United Arab Emirates / Dubai / Oud Metha / Dubai English Speaking School

Dubai English Speaking School Experience

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.
Parents' Rating
4.4 out of 5 based on 51 reviews
At a glance
School type
School phase
Inspection rating
Curricula taught
Availability 2022/23
Availability 2023/24
Annual fee average
AED 46,500
Annual fees
AED 38,305–47,406
Price band help
Opening year
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
Mrs Catherine Dando
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
United Kingdom

Nearby nurseries

0.7km • French curriculum
0.9km • EYFS curriculum
1km • EYFS curriculum
1.4km • EYFS curriculum
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Our Experience Visit to Dubai English Speaking School took place in 2017.  Images and factual content were updated in 2021.

Dubai English Speaking School is the oldest not-for-profit school in Dubai and also the oldest UK curriculum school, having been founded in 1963. Although located close to the traditional centre of Bur Dubai in the Oud Metha area and with an external appearance which is very much that of a traditional single-storey school building, the location and initial appearance very much belie what is now a thoroughly modern school. However, the original spirit of the school – friendly, amazingly supportive and caring – is, according to staff, students and parents, still very much intact.


DESS is now home to 1,000 Primary School students of 50 nationalities with a majority being from the UK. Under the leadership of Headteacher- Catherine Dando, who joined the school 2014, and the senior leadership team of Tony Clarkson, Senior Deputy Headteacher (who joined in 2007) Ruth Gibson, Deputy Headteacher, Liz Miller, Deputy Headteacher, Yvonne Sewnaugth (Assistant Headteacher) and Victoria Atkinson (Assistant Headteacher). 

Andrew Gibbs, DESSC Principal/CEO is responsible for both DESS and DESC, to ensure a much more cohesive and aligned approach. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is responsible to the Board of Trustees for the leadership and management of the schools. .

One of immediate impacts of this change has been to ensure much closer ties between the Primary School and College with students from Year 3 to Year 6 making 16 separate visits to DESC over the 4 years and there is now an increasing focus on ensuring that a coherent curriculum is in place to smooth the transition still further. 


Significant investment has been made to improve security and create an entire new wing of classrooms for the Foundation stage, as well as completely updating the Year 1 and 2 classroom blocks. The DESS/C team is very serious about maintaining DESS as a state of the art learning environment, albeit within a traditional setting, retaining the essence of a community school. Staff describe it as an “Oasis of Charm” and the “Home of Irresistible Learning”.

Headteacher, Catherine tells us that staff are passionate and dedicated – not only to their positions but also in their support of the school. They “walk the talk” with a number of staff children (including the Principal/CEO’s) attending the school. There is a mix of staff of both younger and older team members and those with their own children attending are particularly invested in the school. The dedication of the team is reflected in teacher turnover which is extraordinarily low.


Our tour of the school shows us the many updates and improvements that have taken place with the most evident among these being theFoundation section which has been added to the rear of the original buildings, overlooking the expansive playing fields, and the redevelopment of the years 1 and 2 block. The Foundation classrooms (5 classes each of  FS1 and FS2) are in a large open plan section with free flow between activities. Equipment is bright and light; resources are extensive. There are quiet rooms for children who need to nap or simply to find a quieter space, and these rooms are also used for Speech and Language support which is offered to children in need by an external organisation.

There is a large dining area where children sit down to formal meals with each other and their teachers. This was specifically included to ensure that children learn to develop their social skills in school. The Foundation section also encompasses its own segregated play areas outside as well as a Dance Studio and their own learner swimming pool. There is a Super Club which enables FS1 children to extend their day in line with other year groups. Class sizes are 22 in FS1 and 25 in FS2.

Overlooking the central courtyard area, the Year 1 and 2 block has also been opened up, with classrooms now at the front of the building, receiving the maximum amount of light, and the common shared areas to the rear to encourage a more collaborative approach. Again, classrooms are open plan, but can be separated with sliding doors if required. More muted tones have been introduced to the colour scheme and this fits in well with the emphasis on Mindfulness and Wellbeing which have been given core status in the school alongside Literacy and Numeracy. Children learn breathing techniques and take part in calming activities. Feedback from parents has been especially positive.


Children are regularly reminded of the 6C’s which sit alongside the core curriculum – Communicate, Collaborate, Think Critically and Creatively. Development of the skills is planned into the curriculum and children are set individual targets to achieve.

We visited the Year 2 – 6 blocks which are on the opposite side of the main play area and courtyard. Both blocks are due to be redesigned and the children have been involved in the redesign process, contributing to the choice of paint colours, furniture and seating among other areas. Classrooms are large with plenty of open space. The Arabic department has its own section of classrooms where staff are able to stamp their own design ideas and where there is access to an outdoor area. They participate in Continuous Professional Development together with all the other team members at DESS.

The school also offers a full range of sports and creative activities with a large sports hall as well as a smaller multi-purpose hall with stage which is used for assemblies and performances. There is a very large outdoor pool as well as expansive sports courts.
Year 6 follows are more specific curriculum (Leaders leading learning) designed to enable them to develop their independence, with feedback based around the 4C’s. Topics are project-based and students have a wide range of options. An important aspect of this approach is that children are allowed to fail, but in a supportive and positive environment, where they are able to develop skills for future growth and learning. There is also a stronger focus on the transition to DESC with joint events, a collaborative curriculum and a range of joint initiatives, including sports, charity activities and shared initiatives such as health and personal security.

Children with whom we met (10 of various ages), were overwhelmingly positive about their school. They spoke about the very caring teachers, the focus on both sports and academics which allowed students of all abilities to fit in to the school, the opportunities to travel and participate in interactive learning and the charity activities in which they supported schools in Dubai and Nepal. There was an emphasis on the family feel of the school and that no child felt excluded, a sense that DESS does not feel like a large school (helped by a whole school playtime that takes place on Thursdays). Above all, students emphasised the supportive environment that allowed them to overcome their fears.

Parents were equally positive about DESS. They feel that the focus is on the children and not on “the business of education”. Children are engrossed in their learning supported by fantastic staff and a community where everyone works together. They emphasised how the support provides roots and stability so that even as friends come and go in transient Dubai, children are able to deal with changes. There is also a strong sense of pride in the school and the positive culture that it offers including a sense of reality which parents felt was also vitally important.

Some of the parents we spoke with were “Second generation families”, having attended the school themselves in the 1990’s. They noted the excellent teaching across the board – including Arabic for native speakers – but especially wanted to see the school remain largely as it is from a structural and cultural perspective. They cherish the “heart, the feeling, the familiarity and the history” – and “shininess would ruin what the school is about”. For them, changes to the school have been solely positive – none of them would consider moving their children to another school, no matter how far they drive or how long the journey takes.
High praise indeed. If a traditional school with a modern twist and with a strong focus on academic and personal skills is what parents are seeking for their children, they should certainly investigate DESS.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

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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