The English College is one of Dubai’s oldest and we could say, most loved institutions, yet the school has seen more than its fair share of ‘ups and downs’ during its 24-year history.
This year, EC entered arguably its most exciting new chapter to date, when management was handed-over to LVS Ascot, a charitable trust already managing three successful schools in the United Kingdom.
And it didn’t stop there, immediately afterwards came news of the re-launch of EC’s much missed primary school, this time under the name of Manor Primary.
With so much change at the English College, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com thought it time to meet one of the key people responsible for its future, LVS’s director of education, Ian Mullins who already says he feels like he is home.
“If I shut my eyes and take the sun away, I could be back in Ascot,” he says. “The atmosphere, the feel, it’s a really comfortable school…You simply can’t manufacture that.”
Mullins admits he already enjoys his regular visits to the English College. In fact the story of LVS Ascot, Mullins and EC is itself a happy, serendipitous one.
Mullins sister had previously been a teacher in Dubai and during that time she had evidently made ‘friends in high places’. When EC decided a consultant was required to take the school forward, they called her for advice. She passed the request onto her brother, Ian Mullins at LVS Ascot.
His first task was to recruit a principal, which they did in Ian Jones. With 20 years’ experience running schools both in the UK and across the Middle East, Jones was felt to be an ideal fit.
Mullins says, “about eight months later we (LVS Ascot) were approached by the British Embassy to help advise schools opening in the Middle East and China.” Mullins liked the concept, yet felt there were too many ‘unknowns’ involved for the project to be seriously viable. “We didn’t know much about the specific schools we were asked about, their aims and objectives,” he says.
Yet the idea drew Mullins back to EC where the aims were familiar, and the school a known quantity. It did not take long before the idea germinated and grew into something real. “We signed on the dotted line in March this year,” he says.
Mullins joined LVS Ascot in the 1990s initially as principal at LVS Ascot- a 900 student non-selective independent school.
Today as Director of Education for the group he manages Ascot plus two Autism specialist schools in Oxford and Brighton and now the English College.
He believes the weakness of many schools in the Middle east is their dependence on individual principals, most of whom move on after only a few years in the position.
“There’s a huge amount of money wasted, because the money is put where the head dictates, instead of a more strategic, long term view,” he says.
"If our head moves on, we (LVS Ascot) still have a premises and equipment fit for that long term purpose.”
“Right now, I’m putting together a series of plans... there are three areas of development I will be focusing on… Firstly a growing 6th form… Secondly to improve our poor science facilities which will need a new block. Finally, we want to enhance our sporting facilities.”
“We have already increased salaries and improved the healthcare… and the staff we have here now are very keen and very dedicated … It’s a great place to work,” he says.
As the discussion turns to the reopening of Manor Primary, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asks about the parents who may still be aggrieved with the school’s sudden closure back in 2013.
“I can understand it, and that people may be reticent about coming to Manor given our past… It (the closure of EC primary) must have come as a huge shock… I understand they must feel let down, but it’s also history. We are where we are… And we now have the opportunity to redevelop.”
In a letter to parents, principal at the time, William Johnson, voiced his ‘deep regret’ at the closure.
The key to reopening has been the ability to raise the fees. The English College primary was opened in 2004, however by 2013, the fees (27,000 AED to 29,000 AED) were considered by management to be too low to cover the school’s overheads. After requests to the KHDA to increase the fees (above those permitted by the regulator) were turned down, the board felt there was no option but to close the school.
The KHDA allows schools to increase fees year on year, but how much depends upon the performance of the school, and any investment it makes into its facilities.
According to Mullins the newly launched primary now has a more "realistic" fee scale (Dhs 47,000 to Dhs 51,750) and an extremely experienced new principal in Karen Davies.
“I have a very strong head and strong staff. We have reopened Manor Primary with the intention of making it a first class school for 450-500 students.”
“We’re very supported and very committed to developing the school. I wouldn’t come into this unless I saw longevity,” added Mullins.
Mullins believes there are many similarities than differences between LVS Ascot and EC.
“The confidence of students, the non-selective co-educational nature, it fits both schools, and they are also roughly the same size,” he says.
Collaboration has already commenced between EC and LVS. “We’ve already had the opportunity where staff discussion (between the two schools), particularly the minority subjects, where we have one or two staff out here delivering a subject and in Ascot we also have one or two, suddenly we have four brains working on it.”
Talking of collaboration, Mullins sees EC and LVS having, “opportunities both ways.” He sees it likely that parents returning to the UK will be more aware of LVS Ascot, and potentially have it ‘on their radar’ as a school option in the UK.
“For me, I would have all my schools about this size… you know all the members of staff… and when there’s a problem at home its picked up by a member of staff, they know when there’s a child that isn’t quite right today…even down to the parents can come in and saying the cat’s died or whatever might have happened, it’s all picked up, whereas in a large school it can be missed. We will maintain that at all costs and develop their full potential here…”
The pupils are our great strength, the location is fantastic,” he says. The school is going somewhere.
"All EC really needed was a plan...”