Brighton College Dubai opened in 2018 and was the third Brighton College campus to open in the UAE. As a sister school to the highly regarded 175-year-old Brighton College UK, our editor certainly expected excellence, but what exactly this would look like in the early years, was more of a question mark.
Would Brighton College’s youngest pupils be mastering their times tables at three and four-years-old, and sitting obediently with perfect posture in pristine uniforms? Or would they be engaged in enthralling play-based activities, developing their own passions, and expressing their individuality? We were eager to find out...
We arrived at the school at 8:00am on a regular Tuesday morning, and were greeted warmly by Head of Pre-Prep, Mrs Katy Cooke. The school has a separate Early Years entrance, providing its youngest pupils with a sense of belonging to a smaller, cosier school within the larger Brighton College campus.
To our surprise (and delight), and for the first time in a UAE school, our reviewer was invited to observe the FS1 and FS2 classes freely for around an hour.
It is important to pause for a moment and consider the level of confidence required for this transparency. While other schools prefer to ensure our reviewers only observe their best teachers and most impressive activities, Mrs Cooke clearly had total confidence in her entire team.
It would be easy to underestimate the school’s youthful and mild-mannered Head of Pre-Prep, Mrs Katy Cooke, but foolish to do so. Mrs Cooke is an exceptional education leader with a clear vision of what early years education at Brighton College Dubai must entail, based on foundations of child wellbeing, compassion and curiosity. Quite frankly, her depth of knowledge and insightful perspectives on the educational needs of young children blew us away. She explained:
“Yes, we're Brighton College, but we're not some academic hothouse. We get the results because our children are happy, because we focus on what they need."
Indeed, this is very much what our reviewer observed as she visited the school’s early years classrooms. Children were engaged, confident, curious and connected. She explained the team’s approach to supporting children’s behaviour:
“The pandemic has resulted in children needing a lot more support for emotional regulation. We’ve provided a lot of training to our staff on this, and have completely changed our behaviour management policy for Pre-Prep. What we aim to do is preventative, rather than reactive, seeing the signs, seeking to understand the trigger, because behaviour doesn’t just happen for no reason, there’s always something behind it. As a result, we don't tend to have big outbursts, because our children are understood and supported.”
Early Years classrooms are very much learning environments at Brighton College Dubai, in that are designed to encourage child-led exploration and play, rather than centering on the adult. These spaces are beautifully curated in line with the Curiosity Approach, using natural materials, loose parts, and varied “real” objects to collectively inspire interest and creativity in the children.
Each classroom flowed directly to a varied outdoor play space, which provided an extension of the indoor learning environment, rather than a break from it. Children are able to move freely between the indoor and outdoor space for much of the morning, with adult supervision and support provided in each area.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is unguided free play. Far from it, the early years team at Brighton College Dubai expertly support the children’s learning through play, extending their interests and encouraging them to explore their curiosities.
Children also participated in small group activities with their teachers. Our reviewer noted a particularly engaging literacy activity, in which children wrote letters as a ‘message in a bottle’, inspired by a book they had read about pirates. The enthusiasm from the children to attempt this challenging writing exercise was most impressive, each child appeared genuinely inspired and motivated, choosing to take part.
The support children received to manage their emotions and behaviour was also impressive, with adults keenly noticing when their intervention was needed to sooth and re-engage a child or provide them with a listening ear in a quiet corner.
Our reviewer received a tip off from a child that Mr Kingsley’s music classes were not to be missed. “It’s really really fun”, the four-year-old boy explained, with widened eyes. Following this insider advice, the early years music room was our next stop, and Mr Kingsley did not disappoint.
A circle of FS1 children enthusiastically banged, clanked and scraped percussive instruments to a beat, as the charismatic Mr Kingsley leapt around energetically, guiding a game in which the children were able to experience every instrument. There was an impressive level of cohesion in the noise, the children fully engaged with their teacher, some giggling with joy.
On the face of it, Brighton College Dubai’s Early Years section is no different to that of many other schools, but a little scratch beneath the surface quickly reveals that it stands miles apart.
The level of applied knowledge and commitment to ensure children feel happy and confident is second to none (in our editor's view), and the impact of this in the children’s learning is incredibly impressive.
This is the real deal, quite possibly the most outstanding early years practice we have experienced in the UAE (and we don’t make claims like this lightly).
For more, click here for our full Experience inspection report.