, which are celebrated on International Day every year.
Parents of TIS students are kept informed via the school’s e-learning portal, which posts details of daily classes and homework. Parents are also encouraged to get in touch with teachers with any questions, concerns or suggestions. “There are no boundaries – whatever they want to know and whoever they want to contact, from the chairman to all concerned authorities.”
In the coming years, TIS is planning to open new campuses both within Saudi Arabia and overseas, exporting its successful formula of attentive teaching, structured exam preparation and a broad curriculum designed to serve its multinational student body.