Review Visit - January 30, 2017
There is no doubt that Brighton College Al Ain certainly makes an impressive first impression! Set on the outskirts of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s second largest city, the school, which opened in 2014, stands on a very large site, surrounded mainly by desert and a limited number of local homes. The benefit of the location is clear, with low rise buildings able to sprawl across the campus and plentiful outdoor sports and play space.
Established by Bloom Education, owner and operator of Brighton College Abu Dhabi and with plans to expand to Dubai over the next two years, the ambition set for the school was evident from the outset. The achievement of ADEC’s highest “Outstanding” rating so early in its career, suggests that those ambitions are already being fulfilled. With a capacity of 1,400 students, Brighton College Al Ain (BCAA) is not a particularly large school by UAE standards (where 3-4,000 students are often the norm). At present there are approximately 750 students with the majority in Primary and Lower Secondary. The school is open from FS1 to Year 12 and will extend to the final Year 13 in September 2017. Currently there are just over 70 students in the top two year groups who will go on to create the Sixth Form in September.
In line with most private schools in Al Ain (and increasingly in Abu Dhabi), Emirati students make up a substantial part of the roll at BCAA – approximately 40%. The remaining students are composed of a wide range of nationalities, drawn from families who predominantly are employed by the Military, the University or one of the hospitals (several Specialist hospitals, including Al Tawam, are centred here in Al Ain). As such, this is an affluent school. Partners of BCAA wanted to see a high quality private school in Al Ain and it is home to a significant number of children from VVIP families.
The new Principal of BCAA (who joined the school in September 2016), Dr. Kenneth Greig, specifically sought an opportunity to work in the Middle East, having worked in Oil exploration in Oman for 3 years after qualifying from Oxford University and, subsequently, receiving a Doctorate in Geology from Edinburgh University. A change of direction led him to teaching Maths in Scotland and South East England prior to his last post as Rector of Hutchesons' Grammar School, a co-educational independent school in the south side of Glasgow which was founded in 1641. Dr. Greig is keen to ensure that links with Brighton College UK are strong and that the two schools remain philosophically close. Currently, regular bi-monthly discussions take place with the Principal of the UK campus and, longer term, it is intended that there will be exchanges of students and staff between the two schools.
At BCAA, Dr. Greig’s focus is on ensuring academic excellence within a local cultural context. He believes that the feeling, structure and attitude of his staff are the key to ensuring success, with a concentration on quality and delivery of teaching (pedagogy) and innovation. In addition, Dr. Greig is seeking to support the expansion of the Junior School from 3 to 4 classes per year group up to year 5. From year 5 onwards, students are separated by gender until the Sixth Form. Here, the intention is to offer both a co-educational and Girls Only option. After the first full set of GCSE results of which 51% were A*-A and 94% A-C, the next clear challenge is for the students who will take their A Levels in 2018.
Among the school’s accomplishments from Dr. Greig’s perspective, have been the rating of Brighton College Al Ain as Outstanding across all categories of the inspection process (including Arabic and Islamic Studies). He also emphasises the longer school day (from 7.40am to 3.30pm, including Extra-curricular activities and electives) and the House system as key elements of the school that engender a sense of belonging and broaden the connections between students and the school. These are also integral to the holistic approach to learning that BCAA encourages – with the aim of students developing a love of learning, but also attitudes of kindness and caring. The Junior School, for this reason, focuses less on testing and more on happiness and enjoyment for its charges. Well-being days underline this broader, holistic approach. The school is also very keen to encourage wider participation by students in its Performing Arts programmes for Drama and Music – a growing number of students are now participating and critical mass being reached to enable the school to start to plan for their performances.
This does not mean that academic standards and focus are permitted to slip. The school is always exploring new technologies and their use in the classroom as part of an innovative approach to teaching. A BYOD policy is under discussion and lessons are augmented by Virtual Reality lessons with access to both iPads and laptops. Regular testing of students using CATIV and base-line tests on entry to the school ensure that progress is routinely monitored.
In addition to Teaching and Learning Assistants in all Junior School classes, from September 2017, the school will employ an additional Arabic speaking TLA in the Foundation classes (so each class will have a teacher plus two assistants). A SEN Department offers support to children with both Additional Learning Needs and English Additional Language requirements. The school aims to be fully inclusive.
At the heart of the school’s success are, of course, the teachers. There is a mix of older couples and younger staff bringing a range of experience and expertise to the school. A culture of sharing and peer observation allows all staff to benefit from a well-funded Continuing Professional Development programme (held once or twice per week) and supports the collaborative work across the curriculum to which all staff contribute. Dr. Greig highlights that it is these cross-curricular linkages and whole school approach that have been so important for the development of BCAA to-date. A commitment to Field trips and educational visits (within the constraints of ADEC) are also high on the priority list for the school.
Following our introduction by the Principal, we were able to meet with both students and parents to find out more about their view of BCAA. All were very positive. Parents liked the facilities and had generally considered BCAA on recommendation from other parents whose children were already studying at the school. Both students and parents commented on the quality of the teaching staff, the way that they teach and the knowledge of subject-specific staff. Staff engendered confidence in both students and parents and they felt that there was a real understanding of common goals between all three parties. Both praised the flexible and approachable communications process which includes formal termly Parents’ Evenings and informal meetings at the classroom door. Children are challenged and supported in equal measure.
Students also emphasised their respect for staff and the balance between this and friendship which they feel is well maintained. All Sixth Form students have a mentor from among the teaching staff and find this is especially helpful. They commented on the “huge focus” on achievement at the school but also underlined that competition was friendly (not aggressive) and that the House system encourages collaboration. A Student Council operates throughout the Senior School and has an important part in feeding back opinions to Senior staff which are actively sought. The Student Council is also involved in arranging Community and Environmental events. The students we spoke with also particularly appreciated the efforts of staff to arrange filed trips and events, as well as a huge variety of Extra-curricular activities.
Both students and parents had high praise for the BCAA and its team. Students described the school as “Out of this World”. They underlined how staff celebrated with students when they received their GCSE results and concentrated on individual achievements. Staff were extremely proud of their mentees and were not just interested in “passing us on to the next year group”. Students felt a strong strength of connection with their teachers. Parents were equally full of praise saying “In Al Ain, this is the only school to choose”, and “It’s very hard to find a parent who doesn’t love the school”. They like also that parents come from a broad mix of backgrounds and nationalities. The economically more stable environment in Al Ain has seen less families leaving over the past year, and this has been the only reason that parents take their children out of the school.
If there were any negative comments, they were also common to both students and parents and related to facilities (particularly for the Sixth Form) being stretched due to the growth of the school. They also lamented the difficulties of keeping the swimming pool operational and to upgrades to the football pitch and running track which are required.
Our tour of the school, though, showed that those facilities that are available are to a very high standard. The single-storey Foundation Section is located to one end of what is a long, fairly narrow site. This building is quite separate to the other parts of the school with wide, open corridors, purpose-built classrooms and break out areas for younger children, a very large canteen area at the back overlooking the well-equipped outdoor, shaded play space. Each classroom also has outside access to allow for outdoor activities.
The Junior School is located between the Foundation section and main Administration and Arts building. Set over two floors, the buildings incorporate all of the class and specialist rooms required. Classrooms are large, bright and well resourced. An enormous Sports Hall is also available to all year groups, whilst outdoor sports facilities are located to the rear of the main buildings. The main administration building plays host to offices at the front, and is connected to an impressive Auditorium on one side. Art plays an important part at the school and art studio/classrooms are also located here. The Senior School has its own blocks with separate sections for girls and boys. Currently, some of the older students are making use of offices in the Administration building as study rooms – a purpose-built area for the Sixth Form is yet to come.
There is no doubt that Brighton College Al Ain make a very good impression. Yes, there are some concerns about the facilities available for older students (the Sixth Form in particular) and the sports facilities. However, the buildings and campus are attractive, well maintained and resourced. Parents and students seem very happy with their choice and particularly the quality of the staff. We look forward to seeing the first set of A Level results in 2018, when the first cohort of Year 13 students complete their education. ADEC’s Outstanding rating clearly underlines the quality of education at the school and we can expect high achievements from this first graduating group. We have no doubt that Brighton College Al Ain will go from strength to strength.
If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.
Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information