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.
Dubai English Speaking College has been rated Outstanding for the seventh year running in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection tab. A full update of this review will be completed once the full report has been issued.
The story so far...
Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) is situated in Academic City, Al Ruwwayah and opened in 2005. After more than a decade of operation, it is a very well-established school, and home to 1,510 students. Students are aged 11 to 18 years, and educated from Years 7 to 13. It has been rated Outstanding by the KHDA since 2012-13.
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DESC has just had an adolescent growth spurt. The college's big news for 2017 was its annexation of the Delhi Private School Academy land and buildings adjacent to it. Over a nine month period prior to September 2017, DESC's team completely renovated the neighbouring building and, as a result, has 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.
In 2017-18, the Sixth form grew to 364 students, but has a capacity for 500.
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.
There are now 143 teachers, up quite significantly on the 114 full-time teachers employed in the previous academic year, including the Headteacher and the senior management team, and an additional 16 teaching assistants. A significant percentage of the teaching body comes from the United Kingdom. The teacher:student ratio is a highly credible 1:12.
The new Sixth Form building was officially opened on Thursday 12 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.
According to 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," he explains.
The new 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 new 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.
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.
It is clear that the Senior team is very proud of the new 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.
"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. When you have 364 students, you have to look after every single one of them," Mr. Gibbs says.
In terms of curriculum, the college, in addition to the traditional A Level route, currently offers BTEC options in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Sport, Applied Science, Hospitality, and ICT. DESC is also mulling more BTEC options, including travel and tourism, and possibly engineering, although the latter would require specialist facilities that DESC is looking to create in the future.
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.
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. Roger Hancock stated that "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, the college also launched a new 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.
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".
The move has meant smaller class sizes in core subjects, in addition to the expansion of student numbers. 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."
The school also claimed that it will keep fees reasonable and not use the expansion as an excuse to raise fees.
"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."
What the inspectors say
As noted, the college has received its fifth Outstanding rating from the KHDA. 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 2017) and dynamic leadership (2012 - 2017).
The inspection team comment in almost glowing terms about the Leadership and Management of the school, noting that "There is a shared vision of an inclusive centre of excellence. Secure self-evaluation underpins curriculum changes, staff development, support for students and the provision of outstanding resources. Governors value stakeholders’ ideas. They monitor student outcomes, holding leaders to account. An environment in which students want to come to school and staff want to remain there, ensures stability and enables all needs to be met."
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 attainment having also been rated at Very Good across both sections of the school (compared with Outstanding last year). Interestingly, this latter reduction in rating is driven by the inspectors view that although "Progress in English is outstanding, particularly in literature at GCSE and A2 levels", inspectors felt that the school needs to provide "high levels of challenge for all students but particularly for higher ability students in GCSE and AS English language". Similarly, in relation to Sixth Form Science, inspectors noted that teaching needs to "match the level of challenge to the abilities of students in all three A-Level subjects and raise attainment levels", noting that there had been some variability between the three Science subjects.
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 are still areas in which DESC needs to improve according to the inspection team. In general, they relate to the common Achilles Heel of international schools in relation to Arabic and Islamic Studies. In particular, they recommend that DESC should:
Academically, this is a school that delivers.
For 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%.
In 2015 in GCSE English over 75% of pupils attained grades A*-B, well above UK outcomes at 37%. Pupils’ attainment and progress in mathematics significantly exceeds pupils’ performance in UK schools in every measure at GCSE, AS and A2 level. In 2015 66% of pupils achieved A*-B grades at GCSE compared to a UK average of 34%. At A level, in 2015, 67% achieved A*-B grades. In Science in 2015, 81% of all science results were graded A*-B. This is again much higher than averages found in schools and colleges in the UK.
The progress of pupils who have special educational needs is good; over 47% attained grades A*-B.
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 2015 include art, drama, French, Spanish and humanities. Physical education is particularly strong.
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.
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.
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.
Fees start at AED 77,782 a year in Year 7, and rise to AED 83,600 tuition fee in Year 13. The school has introduced a sibling discount, available in the 2017/18 academic year and expected to be extended to 2018/19. 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 eg: music, instrumental, dance, etc.
There is an additional 500 AED application fee, a 500 AED enrollment fee and a 5,000 AED deposit at the end of each school for the next academic year (offset against Term 1 school fees each year).
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