British International School Riyadh is an international co-educational school located in Riyadh. It caters to English-speaking boys and girls aged 3–18 and follows the National Curriculum for England together with the IMYC and IB Diploma Programme at its DQ campus. BISR is currently a five campus, not-for-profit school.
The story so far...
British International School Riyadh (BISR) is one of the longest-established international schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia having been founded in September 1979 with the support of the British and Dutch Embassies, reflecting the involvement of both countries in the oil industry at that time.
Initially know as the Riyadh Continental School, BISR opened in a large villa in order to support the educational needs of the local expatriate community. In March 1981, the school was incorporated into the Saudi Arabian International Schools, expanding rapidly from its original 212 students, and in 1982 moved to another site in the Rawdah district. BISR now operates from a total of five campuses, of which three are currently Primary only and two all-through schools.
The core Vision and Mission is the same across all schools. The BISR Vision is “To be an outstanding British international school, providing world class learning experiences, in a nurturing environment, where students excel, flourish and develop as positive global citizens”. According to BISR, the school Vision is lived through the school motto – REACH (Respect, Excellence, Accountability, Challenge, Happiness).
The school tagline - Your School, Your Choice, - aims to underline the choice of pathways offered by BISR which now includes A Level and IB Diploma, and will include the additional option of BTEC Level 3 qualifications from September 2024. BISR is also accredited with US-based Western Association of Schools and Colleges, allowing students to receive a US High School Diploma.
Also reflecting the school Motto, the school Mission is ‘To REACH and maintain the standard of being an outstanding British international School’. BISR further explains “As a community we work together, with teachers, support staff, parents and carers acting as role models, helping our students as we all commit to REACH”.
The largest campus offering an all-through school is located within the Al Hamra compound near Exit 9 of the Airport/Al Kharj Highway. This campus, which caters to 1,800 students, was opened in 1995 for students from Foundation Stage to Year 9, expanding to offer A Level courses in 2008, enabling students to complete their entire education in Riyadh as opposed to having to return to their home country to complete their post-16 education.
In the final quarter of 2021, BISR signed a contract to build a new campus in addition to the Al Hamra site, which will open in August 2024. The Al Hamra site will be retained and upgraded. The new campus is a short distance from the current school site and will significantly increase space from 28,000 sq metres to 50,000 sq metres. Students wishing to follow the IMYC, IB curriculum pathway will join the Diplomatic Quarter campus for their Secondary schooling, which is around 30 minutes from the Al Hamra campus.
The second campus, which opened in 2007, is the Salwa Primary School, which educates 125 students. The school caters for British Aerospace and Ministry of Defence families and is located about 30km from the Al Hamra campus. Children at Salwa are automatically admitted to Year 7 at Al Hamra. In August 2020, the Tabuk (a two hour flight north of Riyadh) and Taif (an hour and a half to the west) Primary Schools, also catering for BAE families, and home to 60 and 30 students respectively, joined the BISR family. A new BAE school site will open, again two hours north of Riyadh, in 2024, bringing the number to three.
The Diplomatic Quarter Campus opened in autumn 2020, initially catering for 350 Primary School students from F1 to Year 6, with plans to grow this into a school of 1,200 students catering for 3-18 year old students by 2025. This started with the expansion to Years 7, 8,9,11,and 12 in the 2022-23 Academic Year. The DQ campus now houses 800 students from FS1 to Year 13.
Currently, although British in name, BISR is a highly international school, with over 2,000 students from over 86 nationalities of whom 50% are British passport holders. Approximately 5% of students are Saudi nationals. Students are supported by 600 staff, offering a staff: student ratio of 1:7, though the number inevitably varies depending on the campus and the school stage. The usual class size is around 20 with teaching groups at I/GCSE level and in the Sixth Form around 16 and 10 respectively.
The school is led by an Executive team of Ms Helen Olds (Director of Schools), Ms Karen Jones (Principal of the Al Hamra Senior School), Mr Sven Carrington (Executive Head of the Salwa, Taif and Tabuk campuses), and Mrs. Anna Power (Principal of the DQ campus). Staff are recruited primarily from the UK and from qualified expatriates based in Riyadh.
BISR is a not-for-profit school. The school states that all revenue from school fees is devoted to student learning, including the hiring of teachers and support staff, purchase of educational resources, and the development of campus facilities / learning spaces. BISR is administered by a Board of Governors, including three appointed Governors representing the British Embassy, SABB and Al Lawwal Bank.
The school is accredited academically with the Council for International Schools, and British Schools Overseas by whom it was inspected most recently in 2022. The British Schools Overseas accreditation is the only one recognised by the UK Government's Department of Education. The Al Hamra school was rated Good with Excellent features. A separate BSO inspection took place of the three BAES Primary schools, which were rated as Very Good with Excellent features. The Diplomatic Quarter Campus has also now been accredited.
BISR is also a member of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS) and the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). BISR is an accredited Green Flag Eco-School, a member of British Schools of the Middle East (BSME) - of which Ms. Olds is Deputy Chairperson) - and the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE). It is also permitted to offer the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
BISR follows primarily the National Curriculum for England curriculum, leading to GCSE, A Level, and, from 2024, BTEC, "enriched by the local and international context". This has resulted in the introduction of International Middle Years Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
All five Primary schools follow the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum for the youngest learners and an adapted form of the National Curriculum for England for Years 1 through to Year 6. The Primary School curriculum is adapted and enriched to reflect local and international context. Assessment and reporting procedures are aligned across the campuses. Students at Al Hamra continue with Key Stage 3 of the National Curriculum for England for Years 7, 8 and 9.
With the expansion of the DQ campus in the 2022-23 academic year, BISR began to offer a different curriculum option for students joining the new Senior school with the provision of the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) for Years 7, 8 and 9 which was felt to be a better fit for students continuing to the IB Diploma programme.
Students at Al Hamra in Years 10 and 11 take GCSEs, whilst the final two year groups (12 and 13) take AS and A Levels. GCSE and A Level examinations are through AQA, Edexcel and Cambridge International Exam Boards. From the 2024 academic year, BISR Al Hamra will also offer the vocational BTEC Level 3 qualifications which may be taken in addition to or in place of A Level options. The BTEC is recognised for university entry in the UK.
BISR is also an Examination Centre for the Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) in Riyadh and for SATs, tests widely used for college admissions in the United States.
Core subjects at GCSE include Mathematics, English Language, English literature, Modern Foreign Language (French, Spanish and Arabic), a selection of Science resulting in the minimum of equivalent to 2 GCSE grades ( 2 or 3 Single award Sciences - Biology, Chemistry, Physics OR Trilogy - combination of Biology, Chemistry and Physics, leading to 2 GCSE grades.) Optional subjects from which students may select include Business Studies, Economics, Food and Nutrition, Design Technology Product Design, Physical Education, Music, History, Geography, ICT, Computer Studies, Combines ICT/Computing (leading to 2 GCSE grades), and Drama.
Students wishing to enter the Sixth Form at BISR are required to achieve a minimum of 33 points from their six best subjects, "to ensure a high probability of success at GCE A levels". The Al Hamra campus currently offers over 20 subjects, although the school mentions that a minimum number of students is required for each subject and this tends to impact language options in particular.
With the expansion of the DQ campus, BISR now offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme for 16-18 year-old students to complement the current post-16 courses.
This is an increasing trend among British curriculum schools in the Middle East (notably in Dubai), catering to the wider range of nationalities within the school. Not all students may see their future university destination as the UK, where A Levels remain the norm (although a growing number of British private schools are also increasingly adopting the IBDP).
Students who wish to study A Levels can move to the Al Hamra Campus from DQ, and students from the Al Hamra Campus can choose to transfer to the DQ Campus should they wish to study the IB, providing greater choice.
Aside from the academic, BISR says that “Learning is holistic, supported by a broad co-curricular programme, encompassing extra-curricular activities, house events, student leadership, service learning and residential trips. Strong pastoral care supports student well-being”.
There is a strong House System, designed to bring students together across different year groups in pursuit of a common goal, in the spirit of friendly competition. There are four Houses: Pitts Vipers, Blunt Scorpions, Palgrave Leopards and Doughty Falcons, all named after British explorers to Saudi Arabia. There is also a strong focus on Pastoral care with a PSHEE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education) programme in Secondary school, support for Secondary students through the allocation of form tutors, and the presence of class teachers for most lessons in Primary, enabling young students to build trusting relationships with a familiar face.
The school also offers a Counselling Team of four counsellors/psychotherapists and educational psychologist who, in close collaboration with the Director of Student Services, support the students in three different age range groups: F1-Year 4, Years 5-8 and Years 9-13 with a focus on Well-being. Counsellors aim to meet the psychological, developmental and emotional well-being needs of the students and provide opportunities for staff and students to understand the benefits and to develop Mindfulness practices, in order to support their own growth and happiness. A further aim of counselling at BISR is to provide short-term, professional and confidential counselling to students and the wider school community.
Focusing on well-being, learning is also supported in a wide-range of ways, through Service Learning, Residential trips and Extra-Curricular Activities. These activities are designed to enhance classroom based learning and provide a holistic education for all students. ECAs include a range of Recreational activities, Competitive Sports, Music, Peripatetic Lessons, and a competitive Swimming Programme. Highlights of the school’s activities include the Duke of Edinburgh Award and a Desert Camp - The Farm. Further information can be found here.
BISR says that the school has a comprehensive intake where the main considerations for entry are whether the student has sufficient English skills to be able to access the curriculum or if there are learning needs, whether the school has the capacity to deliver the needs the child may have.
Underlining the inclusive nature of the school, BISR notes that the performance at GCSE generally puts the school in the ‘well above average’ category when considering the UK Government's Progress 8 measure. Designed to measure the value added by a school, based on the measurement of a child's predicted outcome on enrollment against their achievement in public examinations, BISR students achieve on average 0.5 to 1 grade above expectations, exceeding their ALIS minimum target grades across all subjects.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is delighted to see that BISR publishes its examination results on its website - a degree of transparency seldom seen among international schools in KSA.
In June 2023, when exam grades were expected to fall as the grade boundaries returned to pre-Covid levels, 15.1% of GCSE exam entries received Grade 9, whilst 31.6% were awarded Grades 9-8 (A*), 50.1% received Grades 9-7 (A*-A), 68% of results were awarded 9-6 (A*-B) and 92.6% were awarded a pass grade from 9-4 (A*-C).
Director, Ms. Helen Olds said that "she took great pride in the hard work and resilience shown by BISR's GCSE cohort, noting that despite a drop in the average grades across UK schools, BISR had maintained the excellent standards from the recent Covid affected years".
A Level results, which were also expected to fall following the changes in grade boundaries, received results as follows: at A* 10.1% of entries, at A*-A 33.8% of entries, at A*-B 56.8% and at A*-C 84.1% of entries.
In June 2022, 18% of all GCSE exam entries achieved Grade 9, whilst 34% were awarded Grades 9-8, 54% of exam entries received Grades 9-7 and 93% of entries were awarded a pass grade from 9 to 4.
At A Level in June 2022, 21% of grades were awarded A*, whilst 59% received A*-A, 79% A*-B, and 91% A*-C.
In June 2021, 98.5% of GCSE entries were graded A*-C, whilst at AS Level, 91.7% of entries were graded A-C, whilst 76.6% of the AS grades obtained were either A or B grades. A sizable 97% of A2 (A Level) entries achieved A-C, whilst 56.7% of the grades obtained were A* or A grades.
At A level, it is generally the case that students are offered a place to study at one of their chosen universities with most taking up these places or deferring to take a gap year.
The current Al Hamra campus is built on a 7 hectare site with facilities for both Primary and Senior sections of the school. The building is mainly two storey with Primary on the ground floor and Senior above. Primary classrooms are in clusters, with doors off the quad leading to year group bases. Primary has specialist cooking areas, an art room and DT rooms.
Classrooms are well resourced, there is an excellent library and the sports complex includes a very large indoor swimming pool and Astroturf playing field.
The Senior School facilities include design technology areas for food, textiles and resistant materials, art rooms, a drama studio, specialist science laboratories for Biology, Physics and Chemistry, as well as specialist English, Maths and Humanities areas. Additionally, the Sixth form students have their own study area.
ICT facilities include dedicated ICT suites, a one-to-one iPad programme for Years 2-6 and a bring your own device programme for Senior School students. The entire school is wi-fi enabled, able to support a full one-to-one device programme.
Shared facilities include a school hall, a suite of music rooms and peripatetic music teaching rooms, and a well-stocked library, whilst sports facilities include an artificial grass playing field, swimming pool, large sports hall, and two gymnasiums.
The Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) campus, opened in September 2020, and is a redevelopment of two adjacent buildings in the DQ. Current renovations were due to be completed in time for the beginning of the 2022/2023 academic year, enabling the opening of the Senior school. The entire campus is wi-fi enabled with bandwidth capability to support a full Bring Your Own Device ICT programme.
Facilities in the Foundation and Primary areas include a modern open plan indoor facility for the EYFS programme, and 12 primary classrooms, together with five specialist rooms for art, design and food technology, and learning support. There is a well-stocked library and large multi-purpose hall. Sports facilities include a basketball court sized indoor gym, an outdoor AstroTurf field, an indoor 25 metre swimming pool, and an outdoor basketball court. There is also ample outdoor space for children to play in.
The Salwa campus offers a purpose built single form entry school with large classroom spaces and subject specialist rooms for art, design technology, cooking, computing and music. There is an extensive library and a multi-purpose hall that serves both sports lessons, assemblies, annual productions, fayres and children’s-art galleries. The school is wi-fi enabled and there are ipads at a 1:1 ratio from Y1 to Y6.
Outdoor space includes a playground, and an eco garden. There is a large grass sports field that is used to host football, rugby and running activities. Salwa students also have access to the compound facilities which include a 20 metre swimming pool (to which all children from FS1 to Year 6 have weekly swimming lessons) an auditorium, bowling alley, sports hall, supermarket, medical centre and outside leisure pools.
The Taif campus (home to just 30 students from ages 4 – 11) provides schooling for families on Al-Wadia Compound. Taif Primary is the smallest school and is very much in the tradition of the small village school that sits at the heart of the community. It has three teaching rooms, a school hall (used for both school and compound events), and a number of multi-use spaces. The outside playground has recently been refurbished, with the addition of a full sunshade and an outside kitchen area. The school is wi-fi enabled and there are ipads at a 1:2 ratio from Year 1 to Year 6.
Students also has access to the facilities on the compound which include: a 20 metre swimming pool, a multi-use all weather pitch and tennis court.
Finally, the Tabuk campus is home to 60 students from ages 4 - 11. It serves the families on Tabuk Garden Village Compound. The Tabuk school is a purpose-built single form entry school with large classroom spaces and subject specialist rooms for art, design technology, cooking, computing and music.
In common with the other campuses, the library is extensive. The school hall serves sports lessons, assemblies, annual productions, fayres and children’s-art galleries. The school is wi-fi enabled and there are ipads at a 1:2 ratio from Year 1 to Year 6. The playground contains climbing frames, a pagoda, an eco-garden and a forest school area.. There is a large grass sports field that is used to host football, rugby and running activities. The school also has access to the facilities on the compound which include: a 20 metre swimming pool, bowling alley, sports hall, and outside leisure pools. All children from FS2 to Year 6 have swimming lessons each week during the Spring and Summer term.
As the longest established international British curriculum school in Riyadh, there is no doubt that BISR has an extremely strong reputation within the expatriate population.
The decision to relocate the Al Hamra campus to a newer, freshly built location, and the opening of the Diplomatic Quarter campus will aim to ensure that BISR is able to keep pace with some of the newer British curriculum schools moving into Riyadh – most notably King’s College and Aldenham Prep School. There have been comments about the Al Hamra campus in particular being on the ‘tired-side’.
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BISR boasts among the most expensive fees in the city with Foundation 1 starting at SAR 46,059 and Years 12 and 13 an eye-watering SAR 104,258.32 .
There are also a range of additional fees:
Whilst there is one central Admissions contact - [email protected] - each campus has an individual telephone number for enquiries. These are as follows:
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