Durham School Dubai, which opened in August 2022 in Dubai Investments Park, is the third international school to be operated directly by UK-based Durham School.
Durham School Dubai is the third international branch of one of England's longest established day and boarding schools, Durham School. The original school was founded in 1414 and re-founded in 1541 by King Henry VIII. Based in the historical northern English City of Durham, the Durham Cathedral Schools Foundation delivers independent, co-educational day and boarding for students from the age of three to eighteen. The Dubai school has opened from FS1 to Year 8 initially, expanding annually until it reaches Year 13. When full, Durham School Dubai will educate more than 1,700 students.
The Durham School Dubai branch opened in August 2022 on an established school site (previously occupied by the British Columbia Canadian School which opened in 2017, but closed at the end of only its second year of operation) in Dubai Investments Park. The school is accessible with ease from communities such as Arabian Ranches, Damac Hills, Jumeirah Golf Estates, Jumeirah Village Circle, the Green Community, Motor City and Dubai Sports City.
Commenting on the opening of the school, Kieran McLaughlin, Headmaster of Durham School UK, said: “Following the successful opening of Durham schools in Qatar and Kenya, we are delighted to announce the opening of Durham School Dubai in August 2022.
“With its strategic location, excellent facilities, competitive fee levels, experienced leadership team led by Principal Mark Atkins and an uncompromising dedication to the quality of education, we are confident that Durham School Dubai will quickly establish a strong reputation.”
Durham School Dubai is the third school to join the expanding international portfolio of the original school and follows the opening of Durham International School, Nairobi in January 2021 (open from Nursery to Year 2) and Durham School for Girls, Doha (open from FS to Sixth Form) in September 2019.
Whilst there is no intention to "lift" Durham School out of the UK and place it in Dubai, there will be linkages between the two organisations. Both schools will share a similar ethos, and the English National Curriculum will be delivered as the basis of the education, in line with the UK’s Department of Education requirements. But there will also be differences, taking into account local requirements.
Principal Mark Atkins is keen to point out that in choosing Durham Dubai, the new school should not be judged on what its UK alma-mater has achieved over a period of 600 years, but rather, parents should form their opinions based on what the Dubai school is doing.
Dubai parents can expect that the Dubai school will be expected to measure up to at least the standards that are required in the UK. Durham School UK will arrange quality assurance visits regularly to ensure that the Dubai school is meeting that specification. Safeguarding is a particular area of focus to ensure that Durham School Dubai meets the safeguarding standards and that children are well cared for from a health and safety perspective. Durham School UK’s Director of International Operations, as well as the current Principal of the UK school, are on the Board of the Dubai school.
The school's mission is to provide students with a complete education; one which instils in them an aspiration for achievement, a respect for others and a confidence for life.
According to the UK school, it is academically driven, pastorally strong, values focussed and pupil-centric. Students thrive in an environment focused on developing "Confidence for life. Respect for all", the school motto. The Dubai school is expected to adopt the overarching ethos of the UK school.
Perhaps more impressive than the school's mission and its motto, is its Educational Ethos.
"First, we believe that the students are the stars; they are our reason for Durham Dubai and they are at the centre of everything we do and every decision we take. Next, we are a ‘hands on’ kind of school – if a job needs doing, we all contribute: staff, students and parents, no matter what the task or what our role is within the school. Importantly, we are a positive, optimistic school. We meet challenges head on and look for solutions in the belief that they can always be found. We look for the best in people. We expect the best from our students and staff and as a result, will be rarely disappointed."
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is particularly impressed by the following statement - one we do not believe we have seen in another form in the UAE.
"At Durham Dubai we are also humble and we accept that we all get things wrong from time to time. We recognise when something has gone wrong, we apologise, we fix it, we learn from it and we move on. And finally, we are kind, accepting of each other, supportive of one another and appreciative of all that a person has to offer."
The school is led by Founding Principal Mark Atkins. Previously Headmaster of Foremarke (now Repton Al Barsha) School in Dubai, Mr Atkins has an impressive 35-year pedigree working in schools, and experience in setting up and heading schools in India, China, Malaysia and Europe.
In appointing Mr. Atkins, Durham School has clearly set its sights on establishing a school that competes with other international off-shoots of UK public schools - in line with the Repton schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Brighton Colleges in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and the latest brand - the Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai.
Although the school does not go into details in regard to its teaching staff, Durham Dubai advises that they are "all highly trained, predominantly from the UK" - skillful teachers who draw upon the best of modern and traditional teaching pedagogies, enhanced and enriched by use of technology and the exciting learning opportunities available in Dubai.
Despite the relatively late launch of the Dubai school, applicants for teaching positions (there were over 500!), have been through a rigorous recruitment process, with the number selected to join the school being around 20 in its first year.
According to Mr. Atkins, "the biggest, single most important thing that we have, or we will bring to the school, is quality teachers. That to me is everything. If you get the teachers right then the school will be fantastic. We need to have a really close team that is moving in the same direction. And that's what we're going to set up".
In Mr. Atkins' view, "with children it's all about the quality of the teaching. It's not about the facilities. It's never going to be about the facilities. It's always about how the teachers might use the facilities and resources they've got. But ultimately, teaching is about developing relationships with pupils and with each other. So getting the teachers right isn't just important, it's vital. We want them to be good role models, kind, resourceful, firm in the right way, ambitious for their pupils, and one of the key aspects of interviewing them was not just about experience and how good they were at the job, but whether their personality was going to be the right fit for the school."
The Dubai school, in common with the UK school, offers the English National Curriculum, starting with the Early Years Foundation Stage for children joining FS. Students are expected to enter for GCSE and A Level examinations in the Secondary and Sixth Form stages of their education.
In terms of expectations and well-being, the school states that "from our EYFS classes right through to 6th Form, we work on positive mind sets, constructive feedback, mentoring through our total commitment to outstanding pastoral care, house systems and student counselling. We celebrate each individual and their achievements and we challenge our students to work hard, try their best and be positive about themselves."
The school is organised between Foundation Stage for children aged 3 to 5 years (FS1 and FS2), Primary School for those aged 6-11 years (Year 1 to Year 6), Secondary for students from Years 7 to 11 and Sixth Form for the final post-16 year groups.
The Key Stage 1 curriculum for students in Years 1 and 2 includes English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic Language and Islamic Education (for Muslim students) as the core subjects, in addition to the foundation subjects of History, Geography, Design Technology and Art.
Subject specialists deliver art, design and technology, computing, music, French and PE and swimming programmes. Links across the curriculum are made wherever possible and all activities are planned and delivered to maximise first-hand experience and respond to differing learning styles.
A particular focus is given to providing students with opportunities that support and enrich the curriculum, through out-of-school activities such as visits to a local science museum where they get the opportunity to engage in many ‘hands on’ practical activities, or visits to a local wildlife park as part of their study of animals in the local environment.
In Key Stage 2 (Years 3 to 6), students continue to study the subjects outlined in Key Stage 1, but in some curriculum areas the Key Stage 2 timetable runs parallel to the first part of the Key Stage 3 Secondary school timetable (Years 7 to 9), allowing more specialist teaching in Upper Key Stage 2.
All subjects, including Science, History and Geography, are taught through themes, these becoming more in depth and more subject focused. Students will follow the UAE Ministry of Education Curriculum for Arabic Language, Islamic Education and Emirati Social Studies. This will be supported with additional Arabic reading schemes and songs.
There is a particularly strong focus on Arabic. According to Mr. Atkins, "Arabic will be taught as a modern foreign language and students will use it as a living language. Teachers will be creative about the way they deliver their curriculum. Teaching traditional Arabic is not dissimilar to teaching Shakespeare in English. At Durham Dubai, the aim is for Arabic to be taught as a living language, where there will be a real practical approach to conversation - what are people talking about on the street? Can you go and order your milk and bread or whatever? Can you order a coffee? Can you say hello, just pick someone up school from in town? The goal is to ensure that the language is being taught using a proper model."
Wherever possible, the students benefit from out of school visits and activities to support and enrich the curriculum. Specialist teachers lead in Art & Design, languages (French and German will be offered as extra curriculars), Music, PE and Swimming and Computing.
Secondary students are offered a broad range of subjects including Arabic Language, Islamic Education, Emirati Social Studies, English – Language and literature, Mathematics, Science – Chemistry, Biology and Physics, History, Geography, Art, Computing, Music, Modern Foreign Languages, Physical Education and Swimming, and Personal, Social and Health Education.
Key Stage 3 students have form rooms with an experienced form tutor who oversees their education and pastoral care. In addition, the House System is embedded into the school creating opportunities for friendly competition and house events and also to develop peer mentors across the age groups. The form tutors meet with the students daily and oversee their development, liaising with all of their subject teachers.
Sixth Form students will be offered a range of A Level subjects. The school is also considering the addition of BTEC and T Levels as additional pathways for students who may not wish to follow the A Level route. Durham School Dubai aims to support students in their studies to obtain the best possible grades to enable them to access their universities of choice. Students will be guided as to the subject choices and to university placements through a dedicated student support team with experience in placing students in universities in the UAE, the UK, the United States, Asia and Europe.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com spoke with Principal Mark Atkins about what he saw as the particular strengths of the English National Curriculum. He told us that in his opinion "there are two key strengths - the first is that English is the universal language of the world. Therefore, if you have studied in a UK curriculum school, you will be able to speak English and that gives students a huge leg up.
The other thing I think the English do particularly well is in developing social skills (including basic manners) and building confidence. I also think there is a place for resilience. Education is not just about academics. I think what we're trying to teach our children here is that the world does not revolve around them. We have to make them fit to find their place in the world."
Mr. Atkins acknowledges also that there are also many very good academic subjects within the curriculum, yet there are lots of children who are not particularly leaning towards academics, but who have fantastic talent that needs to be discovered in the arts and sports.
"I really want children to learn a musical instrument. I think it's good for them in many ways in terms of cognitive development, as well as just pure enjoyment. I also believe in competitive sport, that everyone should participate. And so there are two elements to our Sports programme. There's a competitive element and there's a recreational element, and everyone needs to lead healthy lifestyles. As teachers, we need to find what fires our students and encourage them."
Leadership skills, community projects and service will be important aspects of the Sixth form education offered by the school. Students at all levels will be given plenty of opportunities to develop and extend themselves through a range of activities and a comprehensive extra-curricular programme which includes sporting, artistic, academic and musical opportunities.
One highlight that we do not expect Dubai Prep students to access is the option for Durham UK students to audition to become a Chorister for the Durham Cathedral Choir.
Setting the tone of the school, we are informed that "At Durham School Dubai, ‘Confidence for Life’ underpins everything that we do. We equip our students with skills, knowledge and ambition to succeed: we develop their abilities and aptitudes, we guide them through their education at school and prepare them for the challenges of university and life thereafter. Our reward is to see them grow into the amazingly confident young adults they have become."
Durham School UK is particularly proud of the academic achievement that it delivers, being within the top 3% of schools nationally when it comes to the progress students make academically. The school measures the Value Added to students achievements to determine how well they achieve academically, and is estimated to be in the top 5% of all UK schools nationally and top 10% of all Independent Schools.
The school publishes it results and for 2020-21:
Students are tested when they enter the school and those baseline tests are used to generate predictions for GCSE and A-Level grades. These are independent predictions created by Durham University's Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring.The difference between the two is the value that that the school's academic tuition adds to each student. The latest Department for Education data shows that the school adds an average of nearly 4% additional value to its pupil's results.
Mr. Atkins also explained Durham School Dubai's focus on Academic achievement, telling us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com "Education is about the journey, It's not about the destination. So if you're going to judge the school as the starting point, the key is to determine how far a student has come since the start. And it's not all about exam results either. It's about what the school has actually added to that child above and beyond his starting point and how far he has come during the time at Durham Dubai. If a school is hyper-selective and it has really, really intelligent students who join and they get whatever fantastic qualifications, at the end of it, has the school actually done anything to deserve credit?
We're not going to be selective, because I want us to be judged on value added. I'm not obsessed with how many top grades our students achieve. It's going to be about how much each child achieves. That's not to say that we're not going to strive for the very top. But how am I going to achieve it? To deliver as much a personal, tailored education for those children as we can; we need to find out what motivates them, what kind of learners they want to be? Are they happy in school? Happiness is a big thing. Are they comfortable in the environment? Because without these elements in place, students, and we as a school, are not going to succeed."
The UK school has a Learning Support Department that screens all new students and conducts further diagnostic testing if required. Over the years students with a diverse range of additional needs have been supported including those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, DCD, Asperger's Syndrome and PDD (NOS). In line with the KHDA's requirements. we would anticipate that a similar level of support will be provided to students joining the Dubai school.
The DIP school property has been constructed to the highest standards with a world-class contemporary design, and features a dedicated Foundation Stage section, a primary and secondary classroom complex, with specialist science, art and IT labs, an acoustically designed music performance hall, a large auditorium, a multi-purpose sports hall and a 25-meter indoor swimming pool.
The arrival of Durham School Dubai may have been somewhat hurried in comparison with other new schools that opened in August 2022 - notably Citizens' Dubai and Bloom World Academy - both of which announced their plans somewhat earlier. However, with the school building already in place and with little need for substantial build or renovation, this has allowed the Durham team to focus on putting in place the key staff and resources from the get-go.
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There is no question that Durham School Dubai not only has high expectations of its teachers and students, but also of its parents. Principal Mark Atkins was forthright in his views about how the relationship between the school and home should function.
"I would say that teaching the curriculum is a tiny part of what we're going to do. It's about producing people that we want to know in 10 years time when they leave school, that you would want to spend time with. Education is about social competency. It's about manners, and confidence. It's about how you talk to people. It's about how you interact. We've gone through two years, maybe more of COVID, where children have been looking at screens and have forgotten how to interact with each other. The successful people of the future are going to be the best communicators.
"Parents have to have to acknowledge their responsibility for educating their children. We want to attract parents who buy into our values - the social responsibility, the social competence, the moral integrity. And our expectation is that parents will exhibit our values too. We should be able to rely on parents to reinforce our ethos and values, so that when the children go home there should be follow through. This is what we want to do for the children."
Given Mr. Atkins' previous experience in establishing and leading a highly regarded 'off-shoot' of a renowned UK public school in the form of Foremarke Dubai, we fully anticipate that Durham Dubai will appeal to parents seeking the traditional British approach to private education with the additional parental involvement - rather than the rather hands-off approach that was historically the norm - in line with modern educational norms which see this as a requirement.
KHDA approved fees range from AED 54,000 in FS1 and FS2 to AED 93,000 in Year 9 (which will open in September 2023 subject to KHDA approval). The school originally offered discounted fees for the first three years of operation, with FS fees reduced to AED 42,600 and fees in Year 8 reduced from AED 87,000 to AED 57,000 in 2022. Year 9 fees in 2023 will be reduced from AED 93,000 to AED 66,000.
However, in May 2022, the school announced an offer to recognise founding families for supporting the school in its opening year. Founding parents joining in Durham’s first academic term will now have the option to either take a further 10% discount on the first year’s fees OR benefit from the original fixed discounted fee structure for three years. This means that for parents who opt to take the additional 10% discount, annual fees will start as low as AED 38,340 for FS1 and FS2.
These are most definitely premium fees although the discounts for the first three years are substantial.
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