Review Visit: 09/03/22.
Having not visited Brighton College Al Ain in some time, we felt it was high time we re-visited to assess the developments and changes of this highly regarded school.
Brighton College Al Ain is an unusual and impressive sight; set on the outskirts of Al Ain city, the school, which opened in 2014, stands on expansive grounds, surrounded mainly by desert, with some quiet residential communities close by. This relative remoteness creates a feeling of calm which we found carries through to the school itself.
As we approached the school’s parking area, we were guided by a helpful security guard who ensured we were received at the senior school reception, where we were warmly welcomed. Brighton College Al Ain wins points for first impressions.
Our visit to Brighton College Al Ain comes during a period of transition in senior leadership. The Head of Senior School, Rebecca Graves, had been in the role for just short of a month and the school’s new Headmaster, Scott Carnochan, was not yet in the country and would not officially embark on this role until the following month. The school’s interim Headmaster, Mr Simon Corms, retired in December 2021. It would be easy to imagine the school would be struggling during such a transitory period, however we found a school that seemed to be carrying on as usual, under the guidance of a passionate middle and senior leadership team, with a clear and aligned sense of the school’s direction and values. There was a palpable feeling of eagerness and optimism around the school about Mr Carnochan getting started, from both staff and parents.
Mr Carnochan has extensive experience as a school Headmaster in the UK (read more on Mr Carnochan's experience in our review), but is familiar with the region, having spent his youth living in the Middle East. He has also worked in an international school in Nairobi earlier in his career. Discussing the draw of the Brighton College brand, he expressed his admiration for the UK school, of which his daughter is currently a pupil, and was enthusiastic about the close ties that the Al Ain school has with its UK counterpart. This is something he hopes to continue.
Despite not yet officially joining, Mr Carnochan was happy to connect with us remotely to discuss his plans for the school. As a choice of Headmaster for the school, Mr Carnochan appears to be an appropriate fit. Sensitive to the needs of the local community and unlikely to excessively rock the boat, his manner and communication style suggests stability and confident humility. Mr Carnochan spoke at length about the need to listen to pupil and parent voices and gives the impression of being a headmaster whose presence will be felt in the school and community.
“I think it's really important to understand the heartbeat of the school, what makes it tick, understand the community and what its needs are. To that end, I've already met with the school council and the parent reps to try and get a feel for what they're looking for.”
Touring the school, we noted friendly and positive interactions between staff and pupils, and a tone of warmth and mutual respect. The school feels spacious while not vast, with large outdoor sports facilities and play spaces and calm corridors and classrooms.
Brighton College Al Ain has a co-educational Junior School, with separate sections for male and female students in the Senior School. The Junior School, while part of a larger facility, has a warm community primary school feel. Head of Junior School, Jonathan McArthur, has been in the role for seven years, and is clearly a popular and consistent figure in the school. He emphasises the importance of child wellbeing and the care and attention that his team pays in supporting this.
A stand-out section was the early years department, passionately led by Head of Early Years/Deputy Head of Junior School, Kerry Lynch. Ms Lynch explained that the school’s busy early years department has a child-led ethos, using in the moment planning (a relatively progressive practice which requires educators to respond to the individual needs and interests of children through close observation and understanding). Early years learning environments are Reggio Emilia inspired, using natural materials and real-life items. Most importantly, children appeared happy, confident and engaged in each classroom.
Unusually, the team have developed a ‘desert school’ space (a local take on forest school), which provides practical learning opportunities and the development of confidence and independence for children through exploration and utilisation of the natural environment. This space is utilised by the Early Years and Lower Primary age children. There was unfortunately not an opportunity to view this area being used during the visit, but the presence of this feature seemed very much aligned with the approach that was otherwise observed.
Head of Senior School, Rebecca Graves, provided our tour of the Senior School. Although new to her position and the school, Mrs Graves has clearly begun to immerse herself in school life, and has her two children at the school also.
Mrs Graves explained that the school’s team work hard to meet the individual needs of students, providing appropriate levels of challenge and support. One such example of this focus is the school’s efforts in supporting students for whom English is a second language. As part of their strategy in developing confidence and skill in verbal communication in English, the senior school has found the LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) oracy programme to be greatly beneficial.
Students appeared engaged in learning as we walked around the senior school. Some classes were very small in number due to a lower enrolment in this phase, but students appeared to be benefiting from focused support. In particular, students in the Art and Drama departments were eager to confidently explain to us what they were working on. Students generally appear engaged in their learning.
The Senior School Sports Day was taking place at the time of our visit, and we were able to see this in action, with students taking part in a variety of sporting activities. P.E. Teacher, Allan Keddie, told us a little about the school’s approach to sport, which is focused not only on sporting achievement and excellence, but also on inclusion, and ensuring that sports are accessible and enjoyable for all. This ethos was later echoed by both parents and students across the junior and senior schools; there appeared to be an almost universal enthusiasm for P.E.
A clear theme in our discussion with the Junior School pupils was a sense of comfort and familiarity, that teachers knew them well and understood what they needed. They also reported feeling listened to and valued by adults at the school. The children expressed great enthusiasm for P.E. in particular, and excitedly told us about activities and games they have participated in.
Senior School boys and girls met with our reviewer separately. Both groups told us they felt supported by teachers and had adults in the school that they could talk to if they ever felt low or in need of guidance. While all the students we spoke to spoke positively of their relationships with their teachers, several noted that there were new teachers who seemed somewhat out of sync and unaware of procedures; however they felt confident that this would improve. The girls spoke of rare instances of bullying they had observed and felt that such issues were dealt with reasonably effectively and promptly. Both the boys and girls in GCSE and A-Level years reported feeling some academic pressure but felt that it was manageable. Both groups reported a friendly feeling of academic competitiveness and did not find it excessive.
Our parent panel were generally positive about the school, praising the teachers, who they consider exceptional, for the genuine care and concern they showed to each child. Parents whose children had attended the school for a longer period and who had experienced the leadership of multiple Heads of School reported some ups and downs over the years, but felt that the school was very much on its way up again and were optimistic about what Mr Carnochan’s leadership would bring. They expressed enthusiasm about the reintroduction of additional activities within the areas of music, drama and sport returning to school life, following the pandemic.
Finding its way out of a challenging few years, and with multiple changes to its team, Brighton College Al Ain felt remarkably solid, cohesive and upbeat. Students are engaged and supported, with a sense of community and care throughout. We feel positive about what lies ahead for this school and look forward to seeing what the new leadership brings. It’s commendable existing team has a shared confidence and view of who they are as a school, centring on student wellbeing, and meeting the needs of their community.
Brighton College Al Ain is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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