Aldenham Prep School Riyadh is a new British curriculum school that opened in the Al Noura, As Sahafah area in the north of Riyadh in September 2022. It is one of the latest schools to announce its arrival in Riyadh as part of the RCRC initiative to encourage high quality international schools to establish themselves within the capital.
The owner/operators of Aldenham Prep School Riydah can look back on a history of 425 years with the original Aldenham School UK being established in 1597. The school had, and still has, at its heart, the concept of an all-round education. Unlike other long-established traditional British schools of that time, Aldenham looked beyond the solely academic education to include activities such as archery in the curriculum, in recognition that body, mind and spirit all needed to be developed.
Aldenham School also prides itself on an inclusive approach to education, remembering that “achievement is an individual matter, be it entry to an Oxbridge college, a sporting or cultural goal or it may simply involve growing up into a well-balanced individual.” The Riyadh school aims to support students’ individual goals through dedicated teaching enabling students to focus on their own plans, while teachers focus on their students. According to the Aldenham team, “choosing a school which provides a holistic education in a loving and caring environment is the best gift a parent can give to their child.”
Aldenham Prep Riyadh says it offers “an exceptional British Education for boys and girls from age 3 to 11, mirroring exactly what happens in our Aldenham UK School, which is famous for its focus on an excellent all round education.” For students at Aldenham Riyadh, this means not only a focus on academics, but a holistic approach that focuses also on wellbeing and non-academic activities, including sports and creative activities which take place during the After School period until 4pm each day.
The school particularly stresses that it is owner-operated, and not a franchise of an existing school, where the day to day management is led by the franchisee rather than the owning organisation. This is reflected in the organisational structure of the Riyadh school, and operational support in regard to staffing. There will also be opportunities for student exchanges between the two schools.
Aldenham Education Group, in a bold signal of its expectations of success in, and commitment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has already announced the opening of Aldenham Riyadh, the Secondary School, for children ages 11-18 in 2025, to which students from Aldenham Prep School Riyadh will be able to transfer directly once they finish their Prep education. Students joining Years 7 and 8 prior to the opening of the Secondary school, will remain on the Prep School campus.
The school’s Mission statement is ‘At Aldenham Prep School, we provide a happy, nurturing and warm environment where quality learning takes place and the needs of each individual child are fulfilled.’
Its Key Aims are:
- To encourage a love of learning in order to aspire to academic excellence and a broad education for all pupils
- To foster good relationships and partnership between staff, pupils, parents and the wider community
- To ensure that each individual pupil is nurtured and encouraged to make the most of their own special talents
- To emphasise the importance of the social, moral and spiritual dimensions of community life in a modern society
- To provide a well planned, well organised environment giving children rich and stimulating experiences.
Aldenham Prep Riyadh says that it pride itself on "providing an excellent all round education, and laying the important foundations of learning how to learn. When children leave Aldenham Prep, they are curious and confident and are ready to face their senior schooling with all the correct building blocks in place."
The school intends to bring the same quality of education to KSA as is offered at the UK school, particularly since the team believes that links across cultures and countries are ever more important in preparing children for the global and interconnected world they will inhabit when they leave school.
As a further clear sign of commitment, Aldenham Prep Riyadh was led in its opening year by Mrs Vicky Gocher, who after 10 years as Principal at Aldenham Prep School UK relocated to Saudi Arabia. This, without doubt, was clear evidence of the Aldenham Education Group’s intention to ensure that the Riyadh school is a genuine extension of the original.
In July 2023, following the opening of the school under Mrs. Gocher's leadership, it was announced that the school would be led by Mr. Matthew Aston for the 2023-24 academic year. Mr. Aston has over 20 years experience as a teacher, qualifying from Swansea University in Wales, UK. He has been Head of School at Haileybury School Almaty, Kazakhstan, for the past eight years. Prior to this position, Mr. Aston was Deputy Head of Primary at Kuwait English School, where he spent four years.
In an interview with Mr. Aston who relocated to Riyadh in July 2023, following his appointment in March, he told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that he could see many parallels between Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia, notably in the ambition to develop many aspects of society, through the investment in education, which is clearly evident.
Mr. Aston has move to Riyadh with his wife and daughter (who will be a pupil at Aldenham Prep School), and expects that the school will attract a mixture of Saudi and international students. Recent school tours have included parents from the UK, Spain, Brazil and India, for instance, reflective of the nationalities who are relocating to Saudi. This is in addition to local families, who are being encouraged by the Saudi Vision 2030, to ensure that their children receive the highest quality of education in genuinely international schools.
Having opened with around 135 students in 2022, expectations for the start of term 1, 2023 are for at least a doubling of that number. Class sizes are a maximum of 20 with a teacher:student ratio, when specialist staff are included, of 1:11.
Teachers are all from the UK (other than for Ministry of Education subjects), and interviews are conducted by staff from the Aldenham UK school, who will also continue to support Aldenham Riyadh with its teachers' professional development and curriculum support.
The school offers the Early Years Foundation Stage (for Nursery and Reception students) and the English National Curriculum, together with the International Primary Curriculum, which is an adapted version of the English National Curriculum for an international environment.
Whilst English, Maths and Science strictly follow the English National Curriculum, the IPC curriculum is used to support learning in subjects such as History, Geography, Art and Music, by ensuring that a broader more regional and international focus is provided. There is also a strong focus on Arabic and Islamic Studies as required by the Ministry of Education.
One aspect of the curriculum which Mr. Aston particularly wishes to see is the more cross-curricular and enquiry-led approach of the International Baccalaureate pedagogy, which enables schools to have a more local focus on content, whilst teaching within a learning framework that applies globally.
A particular focus of the school is on the elements of the curriculum supporting Saudi culture and Arabic language. According to the school, “Arabic language, Islamic Studies and Social Studies are central and important components of our curriculum, and we are careful to ensure that our whole curriculum, whilst British in nature and based on our UK School curriculum, is set truly in the context of being a School in the Kingdom. Arabic language, for instance, is offered from the Lower School onwards and is delivered by subject specialist teachers.”
However, the focus of the school is not solely on the academic subjects.
According to Aldenham Riyadh, “We believe very strongly in offering breadth within our curriculum, so that the all-round talents of each individual child may be developed. This involves promoting the academic, creative and sporting facets of school life, as well as fostering children’s natural curiosity, in order to empower them with a life long love of learning.”
Children commence their education in The Lower School which is the equivalent of the UK Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1. It begins with the Nursery class for children aged 3 and 4 years, moving on to the Reception class (ages 4 and 5), which completes the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Children then move into Year 1 (ages 5 and 6) and subsequently Year 2 (ages 6 and 7), which have their own defined Aldenham curriculum. Parents are kept well informed of their children’s learning through lists of curriculum topics and curriculum evenings at the start of each year.
The Reception Class aims to offer an excellent start to children as they begin their first year of formal schooling. The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum is focused on Learning through Play, and children are offered every opportunity to flourish and explore in a creative environment to encourage curiosity, before moving on to Year 1 and Year 2.
According to the school, the youngest children are supported by highly qualified teachers in a space that means they are not overawed by the larger children. Teachers focus on the development of numeracy and reading, providing base line assessments from which progress is monitored and differentiated teaching put in place to support students’ individual needs. The children are taught by specialist teachers for Arabic, Islamic and Social Studies, Music and PE. Games and Physical Education are a very important part of life at the Prep School and each class has one PE lesson per week with a specialist teacher, and a Games afternoon.
The Upper School is the beginning of Key Stage 2 for students aged 7 to 11 years. The school anticipates that most children will have been in the Nursery and Lower School and will move through the Key Stage 1 curriculum at Aldenham. In addition to following the Key Stage 2 English National Curriculum, students also participate in a broader range of subjects and activities including sport, arts, drama and music, and extra-curricular activities and school trips, which are all part of an Aldenham child’s education.
Major sports will include Football, Netball, Hockey, Cricket and Basketball. Students also have the opportunity to experience a number of minor sports such as Badminton, Golf and Swimming. Music and Drama area also felt to be core elements of the curriculum, with music seen as very important and children benefitting greatly from the fact that is NOT an after-thought 'squeezed in' only when there is time. From Nursery onward, all children are taught by specialist music teachers.
Similarly, Aldenham places emphasis on Drama, encouraging students to use their imagination and teaching them how to express and share feelings and ideas. Drama is also said to build self-confidence and fosters the ability of students to work in a team for a shared goal. Again, students are taught by specialist teachers and have the opportunity to put on large scale productions in a dedicated space.
As part of the commitment to an all-round education, students also have the opportunity to participate in a range of co-curricular activity clubs which take place at lunchtimes and after school, encouraging students to develop new interests, skills and passions. Educational trips and visits will also be important experiences for students and similarly, visiting groups are welcomed.
Students from Aldenham Prep School will have direct access to the Secondary school, which will open in 2025 where they will complete their education, preparing for GCSE and A Level examinations, with pathways to enable students to study at university level in Saudi Arabia, the UK, the USA and other popular international university destinations.
Whilst the school focuses on an all-round education, it acknowledges that academic results are important too. After success at GCSE and A Level, Aldenham School students in the UK go on to study at some of the top universities in the UK, the USA and Europe.
The UK school does publish limited information about student achievement which can be found here. The disruption caused by the Covid 19 pandemic meant that students were awarded results by the school - although Aldenham does state that their students did sit exams internally, unlike the vast majority of students in 2020 and 2021, where results were based purely on teacher assessment. However, since they do not provide the results on an annual basis, it is not possible to see how students performed year on year.
Aldenham Prep Riyadh has taken over an existing building facilitated by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC) who have provided an unused school campus that has now been redesigned to bring it up to date and enable Aldenham Riyadh to put their own stamp on it.
According to the school, they have worked with award-winning architects to create Aldenham Prep Riyadh, to reflect the very best of educational design and practice. “At Aldenham Education Group, we have a rich history of blending timeless traditions with modern methods of education, and aim to bring that to Riyadh, with purpose-built facilities and spaces to inspire and educate at the same time.”
Particular features and specialist facilities of the school campus include a large indoor sports hall and theatre, Central Atrium, Art and Design Technology Lab, Science and Technology Lab, Music Room, Well-being room, and Learning Resource Centre.
The centrepiece of the school is the Central Atrium, a mixed use area for all of the school’s students to utilise providing clusters of tables and chairs to be available for group learning, and hands-on activities. An indoor play area is also provided to give opportunities for physical activity, with a slide and a tunnel as well as the Streetscapes zone, with replicas of homes and shops for role-play and to enable young students learn about their community. The final area in the Atrium is The Cave, a quiet area where students can study on their own, read a book or spend time in reflection, with art installations around it.
The Art and Design Technology Lab is a state-of-the-art Makers Space where students can use their creativity skills to paint, craft or design products. The lab includes a ‘messy zone’, with paint and spray paint, and a teaching wall with an interactive screen at the front of the classroom. The Science and Technology classroom has an interactive teaching wall and storage areas, as well as a demonstration table with a sink and electrical sockets. Students will sit along benches at adjustable stools, where they can conduct experiments.
The Well-Being Room is a mixed use room, designed to be a quiet space for students to study, whilst the Music Room is fitted with acoustic treatment panels, both to soundproof the room and improve sound quality. There are also individual music practice rooms for individual pupils or small groups, and storage for instruments.
The Learning Resource Centre (incorporating a library) is designed to enable student to work on projects or spend some study time, with a range of different seating areas including beanbags, stools, wall pods, and a house-shaped nook lined with bookshelves. The Learning Resource Centre incorporates a Genius Bar, a workstation equipped with electrical sockets and space for a 3D printer. In the IT Corner, students have access to information technology.
The outdoor area around the school has been designed for students to meet and play in, with playground equipment including tunnels, bridges, and a sand pit, as well as plenty of greenery and shaded areas to protect them from the sun. The school intends to ensure teaching spills out of the classroom to areas which are designed to provide stimulation and inspire creativity.
Foundation Stage facilities for Nursery and Reception students include an outdoor play area and a vegetable garden, to which Early Years students have access from their classrooms, giving them a chance to play and develop before being integrated with older children. Classrooms are resourced with innovative furniture suited for Early Years children. Each room features a role play and hiding corner, to encourage students to harness their imagination and creativity. Teachers have access to a mobile teacher’s hub and teaching wall, with an interactive screen and sliding writable surfaces.
Although details are not yet available, Aldenham says that the Secondary building is currently in the planning stage with award winning architects and “will boast state of the art facilities designed to enable the best all round education to take place. We know that the environment acts as an additional teacher, so we work very hard to ensure that all our schools are designed with the latest educational research in place.”
It seems that Aldenham Riyadh has made a positive entry to the Riyadh school scene, and that families - both local and international - have been impressed by the school's commitment to a people-focused, warm, kind, caring, reflective and communicative environment, which aims to forge partnerships with parents, teachers and students.
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For families seeking a more traditional 'British' education in a modern setting and with a tailored curriculum, Aldenham Prep School Riyadh represents a good option. The commitment to open the Secondary school would seem to be a sign of the school's confidence in its success and the early appointment of the UK school Principal to the Riyadh branch is clear evidence of the intention to ensure the delivery of a genuine 'Aldenham experience.'
With the school now established and moving into its second year, it can continue to develop under the leadership of the current Principal, incorporating the best of Saudi Arabian education and that of the UK school.
Fees at Aldenham Prep School Riyadh start from 46,000 SAR for Nursery and Reception, increasing to 51,750 SAR for Years 1 and 2, and then rising to 63,250 SAR for Years 3 to 6. The school offers a discount of 1,250 SAR for each sibling who joins.
There are some quite significant 'start up' costs for families considering registration at the school, beginning with a Registration/Assessment Fee of 1000 SAR. On offer of a place, there is a further Acceptance Fee of 10,000 SAR (which holds the place until payment of the deposit is due) and a one-off Capital fee, also of 10,000 SAR. Lastly, parents are asked to pay a deposit of 50% of the first term's fees approximately three months before the start of the academic year.
These fee levels are at the premium end of international schools in the city and are not dissimilar to the long-established British International School of Riyadh, slightly below those of Kings College Riyadh and some 5,000 SAR below those of Downe House Riyadh.
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