Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) is an award winning, not-for-profit provider of primary education (3-11 years). Rated as an Outstanding school by the Dubai schools' regulator (the KHDA), DESS is the oldest English National Curriculum school in Dubai and, together with its sister school, Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) based in Academic City, has been educating children for over half a century.
The story so far...
Dubai English Speaking School opened its doors in 1963, and was the first school in Dubai to offer a UK-based curriculum. Originally founded as one of the few not-for-profit schools in Dubai, on landed granted by the then Ruler, Sheikh Rashid, DESS, together with its sister Secondary School, Dubai English Speaking College, has maintained its not for profit status throughout. Both schools are administered by a Board of Trustees which guarantees reinvestment in the school, on both a long term and short-term basis.
Parents rate the school highly! With an approval rating of 90% from respondents to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, the following comment made by one respondent in July 2021 - but reflective of the views of many - seems to sum up why DESS is held in such high regard:
"DESS has an energy about it that is reflected in happy children, high quality teachers and a strong community spirit. My child has attended since year 3 (we lived in Abu Dhabi before). I will be forever grateful that my daughter was able to experience four years of DESS ‘magic’ and she is so excited to be moving on to DESC later this year with a large percentage of her peers. The Head and Deputy Head of DESS are impeccable and their dedication is reflected in the happy, energetic atmosphere of the school."
Find out more about what parents think of the school - and take part in our School Survey if you are a parent currently - under the Buzz section.
Despite its age, a process of constant investment and improvement means that DESS has all of the facilities that would be expected of a well resourced school. The 2017-18 KHDA report notes that "There is an extensive range of buildings designed to promote student-centred learning and a high level of classroom resourcing, including technology. Recent developments of the Key Stage 1 classrooms, learning support area and the library provide rich learning environments that enhance student achievement."
More details of the look, feel and facilities can be found in our Experience.
The Primary School has just under 1,000 students from FS1 to Year 6. The single largest nationality is British, but as with all Dubai schools, a multitude of nationalities are represented. The school had some 50 students of determination in the current year (2021), all of whom were supported as necessary by the SEN team. DESS also has a number of Emirati students (17 in total).
Andrew Gibbs, as CEO/Principal, is responsible for both DESS and DESC; however, the day to day running of DESS is very much in the hands of Headteacher, Catherine Dando, and her senior leadership team. Mrs. Dando clearly sets the tone of the aims and expectations for the school: "Academic success is important but we believe in the development of creative thinkers, problem solvers and children who know how to learn in an environment of mutual respect, enthusiasm and commitment".
The 69 full time teachers and 46 teaching assistants are also largely from the United Kingdom. The teacher turnover of the school is excellent, running at 5% at the end of the 2021 academic year, 75% below the UAE average of 20-22%. This level of stability and continuity is one that many schools in the UAE would be happy to see.
DESC, with approximately 1,700 students, brings the size of the combined schools up to approximately 2,700.
DESS offers the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum for the Early Years students, followed by the English National Curriculum for students from Year 1 to Year 6. There is an active programme of joint activities and exchange between DESS and Dubai English Speaking College as students move through the Primary school and notably in the final two years, in order to ensure that the transition to the Secondary school is as seamless as possible.
DESS offers a wide array of extra-curricular activities designed to build well rounded school leavers: It has sports days, careers fair, athletic championships, drama festivals, and literature days. Students are strongly encouraged to develop their own interests and talents.
Dubai English Speaking College picks up where DESS leaves off, and provides education from 11 years up to 18 years (Year 13), offering GCSE, IGCSE, BTEC and A Level qualifications. It also offers a unique "catch up" year for students who did not perform as well as expected at GCSE, offering an opportunity for them to re-sit key subjects over one academic year.
What about the facilities?
Despite its age, a process of constant investment and improvement means that DESS has all of the facilities that would be expected of a well resourced school.
The 2017-18 KHDA report notes that "There is an extensive range of buildings designed to promote student-centred learning and a high level of classroom resourcing, including technology. Recent developments of the Key Stage 1 classrooms, learning support area and the library provide rich learning environments that enhance student achievement."
The school also offers a large gymnasium, 6 lane swimming pool, dedicated ‘learn to swim’ swimming pool, Netball/Basketball Courts and two real and grass outside areas marked for football/rugby pitches which are used for a large variety of sports - promoting activities that many children go on to play competitively at DESC, with both schools having reputations as being among the strongest sports-focused schools in the UAE.
More details of the facilities can be found in the report of our Experience visit.
What the inspectors say
After six years of being rated Good and three of Very Good, in 2018-19, DESS was awarded the much coveted Outstanding rating. Many observers had expected this to be achieved sooner - especially given sister school DESC's first Outstanding rating having been achieved in 2012-13, which it has now retained this rating for a further six years.
Shortly after the announcement by the KHDA in September 2019 that schools rated Very Good or Outstanding would no longer be fully inspected on an annual basis, and then with the arrival of the Covid 19 pandemic in early 2020, when inspections were put on hold, there has been no subsequent KHDA inspection of DESS. However, in common with all UAE schools, DESS has participated in the Distance Learning Evaluations brought in as a result of the pandemic, and was awarded the highest Developed rating not only for the overall report but for all 13 fields that were evaluated. The report can be found here.
The latest (2018-19) full inspection report notes that "Highly effective leadership is central to the school's success". Further, "leaders, at all levels, encourage staff and students to be creative and innovative in the pursuit of excellence in all areas of the school".
Historically, the main areas for concern appeared to be the opportunities for students to use extended writing in all three non-Arabic core subjects (English, Maths and Science) and a perceived variability of teaching quality. Clearly this has now been addressed to the satisfaction of the DSIB inspection team. The outstanding vision of the leadership team is not new. It has been a regular of DESS reports since inspections began, and evidently is now part of the culture and DNA of the school.
High praise is also offered in regard to the school's curriculum, which is based on EYFS and the National Curriculum for England, and is described as "exceptionally well planned to ensure progression in learning. The emphasis on child-initiated learning in the Foundation Stage provides the basis for self-directed learning in the later years".
The 2018-19 report is notable for the improvement in measures in the Primary school for progress and attainment in English, Maths and Science which have all been upgraded to Outstanding - a clean sweep across the school. Personal and Social Development and Innovation Skills, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, The care, protection and guidance and support of students, and the Leadership and Management of the school are all now rated Outstanding in both the Foundation and Primary stages.
Only in the achievement of Arabic and Islamic Studies (taught in the Primary school), are ratings lower, with Islamic Education rated Good for both progress and attainment, whilst Arabic as a first and second language are both rated Good for progress, but Acceptable for attainment.
Overall, inspectors found that the key strengths of DESS are:
Inevitably, the main recommendation is to:
If you would like to read the full Inspection report - which we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com strongly recommend yo to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the rating - you will find it here.
Feedback from the 50 DESS parents who have responded to our Parent Survey shows that it is not just the regulator who is impressed with the school. The results show an overall rating of 4.5/5 (or a positivity rating of 90%). An astounding (and resounding!) 96% of respondents would recommend DESS to other parents - well above the UAE average of 80%.
Children love going to school - with 74% of parents saying that their children enjoy going to school "a tremendous amount", and a further 22% saying that their children enjoy school "quite a bit". The same 74% feel a "tremendous sense of belonging". 84% of respondents are satisfied with the academic performance of the school, with 80% feeling there is no need for any form of additional tuition. Satisfaction with Communication (at 76%) and the Disciplinary policy and its implementation (at 88%) are also rated highly.
Even the often contentious issue of the value for money represented by the school's fees is generally regarded in a positive lights, with 74% of respondents believing that fees do represent value for money, a further 18% in partial agreement that they do so, and 8% (well below the UAE average of 12%) disagreeing.
If you are a parent or teacher at DESS, please share your views and experiences with other potential members of the school community by completing our survey here.
In addition, almost all 423 parents who responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey stated that they were "satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school." In fact the report notes that "parents are overwhelmingly positive about all aspects of the school". You can read the full inspection report and parent feedback here.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com really appreciate the highly inclusive and warm environment that DESS provides, brought together by a skilled and dedicated team in what may look to be a traditional environment, but one that is clearly at the forefront of primary education in Dubai. With the automatic slipstream to sister school DESC, parents can be assured of a quality of education from FS1 right through to Year 13, delivered by a cohesive team across both schools.
The not-for-profit ethos, whilst not meaning that fees are necessarily lower than other high quality schools in the UAE, does mean that any funds left over from fees are reinvested directly back into resources of the schools and back into the education that students receive.
DESS is an extremely popular school with both new and existing Dubai families keen to secure places. Fees for the school currently range from AED 35,468 for FS1 to AED 43,894 for FS2 to Year 6.
Dubai English Speaking School 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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