Our visit to Oaktree Primary School was a first for the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Hard Hat Tour series, in the fact that we didn’t actually need our hard hats at all.
Being a re-fit, rather than a ‘new-build’ construction, for once our fetching site-boots, hard hats and high-visibility jackets were redundant.
Oaktree Primary School was, in its previous incarnation, the German School in Al Quoz 4. Situated alongside the Amled School on the 318 road, the location is perfectly situated for students from Downtown, Al Quoz, Umm Suqeim and Al Barsha.
While most of the schools we have visited have employed founding principals relatively new to the UAE, Oaktree has opted for a 'big-name' headmaster- Christopher McDermott, previously of GEMS Education.
Put simply, Mc Dermott is ‘significant’ in the sector and his experience isn't just in ‘any old school,' but at the helm of GEMS JPS, the group’s ‘brand within a brand,’ which has been awarded an Outstanding rating by the KHDA for five consecutive years.
In short, he is a man who understands the Dubai market, the parents and the KHDA exceedingly well.
Now at the helm of Oaktree, another British curriculum primary school, McDermott is not only brimming with enthusiasm and plans for the school, but when we meet him-he’s literally raring to get going.
He says although he did have some influence over the renovations, his primary focus has been on creating the ‘ethos’ of the new school.
“Parents want a school to feel like a community, Oaktree will be an ‘English Village School’ in the sense of its size (only 606 students at capacity) and community feel, we want the parents, to have opportunities to come together and get to know each other,” he says.
A Cambridge graduate himself, McDermott’s true passion lies in management and leadership. He emphasizes the importance of collaborative teamwork in upper management and as such has been heavily involved in recruiting his team from the UK.
Another difference is that Oaktree will also be truly ‘inclusive.’ McDermott has already been in talks with the soon to close- Oasis School and plans to offer places to the students Oaktree can cater for. The school is allowing for up to five SEN children per classroom, just short of the 30 percent the KHDA has recently mandated for Dubai schools.
McDermott believes there are three essentials to establishing a successful school. First, get the marketing right, because without it he says, “if you don’t have any children, the rest is really pretty pointless". Secondly, and where McDermott himself is more than experienced with his work over the years with the KHDA, don’t run foul of the authorities, and finally, get the seemingly ‘little things’ like parent-parking right.
But what of the building?
“Every time I visit the school it seems to get bigger,” says McDermott and we can see what he means. What appears on the outside to be a small, almost ‘landless’ plot is in fact, deceptively vast.
While the highly irregular building design allows for 30 plus classrooms inside, it’s the outside spaces it creates which are really quite unusual. These include: a five aside football area currently being re-surfaced. A basketball court with play areas, a further two courtyard play areas, one of which will be fitted with play equipment, the other will become a garden oasis; with trees, fountains and a reading majalis.
To the rear is a swimming pool and another play area, while the foundation block has a sizable courtyard at the front for break-time play, plus a courtyard earmarked for water activities and another for sand.
Facilities include a library for both foundation and primary, a canteen serving hot healthy meals, plus art, science, music and IT labs plus a dedicated SEN suite of rooms. There’s also an irregular shaped multi-use-hall which will allow for sports and a collapsible stage for presentations and performances.
In essence Oaktree Primary School feels like that friendly, quintessentially British primary school we went to, (or wished we had), refurbished with the 21st century essentials parents have come to expect.
Although Oaktree might not have an Olympic pool or 600-seat dedicated auditorium with all the ‘bells and whistles’ associated with new schools, the good news is Oaktree’s parents won’t be expected to pay for these facilities either. 'Founders' fees will start at a very affordable 30,000 AED for Foundation up to 39,000 AED for Year 4. (The KHDA approved fees are 35,000 AED to 50,000 AED).
And, while the building won’t offer the same 'wow factor' as many of its newly built competitors launching this August, we think it will be the school's focus on the fundamentals - on strong leadership, location, a clear ethos and affordable fees, which will catch the attention of Dubai’s discerning parents.
McDermott says as we leave, “most parents are simply looking for their children to be safe, loved, happy and to advance academically.” WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was left with the sneaking suspicion that Oaktree is already well on-track to offer just that.