ABU DHABI // A boys' school in Abu Dhabi has been held up by inspectors as a model of how to turn out polite, respectful and well behaved young men.
Emirati parents are queuing up to send their sons to Al Suqoor School, and experts have urged the school to share its strategies with others that struggle to keep boys motivated.
Government boys' schools are often criticised for disruptive behaviour, unstimulating environments for learning and lack of counselling. They also have high dropout rates. About one in four pupils leaves before the age of 17.
In the past eight years Al Suqoor, which has 680 pupils, has managed to prove commitment can change all that. Inspectors said: "There is a strong belief that improvement can and must be made in the interest of the boys and families of the school.
"The atmosphere among the boys is one of calm and mutual respect. Students and staff treat each other with dignity."
School principal Salam Al Haddad would not have it any other way. "We concentrate on behaviour first and then comes academics," he said. "This is what a school does and this is how we ensure children are safe and happy."
Among those is Ahmed, 15, whose parents feared he was not learning proper values at his local community school. "There was a lot of bullying and fights there. My parents were fed up with the discipline problems so they moved me here," the teenager says.
Ahmed now has to travel for an hour to get to school from his home in Bahiya, but both he and his parents believe it's worth it.
Parents and pupils at Al Suqoor, a Cycle 2 school for children aged 11 to 15, are made aware of the school's code of conduct regularly through assemblies and lessons.
The code of conduct is plastered on classroom and corridor walls.
Nasr Faraj, one of two social workers at the school, said from the minute children walked through the gate they needed to be aware both of their rights and of the consequences for misbehaviour.
"Punctuality, attendance, obedience, we are strict about this," Mr Faraj said.
He said pupils knew they could go to staff with all concerns, whether at school or home.
"We have guidance meetings to address the root cause of their problem," Mr Faraj said. "If children show improvement they are rewarded, too."
Mazen Ibrahim, an English teacher at the school, said there was trust between pupils and teachers. "If there is a problem, they can talk to the teachers about it."
Salah Al Darmki, 11, said: "Because teachers respect me, I must respect them. I will never be rude because they know so much more than I do. And they have taught me that fighting is not the solution, even if I am angry."
The school's inspection report also highlighted "personal development of young men who have positive attitudes towards the school and community".
Mr Ibrahim's lessons are made interactive through practical and group work around topics of interest. Pupils also have extra-curricular activities after lessons to keep them occupied. He said: "We offer sport and music and insist they spend time in the library. They are part of clubs and we make them do community service."
Mr Ibrahim said they reduced vandalism by making pupils take ownership of the school.
"Along with their football and jiu-jitsu passion, they take time out to water the plants at school and learn about agriculture," he said.
"And we give them the responsibility for keeping the campus safe and neat. They learn leadership and team work."
Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said the school must share its methods with schools that were struggling to cope.
"Most of the issues are caused because of boredom and boys start losing interest in school," she said. "If the school has been successful in addressing it, they must write a case report for the other principals and social workers can talk about their challenges and experience."
Mr Al Haddad said the school's efforts also ensured the boys did not consider giving up education.
"We constantly take them on tours and have people come in to talk about careers in different sectors," he said. "Many have started reconsidering their plans to join the army and police, which is very popular among the boys."
Ahmed is one of them. "In the future I want to be an energy engineer, because I know my country needs Emiratis in these fields," he said.