We visited the currently-in-progress Citizens School for a 'Hard Hat Tour' in March 2022 to see what form this new school’s vision of a “re-imagined education” and campus will take. The school is located next to City Walk, within close proximity of Downtown Dubai and Business Bay and is set to open for the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year. The Citizens School team assure us that the building work is well on track.
We were warmly greeted by the school's Founding Principal, Mr Ciarán Cunningham Watson, and Head of Primary, Ms Kephren Sherry (both pictured above right, alongside WSA's Senior Editor, Susan Roberts, left).
Before touring the school campus, we were pleased to have the opportunity to hear from the team behind the school, comprised of two organisations that have come together to create Citizens School: Blenheim Schools (part of Chatsworth Schools group, an independent school group in the UK) and its UAE partner, Al Zarooni Investments.
Anita Gleave, Founder and CEO of Blenheim Schools provided context for the school’s vision. She said:
“Schools have been factory farming children for over 200 years. Why? Because we created an education system to develop a workforce which was reliable, sustainable, and manageable. But we don't live in that world anymore. We don't have those jobs anymore. We have no predictability, the game’s off. And yet, every school, whether it's British or American or IB, has a standard curriculum. We have schools with standard classrooms with a standard chair, we have standard exams, which provide standard qualifications, with standard expectations.
We're not just talking about the engineers and the doctors. We're talking about the astronauts, the hairdressers, the dancers, the dreamers, the imaginers, the creators… The children who need extra help, and the children who need an extra push, the children who will be virtuosos, who will be Olympic swimmers.”
Ms Gleave provided a glimpse into how Citizens School aims to be different:
“We won't have classrooms, we’ll have dynamic learning spaces. We won't have teachers, we’ll have mentors. We won't have a traditional day."
Citizens School has a clear message of aiming to focus on the needs and strengths of each individual student and stand apart from schools whose focus is on “standardised” academic achievement, a concept that the leadership team skilfully communicates. As a goal, this message is certainly not unique, but is perhaps one that will speak to a significant number of parents whose children are not thriving in more traditional academic environments.
Mr Hisham Hodroge, CEO of Citizens School, provided us with a tour of the campus. While still under construction, the building was at a stage of development that made imagining the finished facilities not too challenging a task, although Mr Hodroge’s descriptions were appreciated in painting a more detailed picture. The school, which will have a capacity for 2,600 children between the ages of three and 18 years, will cover a 24,500 square-meter built up area. Indeed, the site felt substantial in size and has been designed to be pleasantly open plan in many of its shared learning spaces and walkways, with natural light flowing through the building.
Mr Hodroge explained that the school has been designed to ensure that students, from as early as FS1, are exposed to a variety of learning environments throughout the day, rather than being limited to their classrooms, and that they will likewise be exposed to multiple teachers, including specialists.
Mr Hodroge went on to explain that the school will have “flexi-labs”, dynamic learning spaces which can utilise a range of equipment and furniture for a variety of purposes, depending on “the requirements of the child and teacher (or mentor) in that specific time”.
“There are also areas within the school that are geared towards more collaborative projects. This is an environment where we want to nurture individuals to come up with new ideas, to be creative and to reach their potential.”
Mr Hodroge was keen to highlight the school's significant facilities for areas such as sports, arts and music. He explained that in providing these facilities, the school aims to expose young children to a broad range of learning experiences, allowing them to develop an awareness of where their passions lie, and the direction they want to take.
Our tour included the school’s substantial outdoor play space for the younger year groups, which was still under construction, as well as a six lane semi-covered swimming pool, multiple sports pitches and several sizable indoor multi-purpose spaces.
The team behind Citizens School certainly have a vision and are able to paint a pretty compelling picture. There is no doubt that there is lots that is admirable in the vision. The proof however is in the pudding, and how the school will accomplish its goals, within the constraints of a standardised regulatory requirement, is something we are eager to see in practice when the school opens its doors to its founding students in September.