Dubai English Speaking College is the sister institution to Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), the oldest UK-curriculum school in Dubai, established in 1963. The College opened in 2005 to provide a through-school arrangement for secondary education for families at DESS. In between times, DESC has grown to admit students from a range of other schools around Dubai. Both DESS and DESC are among the few ‘not for profit’ schools in Dubai.
The story so far...
Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) is situated in Academic City, Al Ruwwayah and opened in 2005. With over 15 years of operations, it is a very well-established school, and home to 1,660 students. Students are aged 11 to 18 years, and educated from Years 7 to 13 following the English National Curriculum. It has been rated Outstanding by the KHDA since 2012-13. Older sister school Dubai English Speaking School is also rated Outstanding and both are part of the small number of not-for-profit schools in the city.
Introducing the College, Headmaster Chris Vizzard says,"Dubai English Speaking College, or DESC as we are known, is a not-for-profit College that follows the English National Curriculum (GCSE, A level and BTEC). Our Trustees support our fully inclusive ethos, which means we do not select students on an academic basis. All this results in our position being rather unique in the educational landscape we operate in. Staff and students [are] a part of a vibrant learning community where all members are encouraged to follow the College motto: Dare, Excel, Share and Create."
These are not just words designed to attract students, but statements of the ethos and ambition of the school which are fully supported by parents. It is rare to receive comments that include no criticism at all, but every parent who has responded to our School Survey over the past two years has shared almost identical views about the community, stability, dedication of staff, successes, both academically but also in sports and performing arts, and, above all, inclusivity.
The following recently posted statement in regard to a student who completed his education at DESC in 2021, is reflective of almost all:
"DESC is a highly inclusive school and yet its results are excellent. It has the highest level of sport at any school in the Middle East. My son was proud to represent the school in sporting events and was very happy to be made Swim Captain in his final year. DESC is a large school but it has a warmth and energy to it that would match an excellent much smaller sized school. The way both DESS and DESC have handled the pandemic has been exemplary. Every decision is made with the students and parents in mind and highly transparent, explanatory emails are sent to the parents on a regular basis. The school’s decision to cut school fees by 15% last year (and keep them at that lower level) was applauded by all parents, who appreciated the school’s acknowledgement of the current difficult times."
Four years ago, DESC had an adolescent growth spurt. The college's big news for 2017 was its annexation of the neighbouring, then closing, Delhi Private School Academy land and buildings. Over a nine month period prior to September 2017, DESC's team completely renovated the adjacent building and, as a result, doubled the size of the campus, creating an enormous new Sixth Form Centre and adding 110 additional students across the school for the first year of its use. This growth has continued with a further 150 students having joined the school in 2018-19. The Sixth form has a capacity for 500 students.
The leadership of the school has been stable and is highly regarded. Led by Director of DESC and DESS, Andy Gibbs, Mr. Gibbs says:
"We're trying to take away any excuses for students not having every bit of support to succeed both academically, socially and developmentally. We've got a team of nine senior leaders, and their sole remit is to support every sixth form student that comes through our doors. It's an expensive model, but to give the right platform and the right support to all these students, you need those roles and you need them to be filled properly. That's why it's such a huge investment – not just in the infrastructure here, but the staffing infrastructure to support sixth form." Mr. Gibbs says.
DESC Sixth Form study area
The school says it will be careful it will never adopt a “factory mentality” where DESS and DESC are concerned. "Over the ensuing years we will manage, monitor and control growth in a prudent, careful way."
Students originate from over sixty different countries and this global element creates an environment of high ambition and confidence; the largest nationality group of students is British. Some 146 students (just shy of 9%) have been identified as Students of Determination and are provided with support by the SEN team which is rated Very Good by the KHDA. This comes at no additional cost to parents.
At the time of the last KHDA inspection in 2019, there were 157 teachers and an additional 15 teaching assistants, up quite significantly on the 114 full-time teachers employed two years ago, including the Headteacher and the senior management team. A significant percentage of the teaching body comes from the United Kingdom. Staff turnover, at 10%, was well below the UAE average of 20-22%, ensuring a level of stability and clear staff commitment. The teacher:student ratio is a highly creditable 1:11.
The college continues to be an English National Curriculum school, bucking the recent trend to mash it up with the International Baccalaureate (IB), most commonly for Post-16 education. Students are entered for GCSE at the end of the secondary phase, for AS level at the end of Year 12, and for GCE Advanced level at the end of the post-16 phase.
The college, in addition to the traditional A Level route, currently offers BTEC options one of the widest ranges of Level 3 qualification including Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Hospitality, Sport, Travel and Tourism, Applied Science, Creative Media, Creative and Performing Arts and RSL Level 3 Music Practitioners.
In addition to the focus on the academic and sports at the College, DESC is also well-known for its Performing Arts programmes. The Performing Arts Faculty at DESC brings together the subjects of Music, Drama and Dance. At A level the College offers Drama and Theatre Studies, Music and Music Technology as subjects for study within the Sixth Form. There is a whole college production every year at DESC and Sixth Form students often take the lead parts.
The new Sixth Form building was officially opened in October 2017 by Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Director of the KHDA. The Centre has been created to give students a university-style experience and to provide a balance between social interaction and independent learning. Sixth form students continue to have access to all the main College areas, such as the new library, swimming pool and gym, but, in addition, now have their own purpose-designed learning spaces for private and collaborative study, own indoor and outdoor communal social spaces, a large dining area and kitchen, a zen garden and yoga studio.
At the time of opening, according to then Assistant headteacher, Roger Hancock, the idea is to prepare students for independent study, similar to a university experience. "When students go to university, this is the sort of environment they will be in, and there won't be teachers policing them. The onus is squarely on them – so we wanted to create that environment here and make them feel special - that was our goal."
The centre also houses a fully kitted out gym - "arguably the best one in a UAE school" according to Andrew Gibbs, the Principal of DESS and DESC, along with changing rooms with showers. Outdoor sports facilities have also doubled with the complex. DESC has always had a strong reputation as one of the leading competitive sports schools in Dubai and the College now has a full-sized, all grass rugby field, a cricket pitch, and a mini golf course, which have been added to the school's excellent sports facilities.
See and read about the facilities and resources at DESC by reading about our recent visit Experience
These facilities provide opportunities for the Sixth Form to participate in a variety of sports activities – including rugby, football, netball, basketball, tennis and watersports. As well as competitive sport, there is a clear emphasis on promoting the benefits of keeping fit, with fitness for all, aerobics and yoga.Although the focus of the expansion to the additional building has been the Sixth Form, the school's 11 to 16 year olds have also benefited from more space and access to buildings vacated by senior students. DESC has, in its own words, been spread out, "creating lots more room".
It is clear that the Senior team is very proud of the expanded campus, but recognise the requirement to provide not just facilities but strengthened staffing and curriculum options. The college has also invested heavily in teaching and leadership staff. There are now nine dedicated senior leaders for Sixth form, including a full-time careers coach, an academic enrichment manager, and a team member dedicated to university applications.
Students also take part in various debating competitions and were the 2016-17 winners of the World Scholars’ Cup. The college offers the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) for those students who are interested in extending their knowledge of a specific subject. The EPQ provides an opportunity for students to extend their abilities beyond an A level syllabus, and to prepare for university or their future career. The EPQ also provides additional UCAS points as it is worth half an A level, improving a student’s chances of gaining a place at University.
The college aims to tailor its curriculum options to support students wanting to attend Sixth Form. The College states "If we offer a place in our Sixth form, we will then find a suitable academic pathway for the student, whether that's a mixture of Level 2 and Level 3 courses, mixed with the BTEC qualification perhaps… or maybe BTEC and two A Levels, or even a four A Level course. There's lots of mix and match courses there because the idea is we find an academic pathway for every one of our students, and the transition is secure."
In a first for Dubai, with the opening of the Sixth Form Centre fours years ago, the college also launched a foundation year, which offers a number of Level 3 courses for students who may have struggled in Year 11 and have not received the GCSE grades required to proceed to A Levels.
One of the goals of the DESC team is to ensure that when a student is offered a place at the college, it is unconditional. As Andrew Gibbs explains, "So many other schools let kids go at 16 because they didn't get the grades the school wanted. They were told there's no pathway available to them. That's an approach that we won't take at DESC. If you're with us, you're with us for life; we will find a pathway for you. And I think this foundation year, which bridges the gap for students who found GCSEs quite tough and can't access an A Level course or BTEC course – I think there's a large market for that in Dubai."
Read the full report on the opening of DESC's sixth form building.
The college offers an array of extracurricular activities - an annual skiing trip, sports days, debating, activity days, and the International Award (Duke of Edinburgh) scheme - examples among many. Additional information can be found in the school's excellent Parents Handbook here. Physical education is particularly strong - the college has an enviable record in sports competitions.
This has been acknowledged by our sister website, www.schoolscompared.com, which has recognised DESC as one of the Best Schools for Sport in the UAE - coming in equal top place with Dubai College. Furthermore, in the SchoolsCompared Awards for 2018-19, DESC and its sister school DESS were named as the Top School in the UAE.
What about academic achievement?
Academically, this is a school that delivers.
For 2020-21, in the second year of the pandemic when results were again based on assessments by teachers, A Level results showed strong results as usual. 209 students were entered for the examinations, and of their entries, 22% of results were at A*, 57% at A*-A, 97% at A*-C and 100% at A*-E. The highest individual achievements were 4A* and one A grade achieved by an individual student.
For 2020-21's GCSE results, 227 students were entered for 2,038 examinations. 14% of entries achieved a Grade 9, 53% were awarded A*-A (Grades 9-7), 75% achieved A*-B (Grades 9-6) and 99% were awarded A*-C (Grades 9-4). 96.5% of students achieved a minimum of 5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and Maths.
With one of the largest cohorts of A Level students in 2019-20, some 228 students were entered for a total of 743 exams. With the cancellation of all examinations in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, for the first time, results were based on Centre Assessed Grades (based on assessments and predicted grades assessed by teachers and leadership at the school). 18% of entries were graded A*, 40% were awarded A*-A, 66.9% A*-B, 88% A*-C and 99.6% A*-E. In comparison with 2018-19 results, there was not significance evidence of grade inflation.
For 2019-20 GCSE results, 212, students were entered for 1,957 examinations. 27.8% were awarded Grade 9, 49.2% A*, (9-8), 49.2% achieved A*-A (9-7), 72.5% A*-B (9-6) and 98.2% were awarded A*-C (9-4). All students achieved a minimum of 5 GCSEs including Maths and English.
2018 A Level results were also impressive with a 99.8% pass rate and once again consistently high A*-C (85%), A*-B (61%), and A*-A (36%) grades.
GCSE results, some 5.1% of results for the cohort of 178 students were graded the new Grade 9, with 18% scored at Grades 9-8 (A* under the old grading system), 38.7% at Grades 9-7 (A*-A), 80.2% at Grades 9-5 (A*-B) and 95.6% at Grades 9-4 (A*-C). 100% of students passed the examinations that they entered. 92.7% of students achieved 5 passes at A*-C (Grades 9-4) including Maths and English. 26 pupils attained all As, A*s or 7-9 (178 pupils).
By comparison, in 2017 GCSE results, the cohort scored 46% A* to A, an improvement of 2% on the previous year's results, while 72% achieved A* to B and 95% A* to C. In 2016 GCSE results at the school were good- 95% of the cohort achieving A* to C (well above the UK average of 66.9%), while DESC's A* to A results at 43.7% were more than double the UK average of 20.5%.
However successes at DESC are not confined to the core subjects. Attainment is at least above average and progress is often outstanding in almost all subjects of the curriculum. Particular strengths in GCSE results for include art, drama, French, Spanish and humanities. Physical education is particularly strong.
What the inspectors say
As noted, the college has received its seventh Outstanding rating from the KHDA in 2018-19. Its report notes good student behaviour, self-discipline, consideration for others; outstanding teaching, learning and assessment in most subjects; a supportive caring and learning environment; its partnership with parents (2011 though to 2018) and dynamic leadership (2012 - 2018).
Following the announcement by the KHDA in September 2019 that all Dubai schools rated either Outstanding or Very Good would no longer be subject to an annual inspection - instead receiving a one day review visit - the 2018-19 report is the last to have been issued. However, in common with all UAE schools, as a result of the implementation of Distance Learning due to the Covid 19 pandemic, DESC did participate in a Distance Learning Evaluation for which it was awarded the highest rating of Developed. The report can be found here.
Almost all key indicators across the school including Students' progress and attainment in Mathematics and progress in English at both Secondary and Sixth Form levels, attainment and progress in Science in the Secondary level, and Learning Skills are rated Outstanding. The Understanding of Islamic Values and Awareness of Emirati and World cultures retained its Good rating in this inspection. SEND provision (rated Very Good) was found to be a particular area of strength.
There has been some slippage in Science at Sixth Form level with attainment and progress both being downgraded to Good and Very Good respectively, and English having also been rated at Good, and Very Good respectively. The inspection team notes that the influx of students to the Sixth Form from other schools with a "greater range of prior experience", has affected attainment slightly. In relation to Sixth Form Science, inspectors noted that whilst attainment in Biology was above expectations, and Physics and Science met expectations, at AS level, results were below expectations and performance was inconsistent in international bench-marking tests.
However, beyond these largely academic measures, all other key indicators in terms of Students' personal and social development and innovation skills, the Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support, and Leadership and Management were rated Outstanding across the board.
Inspectors praised the strengths of DESC as
There is still one specific area in which DESC needs to improve according to the inspection team. This relates to the common Achilles Heel of international schools in relation to Arabic. In particular, they recommend that DESC should:
DESC is however pretty much an outstanding school across the board - from personal responsibility of students to its community, from the quality of leadership to curriculum quality, this is very much a school at the top of its game.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly adivse you to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the rating - go here.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received a reasonable number of submissions (over 50) to our Parent Survey, with DESC receiving an overall rating of 4.7 of a potential 5 or a positivity rating of 94%.
Not only do parents feel that their children enjoy going to the College - a remarkable 69% a 'tremendous amount', and a further 24% 'quite a bit' - but 74% of parents feel that fees are represent Good value for money (compared with the UAE average of 50!). Bearing in mind that those students enjoying the school are aged 11 to 18, this is an achievement in itself.
Only 7% of parents have considered moving their child to another school (compared with a UAE average of 27%). Every parent who completed the survey is satisfied with the level of academic attainment at DESC. And a whopping 92% would recommend the school to other parents!
If you are a parent, teacher or senior student at Dubai English Speaking College, please share your experience and opinions with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
Reflecting of the views share by parents with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, a total of 340 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey with 98% saying that they are satisfied with the level of education provided by the school.
What about fees?
The college, like its sister school DESS, is a non-profit making organisation. This does not mean that its fees will be any cheaper than a for-profit school - they are not. In theory it does mean that revenue is more likely to go towards teacher salaries (aiding retention), facilities, training, etc.
The school also claimed that it will keep fees reasonable and not use the expansion to the Sixth Form building as an excuse to raise fees. In fact, fees were not increased during the 2016-17 academic year (prior to the expansion), although the college was entitled to raise fees following its Outstanding rating.
"There are some of the eye-watering amounts schools are charging from FS1 (AED 80 plus thousand dirhams) upwards are ample proof of this. Even within the not-for-profit sector (or the "Ivy League" schools as WhichSchoolAdvisor.com refer to it) we are not as expensive as our counterparts." Andy Gibbs, Principal
Fees start at AED 69,865 a year from Year 7 to Year 11, and rise to AED 75,092 for the tuition fee in Years 12 and 13. The school has introduced a sibling discount scheme. A family with three siblings will receive 5% discount for child number 3, i.e. the youngest sibling. A family with four siblings will receive 10% discount for child number 4, i.e. the youngest sibling and 5% discount for the 3rd youngest child. A family with five or more siblings will receive discount mentioned above and 10% discount for any child after child number 4. Click for full DESC fee information by year group.
Total annual fees do not include charges for GCSE and GCE examinations or any external examinations e.g.: music, instrumental, dance, etc.
There is an AED 5,000 deposit for Years 7 to 11 and AED 7,500 for Sixth Form on offer of a place - deducted from the first term fees. There is also a re-registration fee at the end of each school for the next academic year (offset against Term 1 school fees) of AED 1,750 for Years 7 to 11 and AED 3,000 for Years 12 and 13.
Dubai English Speaking 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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