NLCS Dubai: Meet the head, Daniel Lewis

With the news that the iconic British North London Collegiate School (NLCS) will be opening a Dubai branch in September 2017, met with founding headmaster, Daniel Lewis, to find out a little more about him and his plans for the new Dubai school.
NLCS Dubai: Meet the head, Daniel Lewis
By David Westley
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You’ve been with NLCS for 14 years and worked ‘up the ranks’ from drama teacher to your position today as founding principal at NLCS Dubai, can you tell us a little more about your time with NLCS?

Yes, I was appointed by the current headmistress, Mrs McCabe, and started as a teacher of english and drama in 2002. I’ve been very lucky in the opportunities I’ve been given since joining the school.

In 2006 I became director of drama and, just ahead of that, was fortunate to be able to contribute to the design and specification of the School’s new Performing Arts Centre.  In 2009, I was promoted to the newly-created position of director of extra-curricular activities, with responsibility for all the school’s extra-curricular provision, alongside retaining my role as director of drama. That was a busy year!

My first major initiative was to introduce a system of school ‘colours’ to recognise students’ commitment and achievement across a range of extra-curricular activities. Students had previously received ‘colours’ only for sport but I proposed and introduced a way to recognise the students’ endeavours in Music, Community Service, Dance, Drama and Visual Arts, as well as Service to the school.

I have seen countless times the enormous benefit to students’ confidence and self-esteem that involvement in these activities can bring, and providing them with a tangible recognition and celebration of their contribution in these fields was just another way to build that self-esteem and sense of ownership.

In 2010, I was given the opportunity by Mrs McCabe to take responsibility for delivering the NLCS Jeju project, as deputy head of the UK school. I worked closely with the school architects and with our partners in South Korea in order to deliver a coeducational boarding school for over 1400 students. I was closely involved in every element of the project, from monitoring construction, to recruitment of all teachers and even went on a two-week marketing tour, speaking to parents across South Korea and China!

It was a great experience and since then I’ve had day-to-day responsibility for the school from the NLCS (UK) side, working closely with the principal, and traveling out regularly for monitoring and inspection visits.


NLCS UK has topped both the IB Diploma and GCSE ranks once again this year, what do you think makes the school so consistently outstanding when it comes to the academics?

The school is never complacent – it never stands still. Under Mrs McCabe’s leadership, we constantly review what we’ve done and try to improve it. Above all, we never teach to the test – the reason students do so well is that their teachers light the flame of enthusiasm for their subjects in our students and teach far beyond the constraints of any syllabus. We also know every student as an individual and support them through whatever is happening in their lives to ensure no-one ‘slips through the net’. We never put limits on what students can achieve and no-one is written off.


How do you plan to replicate the academic success of NLCS UK here in Dubai?

In exactly that way – by recruiting teachers who can introduce their subjects with passion and drive and by never ‘labeling’ students or limiting their potential. We’ve been very pleased with our recruitment process in that a number of teachers who have taught at our Jeju school and from the London campus have applied for roles in Dubai. I’m particularly excited that we’ve been able to appoint a former vice principal from Jeju to be our VP (Curriculum); having a good number of teachers right from day one, who fully understand and embrace our ethos will help to ensure that we quickly establish that ethos in the new school. The calibre of applications has been very high and we have already been able to identify highly qualified and suitably experienced teachers who will understand and embrace the NLCS approach.


NLCS UK is the quintessential UK independent school, while NLCS SK is everything parents look for in a modern international school, which school do you think NLCS Dubai will more closely resemble? Can you explain?

I think both schools are about the same thing – that’s why we’re so proud of NLCS Jeju. They’re about giving students, whatever their background or circumstances, a truly international education – one that promotes cultural understanding, a breadth of perspectives and the confidence to operate within any context. Both schools are creating the leaders of the next generation, and I know NLCS Dubai will do the same.


We have many UK school-brands in the UAE plus several ‘Outstanding’ local ones too, what will NLCS bring to Dubai that is unique and what do you think will be its clear USP among its premium priced peers?

Yes, there are lots of good schools here in Dubai. What we hope to bring is something that doesn’t really exist here yet – a school which is internationally recognised for the strength of its academic record that can offer a truly ambitious education, based on the IB model, to children of all ages.


Tell us about the NLCS Dubai facilities?

The facilities are just what you what expect from a world-class school. Eight lane indoor pool and trainer pool, sports hall, basketball court, tennis courts and large football/rugby field. Science and classroom facilities will be modern and spacious, with excellent support for IT-based learning and research. Specialist art studios, and music studios, superb design and robotics facilities and of course a state-of-the-art Performing Arts Centre which will function as a fully professional theatre and music performance space. As with all NLCS schools, the Senior library is at the heart of the school – it is a beautiful space, – double height and capable of holding over 20,00 volumes.


What will be the collaboration possibilities for staff and students across the NLCS network?

We have quite a different approach to many UK schools who have established branches overseas, in that we have committed to a truly ‘joined up’ approach. With the Jeju school, we have established student and staff exchanges, and there are regular video-conference link-ups between assemblies and special events. Students collaborate on joint projects, such as the ‘Global’ magazine and we have held debates and discussion groups between students at the two schools. Establishing NLCS in Dubai will place the school equidistant between the two existing NLCS schools and hence opportunities will be even greater for collaboration, exchange and joint projects. One we are particularly excited to explore is the chance for our students to contribute to our partner, Sobha’s community project in Pekkallad, Kerala – a group of NLCS (UK) students is visiting for the first time this December and next year, they will be joined by students from NLCS Dubai – a great opportunity for a joint community service project.


How can parents find out more about the admissions process and apply to NLCS Dubai?

We are now accepting applications for admission to the School from students wishing to enter Pre-Kindergarten up to Grade 10. Please visit our website or come to talk to us on the 5th Floor of the Sobha Sapphire Building, Business Bay – we very much look forward to meeting you!

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