Located next to Hartland International School on the Sobha development at Mohammed bin Maktoum City (across from Business Bay), the North London Collegiate School Dubai is well on the way to completion.
At first sight, the new school lacks some of the features that make its neighbour so attractive - notably the fertile outdoor space and especially the green quadrangles between sections of the building which are popular with students and staff alike during the less warm weather. However, on completion – handover is due at the end of July – expectations are that the NLCS building will be complete and its the final touches that will bring warmth and life to the buildings.
With input from the Founding Principal, Daniel Lewis, (a veteran of both the original North London Collegiate School UK and more recently, its first overseas branch at Jeju in South Korea), the school been designed to ensure that there are plentiful gathering places and learning spaces within the building, recognising that this is also a vital feature of a school in the UAE.
NLCS Dubai does not lack outdoor space either - a very large sports field is currently under construction which will allow for football, cricket and athletics. Shaded bleachers have been built into the side of the building overlooking the sports field and can be accessed directly from the first floor. The two swimming pools - one learner pool and a further full size competition pool are already complete and filled with water. Finally, there is also a large indoor gymnasium with full sprung flooring being installed to ensure a safe and comfortable surface for all manner of indoor sports activities – including a triple height climbing wall which will be installed at the end of the facility.
Access to the school is from 3 sides including bus access for both the Junior and Senior schools at the rear of the building with carefully placed shaded awnings. On the opposite side of the building is a drop off area for parents, together with parking. This area is constructed within the building, meaning that children are delivered in the shade and are not expected to walk across roads or car parks to reach their destination. Above this facility are the Junior School play areas.
Located on the ground floor, together with the Junior School classrooms, KG classrooms are set up in pairs with the usual toilet facilities for younger children in place. Class rooms are large and spacious, and look outwards towards the exterior of the school or inwards towards shaded quadrangles that will act as play areas. Double size rooms have also been created to enable flexible multi-space locations for Dance, Drama and Music. The ground floor is also home to a very spacious Dining Hall which will cater to all students. Primary age children will be based on the ground floor of the school in its first year, extending upwards to the first floor as the school expands.
The main entrance to the school for visitors is also located across from the Sports fields and incorporates an enormous atrium which extends to the top of the 4 floors of the building. Featuring glass walkways and banisters, together with a central staircase that starts at the side of the building and travels in a straight line directly to the top of the building, this is a most impressive centre-piece.
A parent café is to be provided on the ground floor. The main entry will also incorporate the same rounded “Glassy Porch” which is a feature of the London school and has also been incorporated into the construction of the entrance at NLCS Jeju.
The first floor houses the staff offices and common facilities, together with the lower of the two floors of the Senior school library with connecting staircase. This part of the school is also where the full scale of the Atrium and also the Performing Arts Centre can be appreciated. The latter will offer a capacity for 750 audience members and also includes a large reception area which will act as a gallery space for art works as well as the meeting area prior to performances.
On the second floor, classrooms occupy most of the exterior viewing rooms whilst specialist rooms for Dance, Drama and Music (including multiple practice rooms, a black box room and Music recording studio) are on the interior side of the corridors. There are also separate ICT labs though generally ICT will be integrated into classroom teaching.
At capacity, NLCS Dubai will have approximately 1800 students and a staff of around 180. Current expectations are that the school will have between 45-50 staff when it opens in September. The reason behind staff numbers in the first year is that, according to Dan, the school is “leadership heavy” in terms of management. NLCS has a much larger middle management than most schools, since it has staff with specific and exclusive responsibility for areas such as Academic Tuition, Professional Staff Development, Extra-curricular activities and the International Award among others, who ensure a sharp focus.
The senior team consists of the Principal, Bursar and three Deputies. Key appointments have already been made for the Deputies including two staff who have worked for NLCS previously. The vast majority of teaching staff are from the UK.
The school has attracted children from a broad range of nationalities, many with UK connections although not necessarily UK passport holders. Families from the US, Europe and South America have also signed up for the IB programmes that NLCS will offer to grade 11 when it opens in September. Class sizes will eventually be 20 in KG and 24 from Grade 2 upwards. A teaching assistant will support all of the KG classes and will then be shared between 2 classes thereafter. Current plans are to open one class per grade, though some grades will already open with 2 classes – ensuring much higher staff:student ratios.
The building for NLCS is certainly substantial and the facilities evidently extremely good. However, the key to the school’s success will not be about the facilities – they are a given – but about NLCS Dubai’s ability to deliver the quality of education and the academic results for which the UK and South Korean schools are known. Certainly, there is no question that this is the priority for the Principal and his team and beyond the buildings, it's the staffing provision that is the clearest evidence of this commitment.