Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), a Primary School, is located in Oud Metha, near St Mary's in traditional Bur Dubai. After consistently achieving a Good rating since Dubai school inspections began, the school achieved a Very Good Rating in 2016 with many areas of the inspection found to be Outstanding. The school has maintained this rating in 2017 and 2018. Its sister Secondary school, Dubai English Speaking College, is rated Outstanding by the regulator.
Dubai English Speaking School is one of the longest established schools in the UAE, opening its doors in 1963, and was the first school to offer a UK-based curriculum. The school is celebrating its 55th anniversary in 2018 - a considerable milestone. 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.
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 facilities can be found in our Experience.
The Primary School has 1,022 pupils from FS1 to Year 6. The single largest nationality is British, but as with all Dubai schools, a multitude of nationalities are represented. Andrew Gibbs, as 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 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 60 full time teachers and 45 teaching assistants are also largely from the United Kingdom. The teacher turnover of the school is excellent, currently running at 2% at the end of the last academic year in 2017 - about 20 points off the Dubai average. The quality of teaching is described as "very good across the school because relationships are highly valued, lessons are well planned and the environment is highly conducive."
Dubai English Speaking College with approximately 1,500 students, brings the size of the combined schools up to approximately 2,500. DESC, an Outstanding rated school, picks up where DESS leaves off, and provides education from 11 years up to 18 years (Year 13), offering GCSE, IGCSE and A Level qualifications. It has recently significantly expanded its Sixth Form provision, with plans to add a range of additional post-16 qualifications including further BTEC options. 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 the inspectors say
Leadership and the students seem to be at the core of the school's progress. In the most recent KHDA report published in May 2018, the Dubai based inspectorate, the DSIB, notes "The effective leadership of the principal, ably supported by senior leaders, middle leaders and governors, is appreciated by students, staff and parents. Effective engagement with parents is a strength of the school." Children are "highly motivated and actively engaged in their learning. They are fully aware of their progress and their strengths in learning. Learning skills are consistently strong, across the school and notably so in the Foundation Stage and in the lower primary phase."
The school's curriculum, based on EYFS and the National Curriculum for England, is described as "distinctive and inspiring, reflecting the school’s values and vision for 'irresistible learning'. It is particularly successful in motivating students and promoting their interest and enjoyment." It also delivers outstanding personal development with inspectors commenting that "Children in the Foundation Stage are highly enthusiastic about their learning. In the primary phase, students show resilience and an increasingly well-developed sense of maturity and personal responsibility. Behaviour is always exemplary."
The noted outstanding vision of the leadership team is not new. It has been a regular of DESS reports since inspections began, and clearly is now part of the culture and DNA of the school.
The vast majority of key measures in the KHDA report, in terms of Students' Achievement, their 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 rated Outstanding. Only in the achievement of Arabic and Islamic Studies (taught in the Primary school), are ratings lower with a mix of Acceptable and Good. The perennial problem of international schools in Dubai is to be found at DESS also, but in fact, in both Arabic as a first language and Arabic as an additional language, there have been improvements in the past year.
The area that seems to impact DESS in terms of its ability to make the step up to the Outstanding rating, achieved once again by its bigger sister school, DESC, is in the Primary section of the school, where achievement and progress for English, Mathematics, and Science are all rated Very Good. In fact, the ratings for English have dropped back from Outstanding in the current inspection. The main areas for concern appear to be the opportunities for students to use extended writing in all three non-Arabic core subjects and a perceived variability of teaching quality. This has also impacted the rating for Teaching for Effective Learning in the Primary section, where inspectors found the quality of teaching to be more variable. Conversely, the design of the curriculum and its implementation has been upgraded to Outstanding within the Primary section and is now at the same level as the Foundation section.
Overall, inspectors found that the key strengths of DESS are:
The main recommendations are to:
Improve the quality of teaching, with the greater focus on the primary phase, to raise students’ attainment and progress across the school by ensuring:
The school is also noted for its support for students with Special Educational Needs, with the Inspectors noting that "Specialist leaders use a range of assessment tools to identify students with SEND. Information is used to match the students’ needs to provision, which includes in class support or intervention programmes. The school invests well in the department and in high quality resources." This investment results in support for students that "is personalised and planned around their aptitudes, interests and abilities. Personal development also has a high priority. As a result, students make at least good progress, have high self-esteem and feel included."
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com can only assume that the improvement to the KHDA Outstanding rating for DESS is not far away. In so many aspects, the school is already operating at this level. Parent apparently share this view. Almost all 370 parents who responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey stated that they "are satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school." This satisfaction is evident in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com parent survey which shows that an astounding 92% of respondents would recommend DESS to other parents - well above the average of 72%.
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.
DESS is an extremely popular school, with both new and existing Dubai families keen to secure places. Applications for FS1 and FS2 for 2018/19 have already closed, although applications for years 1-6 are being accepted. Applications for 2019/20 for FS1 and FS2 opened for submission from January 2018.
Fees for the school currently range from AED 36,210 to AED 44,813 .
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