Set on a busy, but friendly campus DESC is continuing to evolve on its custom site in Academic City. The school has a very involved and supportive parent body. The strong commitment to school life that embraces achievement across all areas, in particular sport and the performing arts, is evident. DESC has successfully built on the tradition of its well-loved primary school.
Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) is a British curriculum school located in the Academic City area of Dubai (see WSA area guide). The school was founded in 2005 with only 35 year 7 students who came from the original DESS primary school in Oud Metha, Dubai’s oldest British primary school.
DESC now has 1,375 pupils from 66 different nationalities taught by mainly UK and Irish teachers, all with a minimum of PGCE, BA or B.Ed qualifications. The school has a large campus which will expand soon as they have purchased the school site next door. The classrooms and admin blocks are housed in two storey sandy-beige modern blocks with long narrow windows. There are four main classroom blocks with their own house identity of Desert, Earth, Sky and Coast.
Within each block the classrooms all surround a large indoor courtyard or majlis area for group meetings or gatherings. We first met Sam Kane, the school’s communications and marketing manager who introduced us to Mr Andy Gibbs, the principal and Mr Chris Vizzard, Headteacher.
We asked what makes the school unique and Andy referred to the history of the establishment and praised the custodians who pre-dated the school in the original DESS. He felt that over the ten years he has been Head of School it has become ‘a really credible and highly regarded establishment’. In fact he feels that it sits among the top schools in Dubai.
Andy told us that many visiting parents say ‘I wish I’d gone here’. He feels that the school is ‘beyond outstanding and you can just smell it’. He explained that the school is now able to meet challenges in every area and that the breadth and depth of studies on offer is amazing. He is clearly proud of his school for success in sport, enterprise and the performing arts. He enthused about many of the ‘great accomplishments’ from success in debating to the fact that the chamber choir had been Choir of the Year in the UAE and that the school’s recent production of Les Miserables had been outstanding.
We asked what were the school’s greatest challenges and Andy spoke of having to be ‘business savvy’. The not-for-profit schools of which DESC is one, he said, need to stick together and ‘be smart in this economic climate’. He aims for continual improvement and that DESC ‘will deliver what it promises’.
Andy is originally a history teacher and he said that he misses the fact that he can’t continue to teach as he is so involved as a facilitator to the current crop of educators. They describe the approach to teaching as ‘holistic’ and ‘excellent in all for all’.
Students are assessed for any special needs upon application and then the school’s learning support team help out where necessary and shadow teachers are employed at no extra charge. There is space available due to the school’s expansion but there are no sibling discounts or scholarships on offer.
Andy described the style of teaching as based on the traditional UK curriculum but it has been adapted to suit students here in Dubai. Andy described the school as a blend of the independent sector and the best of the state sector. ‘A good grammar school’ was a phrase he chose to use and said ‘we are Jack of all trades and masters of all.’ DESC, he explained, was known for quality education in all areas with plenty of value-added.
There is a strong focus on sport at DESC led by Mr Mike Randall who proudly led the senior rugby team to victory at the 2016 Dubai Rugby 7s tournament. The students, Andy explained, were proud to represent DESC and he said that there were opportunities for all whatever their performance level.
The ECA choice he described as wide ranging from netball, swimming, football, rugby and a whole range of non-sporting activities. The new expansion, Andy explained, would not make this an over-crowded school – ‘not just a big factory’, was what he said – as the aim is just to spread out.
The purchase of the school next door will mean that they have extra space for sixth form students with a maximum of 700 pupils. There will be better resources and facilities and in the long term a theatre will be developed. They will in effect be doubling the size of the campus available for sport. Andy aims to create a ‘lovely grassy vista’ for hosting events.
We had hoped next to meet the Head Boy and Girl but one was attending a university interview and the other on a school trip. Their deputies were Ivanka Irani and Danyal Ahmed. We asked what was special to them about DESC and it was the teachers who they say stood out. They like the fact that they treat you as part of a team and they also praised the opportunities that were on offer to them.
They felt proud of the fact that DESC is respected around Dubai for all its achievements. The staff pupil relationships they described as ‘great’ as teachers were ‘always available’, ‘cared for and challenged you personally’.
We also had time to speak to some of the younger members of the school – Aidan Kelly (Y8), Gabby Meli and Mahon Miyata (both Y9). We learned from them that they felt DESC ‘brings out your full potential’ and ‘encourages you to try your best’. They said there was no bullying and that they were taught about the dangers of cyber-bullying. There is a school counselor on hand for any emotional issues.
Food in the canteen was described as ‘amazing’. They have a nutritionist in school who helps develop a healthy menu for salads, brown rice etc and they embrace different cultures by serving food from India, China and Australia. About 50% of the children use the canteen while the rest bring their own snacks.
There is a student council and pupils can fill in an online survey where everyone gets to have their say. School trips, they described as ‘exciting’ and mentioned one ‘eye-opening’ trip to Nepal in Y7 where DESC students went to a school to help repair classrooms and teach the children games. There was rugby trip to Roslyn Park and a trip to Yale University in the USA where students took part and won a competition.
Students felt the opportunities to travel were ‘great’ and that the motivation from staff was ‘excellent’.
The day we visited an ex-pupil was available for a chat. Jaco is studying mechanical engineering in South Africa but is an avid film-maker so was volunteering his services to the school. He explained he loved so many things about his time at DESC. He felt the school had given him a chance when no-one else offered to as he arrived half way through his GCSE course. Mr Gibbs described him as ‘a fabulous example in both sporting and academic endeavours.’
We next spoke to five parents who were happy to share their views on the school. Alison, Dawn, Cyndi, Teulon and Jenie as a group loved the ‘friendly and all-inclusive’ aspect of DESC. They described how the children have to write a letter of application to acquire a place at DESC. One woman described how they as a family new to Dubai had looked at nine other schools before settling on DESC. The not-for-profit aspect was a major draw. They felt facilities in some of the for-profit schools can be amazing but often don’t get used.
One parent described DESC as a ‘progressive’ school, ‘not riding on the past’. They said they were impressed by how improvements were happening all the time such as library, canteen, outdoor greenery and that what happens within the school goes beyond expectations. We asked about the school’s biggest challenge and the idea of bringing in more mindfulness was mentioned. One parent said ‘every child is stressed these days’. But DESC is working on inclusivity as a life skill.
We asked if education here was as good as in the home country and they unanimously said it was better. They felt Dubai was at the top for expat education in the same bracket as Singapore.
We inquired about practical issues in and around the school. They explained the parking was sensible with space available, school trips ‘excellent’ and the price ‘cost effective’. They thought there were so many ECAs available it was hard for their children to narrow their choices down.
The uniform is sold on a shop at the school premises and is provided by Trutex. It is thought to be of good quality and according to the parents lasts well. There are two parents evenings a year and a report every term. They appreciated that they were personally phoned by their child’s tutor at the beginning of the year. They felt communication from school to them is ‘excellent’ and that staff are ‘really supportive’.
Revision training was considered ‘clear, strong’ and ‘achievable targets were set’. It was thought that DESC creates very independent children and that the transition from Y6 to 7 was ‘excellent’. There is a parent forum and parents meet regularly with the leadership team.
We were next given a full guided tour by Andy Gibbs and Chris Vizzard so we could get a real feel for the campus and atmosphere. The four school houses in their large blocks surround an open courtyard with a central desert garden. They are increasing the number of trees, vegetation and outdoor seating opportunities.
The reception area is cosy with seating and loads of cabinets of trophies and cups. The drama space looks very professional. All the classrooms are large and well-equipped for each subject. A home economics classroom looks to be well set up and there is a spacious library which is light and open.
One feature of the school that Andy was particularly proud of was the observation classroom which is set up with mirrored glass which enables lessons to be observed without obvious intrusion.
Sports fields are well looked after with one large astro and one large grass pitch. There is a large covered outdoor pool with covered practice court areas. We were shown a 3-D printer and IT suites.
The sixth form café, seating areas and silent study spaces are extensive. The PE department has a fully equipped weights room like a professional gym. There is separate bistro-style café available to the whole school which serves a wide variety of healthy food, drinks and smoothies.
The large auditorium is set out for an assembly and walls are lined with wooden plaques for honours lists. Head Boy, Girl, Principals, Teachers etc.
We finally visited the school uniform shop which is on-site and well set up with all of the clothes on display. Two changing cubicles are available as well. They are about to solve ‘the school shoe problem’ by inviting companies to come to the school for fittings in the main hall.
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