At a glance
The single largest demographic within Cranleigh Abu Dhabi's student body is British (34%), followed by Americans (15%) and then Emiratis (11%).
Note: See our UPDATED visit report, "Two years on", below
At the time of the school's inspection, the student population numbered 700 of which 57% were boys, 28% Muslim and 15% of Arabic heritage. Just fifteen students were designated as having special educational needs (SEN).
Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is located on Saadiyat Island, the new cultural home of the capital, and therefore almost an ideal location for a school - or will be. At the moment, it is still surrounded by construction, with a one way traffic system that makes it a lengthy process to reach. However, once you negotiate the traffic system, you are led to the main entrance to the school which is large and imposing, and will be neighbours with the likes of the Louvre and Guggenheim.
The school follows an England and Wales based curriculum initially, with EYFS and IGCSEs. Note, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi offers IGCSE not GCSEs with the exceptions of Arabic Second Language, Art and Dance due to the unavailability of suitable IGCSE courses. The difference between the international and UK based qualification has widened with recent reforms. Visit our curriculum page here for more information.
The school will then move on to A' Levels. The schools had considered the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme whilst it "watched closely the current overhaul of the UK's post-16 education landscape".
However the school has taken the A' Level route, but also offers the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). "The EPQ is similar in concept to the IB Extended Essay, but more in-depth in delivery. It is completed over the two years of Sixth Form."
Cranleigh Sixth Form has adopted the "Harkness style teaching" for its sixth form, which is a dialogue-based approach that allows students to further develop their independent thinking through tutorial style lessons around an oval table.
Classroom sizes are small, with a maximum of 18 per class according to information provided to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
As you would expect teachers have been predominantly recruited from the UK, with some UK experienced staff recruited from within the Gulf area. Staff are said to all have public school experience - which should prove to be a key differentiator for Cranleigh.
As you walk into the school the first impression is of an extremely cheerful and helpful Security guard on door duty who is greeted politely by students as they come and go. The entrance opens onto a large foyer which is light and airy. Offices are to the right of the foyer and great care has been taken to ensure that each has windows at both ends, so that the light streams through to the Reception area.
There is a very comfortable, homely seating area with large sofas for visitors. This side of the building looks out over the quadrangle with staff accommodation on one side, the main auditorium and sports facilities and a further teaching block (for the Senior school) surrounding the sports fields in the centre.
The classrooms for the Early Years and Junior School are located on the ground floor, leading off onto corridors to the left of the main lobby area. Each corridor has classrooms on both sides and a central area for play and group activity. Between the corridors are outside shaded areas which are used for PE for the youngest children currently.
Classrooms are again light, bright and airy and pieces of students’ work adorned on the walls add to the busy atmosphere.
Great care has been taken to ensure that even the youngest children can see outside (low-level windows) and that equipment is totally appropriate to their needs – much has been produced locally to the school’s specifications.
The school canteen is also located on the ground floor.
Older students are accommodated on the Second floor, where there are also specialist Science labs and the Library.
Cranleigh Abu Dhabi operates an extended day with many students at school from 8am to 4.30pm and later, as Prep time and Sports activities are built into the schedule.
It is hoped that this format will encourage families to consider day-boarding initially with weekly and full-time boarding to follow eventually. Boarding Houses are due to follow in the next phase of construction.
With its proximity to the water surrounding the area, students are able to take part in a range of water-based activities, as well as the more traditional sports and after-school clubs.
Fees are at the very top end for Abu Dhabi, where schools tend to have lower fees than in neighbouring Dubai. They range from 65,000 AED in FS1 to 96333 AED in Year 10. These are top end prices (and would be even for Dubai). However, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is positioning itself as one of, if not the premium option in the capital, operating in a very exclusive location, with the experienced staff you would expect from a similar school in the UK.
This will put pressure on the school to deliver quickly. Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is a very new school and its processes will no doubt be still bedding down. However, it already leaves a positive impression in terms of its scale, appearance and its busy, bright and cheerful atmosphere. Cranleigh has quite a reputation to live up to, but first impressions left WhichSchoolAdvisor.com feeling the school is already delivering much early promise.
WSA Visit - Two Years On
Cranleigh School, Abu Dhabi, 15th May 2016
Cranleigh is set on a beautifully appointed, spacious state of the art campus. Led by the quietly confident, yet highly ambitious head, the school has established its identity remarkably quickly. Cranleigh exhibits a commitment to quality throughout and has strong links to the ‘mother’ school in England. The creative arts are outstanding and Cranleigh has the ‘real feel’ of a top class UK independent school.
Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is located on Saadiyat Island and although it is only been open for less than two years, it has already created the atmosphere of a confident, private school with a clear focus and ambition.
The school was designed by UK architects Godwin, Austin Johnston and built across seven hectares. It is designed to accommodate more than 1,600 students aged from three to 18 years and is divided into junior and senior sections. At present, there are 950 students with a maximum class size of 18. Because the school has such a huge campus it feels very spacious, open and up-to-date. The three white block buildings are beautifully designed to create a feeling of space with high ceilings and lots of natural light.
Whilst the Junior School is more traditional in style, the modern architecture of the Senior School somehow creates the aura of an art gallery or theatre. This building also incorporates a café for all, with a wide choice of nutritionally balanced snacks and meals. The greeting from security was friendly and we were warmly welcomed by Vicki Butcher who is Head of Admissions and Communications at the school. Like many of the staff, her own children attend Cranleigh. The school has very strong links to the original Cranleigh School in the UK and in Abu Dhabi they aim to capture the essence of what Cranleigh UK is.
What sets Cranleigh Abu Dhabi apart from many other UAE schools we have visited is that in addition to the obvious focus on the usual academic subjects, there is a very strong focus on subjects that would probably not be viewed as “core” by many schools. In particular, the Arts (including Music and Performing Arts) and Sports are given enormous support by the school. An extended School Day (with many students remaining at school until 6pm) ensures that children are able to participate in the normal academic timetable, spend an hour each day on homework (prep) in school and then participate in a further 1½ hours of After School Activities.
Far from being exhausted as one might anticipate, students seem to embrace the opportunities that this timetable provides. The Headmaster strongly believes that “children who perform outside the academic programme, perform better in the academic programme”. He believes that schools have a responsibility to turn out well-rounded individuals and this can only happen if there is a focus beyond the academic.
We visited both the Junior and Senior sections of the school. The Junior School is made up of Pre-Prep students from FS1 to Year 2, and Prep from Year 3 to Year 8. Senior School students are from Year 9 upwards. The division in this way is based on the traditional UK expectation that students at the top of the Junior School will sit the Common Entrance exam for UK public/boarding schools (this is offered at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi also). Students that remain in Abu Dhabi then join the Senior School in anticipation of sitting the UK public exams (IGCSE and A Level).
Although the buildings are separate, there is an unusual integration of junior and senior pupils, as the older pupils often help out with events such as Junior sports day. Students in Year 8 are allocated duties around the school, including peer mentoring for younger students under the direction of the Deputy Head of Pastoral, in preparation for their move to the Senior School in Year 9.
In the Junior School, there are many stunning specialist classrooms and studios with all the up-to-date and appropriate equipment. Students from FS1 to Year 3 remain in the Junior School building for almost all lessons aside from Sports. Students from Year 4 upward are also taught in the central school block where there are a wide range of specialist rooms for Art, Performing Arts, Design Technology and Science. Information Technology, including programming, is taught from FS1. Arabic is taught to all students from FS2 upwards; French is taught from Year 3 and in Year 7, students choose between Spanish and Latin.
Also housed within the Junior School building is the team that works with students who have additional learning needs. In addition to students participating in the Gifted and Talented programme and English as an Additional Language, Cranleigh also an SEN team to support the approx. 10-15% of students who are recognised as in need of Special Educational support.
Each floor of the central building is dedicated to a specific area of focus, including Science labs, Art and Design Technology of all descriptions. Design Technology is the most popular optional subject taken by students and is equipped with Laser cutters, Woodwork rooms and separate Food Technology rooms. Students work on projects involving Wood, Metal and Plastic.
Robotics is also offered as an After School activity and Product Design and Resistant Materials feature among IGCSE subjects offered. Both DT and Art departments are beautifully equipped and the staff seemed tremendously enthusiastic. We saw a group designing storage units in DT and the work was of a high standard. A 3D printer is soon to be added to their array of equipment and we’re not sure who’s more excited by this, the pupils or the teacher!
During Art lessons each year group focuses on specific genres including Ceramics (using the on-site kiln) and printmaking among others. The Art department had some beautiful work on the walls, some of which had been sent from Cranleigh School in Surrey created by older students as inspiration for the younger years in Abu Dhabi. There were also several examples of ceramic pieces around the school such as mini Totem poles, ceramic faces and a nearly completed tile mural.
Dedicated music rooms enable students to learn almost all musical instruments including Woodwind, Brass and Piano as well as a strong focus on Voice coaching. Full time tutors work with approx. one third of the school’s student body participating in peripatetic lessons. 60 students are currently working for external music exams.
We visited the dance studio where a Year 10 class were analysing a piece and discussing its merits in between creating their own dance performances. This appears to be the first school in this region to offer Dance as a specialist GCSE subject. As part of its aim to provide learning beyond the academic and the school boundaries, students were lucky recently to have a visit from the famous Carlos Acosta, who gave a masterclass to the GCSE dance students. They were able to present choreography pieces followed by a Q&A session with Carlos.
This sort of event will be repeated as their next famous visitors will be two opera singers and four professional educationalists from the opera world in UK – a director, music director/composer, designer and choreographer – who will work with 80 Y7-11 students to produce an original performance over a 5 day period.
The Year 10 pupils we observed will be the first group to follow through taking the bulk of their IGCSEs in 2017, although some subjects will be taken this summer. We were able to look at classrooms in action as they studied for English, Maths, French, Spanish, IT, Art and Design Technology.
We were struck by the enthusiasm of the teachers, the focus of the pupils and the small class sizes enabling the teachers to give each individual child time and attention. Several classrooms have tiered or theatre style chairs and desks which allow all the pupils to have face-to-face interaction with what is happening at the front of the room. Other rooms had a huge table to allow the whole class to be seated with the teacher to form a ring, again to allow interaction within the group.
French is taught by French natives as is Arabic and Spanish, so the children have a better opportunity to develop a perfect accent and understand more about the respective cultures. There are several IT suites even one which allows pupils to work on two large screens at a time.
The Drama teacher we met was very passionate about her subject, although there were no classes being taught at the time. There are several amazing areas for performances which the school puts on every term. A beautiful theatre is used for major events; it looks like a professional venue with stadium seating and even royal boxes at the sides!
There are drama suites for smaller events but it was impressive to hear how they used the balconies in the spacious reception area for a recent show. The audience was able to watch from below as the actors performed from across the spaces above – a really creative use of the area.
As expected, the sporting facilities are fabulous with two huge grass pitches, four tennis courts, two swimming pools, an indoor sports hall which can be used for many games, plus a dance studio and a fully set up gymnasium. Extra-curricular activities are numerous from sailing to horse riding, from tennis, rugby and ballet to football.
Part of our visit enabled us to meet four of the student leaders – head girls and boys of both Senior and Junior Schools. They were extremely smart, polite and engaging. They were each able to offer input about how they value Cranleigh Abu Dhabi. The welcoming and encouraging atmosphere was mentioned, the amazing sporting opportunities, the chance to be a school leader and the exciting creative events.
We next met three of the mums who were really positive about wider aspects of the school and practical details such as uniform, drop off, parking etc. They were very pleased with their choice of school for their children and feel confident of the care and guidance their children are receiving. In particular, they praised the level of confidence they felt staff instilled in their children, the specialisation available to them through the specialist subject staff at the school and the communication between the school and parents.
There are active parent groups across the school with year group representatives forming a parent group for each of the Pre-Prep, Prep and Senior schools.
We found Brendan Law, the Headmaster, to be gracious, wise and easy to talk to. He’s very proud of the school, of the campus, location and the school’s potential. There is a relaxed purposefulness to Mr. Law, but at the same time he sounded eager for the establishment to grow and develop. Mr. Law stressed that developing a sense of community across all parties was the key to the future. He feels very strongly that Cranleigh Abu Dhabi needs to maintain its ambition across all cultural, sporting and academic areas in order for the school to flourish – and that patience is the key.
Mr. Law explained that there is a regular and close relationship between this school and Cranleigh Surrey – this school is not simply a franchise of the UK school, but a partner. Children and staff are in constant contact, with 31 Music students having already participated in exchanges and joint staff Professional Development activities taking place between the two schools. Students slot into Cranleigh UK seamlessly with one having already transferred to the UK as a boarder. The school is also developing strong links with New York University Abu Dhabi and staff exchanges and cooperation are being fostered.
Mr Law is very particular in choosing the right teaching staff, so he personally interviews and selects every appointment. Staff turnover is low with 90% of staff being retained annually. Demand to join the school is high, driven by the facilities and class sizes which appeal to potential staff. Most of the teaching staff have accommodation on site which means an easy stroll to work.
The next steps for Cranleigh will be the progression of the first set of students to Year 11 and the first set of published GCSE exam results for the school in August 2017. The other is the development of the boarding facilities at the school which will enable children to participate in the after-school programme and remain on-site there-after. This will also open up opportunities for non-Abu Dhabi based children to board at the school as well, in the tradition of the UK Boarding school. Mr Law is quietly confident of the school’s potential, but is clearly also very ambitious and determined to maintain the ethos of Cranleigh Abu Dhabi which sets it apart from other schools in the UAE.
WSA Visit - One Year On
One year after its opening on Saadiyat Island, a stone’s throw from the Manarat Al Saadiyat (at the centre of the Arts and Cultural district), Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is complete.
The Secondary School building opened in September 2015 as part of the final phase for the moment (Boarding Houses are planned as part of phase 3). This followed completion of the adjacent Staff accommodation and the Science and Sports blocks that join the Secondary building to the original Prep School on the other side of the very large playing fields.
The new building is light, airy and bright, with a very modern open lift and glass framed staircases leading to the upper floors of the building. Most of the school administration is now located in this new building.
The school now has approx. 1,000 students and is open to Year 10.
There are approximately 100 students in the Senior School (made up of year 9 and 10), with the Prep School offering years 3 to 8 and the Pre-Prep providing FS1 to year 2. Pre-Prep offers 5 form entry with approx. 18 students per class – this part of the school is full. In the Prep School, there are currently 6 classes with a capacity of 18 students per class whilst there are 3 classes each in years 9 and 10. The school is offering the IGCSE curriculum for years 10 and 11 and will have its first group of year 10 early entry Mathematicians enter the exams during the current school year.
Aside from the academic focus of the school, Cranleigh is determined to be an important part of the Saadiyat cultural hub. It has recently appointed a Programme to bring cultural activities and performances to the school and its 600+ seater professionally designed and finished 3 tier Auditorium is ideally suited to host such events. The school is also keen to engage with other organisations in the community and is in discussions with New York University and the organisers of the Abu Dhabi Festival to see how they can work together to this end.
The school remains an impressive centre of activity on this part of the island and will no doubt continue to grow in popularity.
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