The school is housed in a spread-out site of maroon red block buildings surrounded by mature greenery with trees and sizeable grass, turfed playing fields including the recent addition of a sports pavilion. The colour of the buildings is highly distinctive, and distracts somewhat from the fact that the school buildings are not the newest within Dubai.
There are two main gates and security is present to assist and check identity. The school reception area is a long, small skylit room with shelves of cups and trophies. We were warmly greeted by the receptionist and awaited the parent relations representative who gave as full a guided tour as she could considering a busy school day was in operation.
The staff-student ratio is 1:9 and the regular classrooms are fairly traditional but all have up-to-date whiteboards with all the appropriate equipment for specific subjects. The art department houses a mini-zoo which is cared for by a team of pupils and staff. The small creatures provide a great resource for art and science projects. There are tortoises, iguanas and parrots in this little jungle like system of spacious cages.
The science department also has an indoor garden where experiments can be carried out by the students. There is a large 900 seater theatre for concerts and dramatic productions which can also house the whole school for special occasions assemblies etc
Separate music and DT departments are in large blocks and as we looked around we picked up that the creative and performing arts as well as sport are considered as integral and important parts of the whole school experience. Art, DT, Drama and Music are strong departments with many students going on to pursue further studies in these subjects at third level.
The school has the feeling of a campus and students move happily and peacefully around as lessons change. There are plenty of shaded seating areas for students to socialise and eat their lunch around the grounds. A canteen also provides cooked food and snacks. The well-resourced library was being used by several students who also have access to a series of e-books for study.
In many ways Dubai College feels like an old school UK grammar, but with a modern approach to life, teaching and student interaction. It still expects the results, and has the ambitions of a very successful selective school - as much in play as in academic results.
We were able to have an open discussion about the ethos and further plans for the school with Mike Lambert who is still new to the role of headmaster, having previously been head of Sixth Form for four years. Mr Lambert had previously taught at RGS Guildford, an academic and sporting focused school for boys followed by Bedales, a mixed, progressive experimental establishment. We asked about the contrasts and Mr Lambert told us that DC enabled him to bring together both of these experiences in a positive way.
“The educational philosophy of DC is to provide the best opportunity for students to thrive in all subjects on offer and all ECAs, trips, competitions, societies and committees that they run”
A key focus for Mr Lambert is on helping children to succeed at sixth form level. For the first time they have had a student offered a place at Harvard University and as many as 20 accepted for Oxbridge. The most academic DC students clearly do very well but the school's headmaster was keen to say that all students are encouraged to aim for their best or "dream university", whether that’s for art, music, sport or any other interests specific students may have.
The school runs a ‘top-up’ system which prepares students for university studies and a ‘home alone’ scheme for post school life preparing students to cope on their own.
The school also prepares students for more modern challenges. For example DC brought in Simon Noakes, a specialist in cyber-bullying, to train senior pupils, staff and parents about potential problems, and how to handle them. The school then used older students to filter the information through the school.
DC has an entrance exam and has recently changed the style of testing to one that cannot be so easily tutored for. He feels the quality of the entrants since this change is much the same and they are of an equally high calibre. He described the school’s biggest accomplishment as providing ‘top quality education with longevity and a sustained record’. His, and DC's, biggest challenge is ‘staying on top of the game’.
There is ongoing teacher training and updating of subject development. This, he emphasised is crucial to maintaining standards.
WSA spoke to four newly appointed Year 12 school leaders who were excellent ambassadors for the school. They spoke of the ‘fabulous opportunities’ in all areas of the curriculum from singing with Gary Barlow to science competitions. They spoke of how students are ‘very driven’ and ‘competitive for themselves’. They felt they had been given great role models in the staff and used the term ‘organic motivation’ to describe academic process. The students spoke of mixing well with children from other schools. There was an evident pride in being a student at Dubai College.
DofE experiences seem to be a highlight with challenges and trips to various places.
The sixth form centre is spacious and each student has their own desk and cupboards with a shared kitchen and several open areas to carry on with group learning. Year 12 and 13 mix in this space and within their tutor groups so they integrate well.
Two parents were available for us to talk to and both were extremely happy with their choice of school for their children. In fact one parent simply said ‘we love it’ particularly for the nurturing of her three very different children.
She spoke of how they had blossomed as ‘all-rounders’ succeeding in areas where they had previously not thrived.
All three parents described the environment and community as very caring. They spoke of the excellent relationships between parents, staff and pupils.
There is a school counselor available and form tutors communicate important information to parents.
Parents have access and can speak freely to teachers and senior staff whenever they need to, and can get involved in the Friends of Dubai College group to help out and for example provide refreshments at sporting events.
One parent had fairly recently arrived from London and her eldest had been at North London Collegiate School. She was really pleased with the transition and told WSA, the school is switched on and is very much aware of what is happening and working in the education sector in the UK.
Dubai College 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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