NDNA meet Aga Khan Early Learning Centre

Kelli Allen from Dubai’s Aga Khan Early Learning Centre, winner of NDNA International Nursery of the Year 2018, sat down with our NDNA International Early Years Adviser, to discuss working in an overseas nursery, the EYFS and NDNA membership.

What attracted you to work at Aga Khan Early Learning Centre in Dubai?

Whilst doing some consulting work, I developed a quality assurance programme and visited the Aga Khan Early Learning Centre to assess their quality. I was blown away with the nursery; it was a peaceful place where all the children and staff were engaged and calm. I was searching for the best practice nurseries, and when I visited Aga Khan, I knew this setting was what I’d been looking for.

I left my job in consulting to manage the nursery; I’ve been there three years.

Why does Aga Khan Early Learning Centre deliver the EYFS curriculum?

When the nursery first opened they were following the US based High Scope Programme, but the children leaving the centre were struggling to get into school. They were not prepared enough, and the parents were not satisfied with the level the children were attaining.

We adopted the EYFS which is recognised by parents and popular in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A lot of schools in the UAE are British, therefore easier for children to transition from a British nursery curriculum.

It is also holistic, easy to explain to parents and easy to use. We use an emergent curriculum so are able to adapt it in response to children’s individual interests, needs and skills.

Are there any challenges working with a multicultural community?

There are 129 countries represented in the Emirates and a lot of different cultures. There are language barriers as well as barriers to understanding children’s learning; particularly what nursery school is and what we offer.

We do a lot of parent education and hold parent mornings every month where we teach an educational topic, for example, school readiness. A lot of the challenge is trying to change the way the culture views education and literacy.

It all relates back to influencing parents and policymakers and getting the word out about quality early years education.

What are the benefits of being a member of NDNA International?

Part of our mission at Aga Khan is to raise global standards. NDNA has supported us to look at what exemplary practice is.

We felt it was important to have formal accreditation and be recognised so decided to undergo quality counts. We want to push ourselves to improve our practice and be a model for other nurseries. Going through the quality and review process made us reflect on our practice and why we were doing it. It made us realise that high quality is achievable in the Emirates; if we can meet NDNA standards there is no reason why other centres cannot.

We appreciate the emails that NDNA send every week, we have used the free resources and done a lot of their online courses. Finding an association that acknowledges international best practice is ideal. NDNA is progressive and like-minded in wanting to have high standards; they help us keep an eye on the bigger picture and remind us to always keep pushing ourselves to bring our standards up.

What are your ambitions for the future of the nursery?

Our mission is to provide high-quality education and care and to be a model for other nurseries to show them what best practice looks like.

How are you working towards these ambitions?

We are moving towards a new accreditation and want to be an early years market leader in the UAE. We want to continue to grow our professional development; the Ministry recommends 30 hours CPD for unqualified staff, but we average 50 to 100 hours to ensure our staff are supported.

We want to collaborate with other nurseries and combine resources for training. We want to make developmental screening the norm in the Emirates ensuring children with SEND have referrals and additional support. We are involved in the Global Guidelines Assessment from the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) to develop our self-assessment process and make consistent improvements to the centre.



  • Early Learning Centre
  • EYFS
  • NDNA International
  • Nursery of the Year

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