One of the most read reviews on our sister site, SchoolsCompared.com, and now something of an evergreen read here at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, Kent College Dubai is steadily establishing itself as a school to watch.
The team at Kent College Dubai are now well into their third year of operation, having opened in 2016 with a joyous shout of ‘We have made history!’ to the inaugural assembly (a favourite memory of many of the children we encountered during our second review visit to the school).
Having arrived in Dubai with fairly limited promotional activity (more of a gentle whisper of its 130 year, highly regarded reputation as an ‘Outstanding’ English boarding school, rather than the expensive marketing campaigns of many new schools) Kent College has been quietly industrious, building its own solid reputation amongst parents and educators alike.
The UK school achieves an ‘Independent Schools Inspectorate’ “Outstanding” rating in every category of inspection. Three years in, and with their first KHDA inspection imminent, our team returned to Kent College to reflect on their stated aim of being:
‘Not just a franchise of Kent College Canterbury – effectively a second campus, with close collaborative management between Dubai and the UK’. Principal, Anthony Cashin
What does the school feel like when you walk in? Click here for the Kent College Dubai 'Experience'.
As any new school grows and begins to solidify its own identity, its defining personality and values also begin to emerge. The Kent College Dubai team have taken their collaborative approach to working with their community one step further, inviting every family to have their say in defining the ‘mission, vision and values’ of the school. The outcomes of this careful consultation process has given the school a very clear set of defining principles:
Teachers and the leadership team use these core principles to guide an international student body, coming from "a great range of countries" - 71 in total according to information supplied by the College to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. At present there are 22 Emirati students enrolled at the school.
This was WhichSchoolAdvisor.com’s second visit to the school for the purposes of a review, and this time we met with a panel of the Senior Leadership team; comprising:
Much like the school’s debut into Dubai, the relatively new Principal, Anthony Cashin has taken to his new role with minimal fuss or fanfare. At the time of our visit, Mr Cashin was clearly focussed on preparations for the school’s first and imminent Dubai Schools Inspectorate Bureau visit (and subsequent KHDA report - we will update this review once published).
Mr Cashin clearly holds the school and brand in great esteem, talking with pride of ‘what Kent College means’ to him – “a happy education, yielding the very best of each individual child’s academic potential”. After nearly two terms in the role, Mr Cashin was praised by parents for being "visible" and "popular with the children" (he made a particularly memorable entry in Foundation Stage with a guitar, a crown, a copy of ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ and a surprisingly tuneful singing voice!). Having seen the departure of one well regarded Principal fairly early in the school’s operation, our team heard a very clear message from parents: Mr Cashin must now provide stability and continuity.
Whilst not taking a classroom role at present, Mr Cashin is an experienced Business Studies and Economics teacher and, given that this is one of the most popular GCSE and A Level choices at Kent College, students may well see him back in the classroom.
With a majority of the school’s children (592 of a whole school total of 856) currently attending the Junior School, it is clear that Carmella Jodrell, Head of Junior School has been a vital component of the Kent College Dubai story so far. Softly spoken but with a keen sense of humour and an obvious warmth, Mrs Jodrell believes that the quality of relationships within the school have been a cornerstone, not of only of the initial success, but in overcoming the not inconsiderable challenges faced by every new and rapidly growing school in Dubai.
“We are, quite clearly, one school” said Mrs Jodrell. “I know that our Year 6 children are not looking ahead to senior school with trepidation, but with enthusiasm. We have created a seamless transition between Year 6 and 7 for our children. Our Year 7 children start their senior school career ready to go and ready to learn”.
Mrs Jodrell and her team are preparing for the challenges that the growing school population will inevitably bring. Her focus now is not only on continued academic attainment and the progress of each child, but on replicating her benchmarks for child safety, security and emotional wellbeing for all new joiners. She is particularly proud of the schools impact upon children with English as an Additional Language, complementing her staff on their ability to focus on progress and challenge across a broad spectrum of need.
Mrs Jodrell describes her current priority as a focus on improving the quality of play in the Foundation Stage. Since our last review visit, the Foundation Stage has seen many changes and improvements with the Early Years team forging new links with their parent body via regular workshops on topics such as ‘Mark Making’ and ‘Early Reading’. The Foundation Stage department has seen significant physical improvements too, notably new resources in the outdoor play areas and the brightening up of communal areas with several beautiful murals and cosy corners for reading and other activities.
Looking out to the community is important to Mrs Jodrell, and she is keen to point out the strong links the school has formed with other schools in Dubai. “We work with other schools to share best practice and ideas,” she said, “but also to join with them for events such as the recent ‘Small School, Big Sing’ choir concert”.
As we toured the Junior School, our reviewers were impressed by the ‘Class Ambassador’ system, whereby each class has two designated children to greet visitors each day. Right from Year 1 onwards, we met confident children, clearly able to articulate their own learning. Despite having nearly 600 students, the junior school maintains an air of ‘busy calm’.
Moving on to the Kent College Senior School which, in common with many new schools in Dubai, has had a somewhat slower uptake of seats than primary. Now with a comfortable 304 children across years 7 to 13 the Senior School is most definitely ‘in action’.
The Senior School, (led by Vice Principals Ms Seema Desai (whose leadership focus is Academic attainment) and Mr Chris Starling (Pastoral Care Leader)) currently offers the typical British curriculum qualification pathways of iGCSE and A Levels.
Looking ahead, Kent College has already signified its intent to be dual curricula post-16, and also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.
"We currently offer A-levels in the Sixth form but, by 2022, our older children will have the choice to undertake IB or A levels, allowing them the choice to really play to their own strengths educationally. Our teaching staff begin their IB training in 2020". Anthony Cashin, Principal.
This decision will make Kent College one only of only three schools in Dubai offering dual curricula post 16, with Sunmarke also offering A Levels/IB and Global Indian International School offering CBSE/IB. This move also underscores the ‘second campus’ approach, so important to the ethos here; Kent College Canterbury also offers both A Level and IB.
Our exploration of what makes the DNA of Kent College had at times given the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team the impression that the school might choose to offer BTEC (the UK post 16 work skills based qualifications) as opposed to IB for their post 16 cohorts. The Kent College position as a non-selective school that not only looks for academic excellence but for a holistic, rounded education for every child seemed to make BTEC a natural choice.
We put this point to Vice Principal (Academic), Ms Desai, who was ready to clarify, saying that;
“We have always wanted a flexible offering post 16 and absolutely did consider BTEC as a second pathway for our students. However, we take collaborative approach with our parent and student bodies and having discussed this with them at length, it was clear that the IB programme was what our very international community wanted and needed”.
What does the school feel like when you walk in? Get the Kent College Dubai 'Experience' .
For prospective parents what this ultimately means is that your children's development should not be interrupted either by a curriculum that does not suit, or by a paucity in subjects offered. Currently the offering of subjects is respectable, although not quite best in class. GCSEs offered are English, Maths, Science, Arabic, Art, Design Technology, Drama, Geography, History, Islamic Studies, Music, Spanish, and PE.
At A Level students can choose four subjects from: Arabic, Art, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Design & Technology, Drama, English Literature, French, Further Maths, Geography, History, Islamic Studies, Maths, Music, PE, Physics, Psychology and Spanish.
Kent College has also recently introduced the ‘Peter Jones Academy’ entrepreneurship courses. Led by Head of Business Studies, Mrs Jane Barker, this is clearly an initiative that the management team believe will give a real-world underpinning to their students more academic course work.
Whilst still a small and growing school, Kent College has seen relatively small cohorts through their first round of examinations. That said, their results have so far been impressive.
In 2018, the school had its first GCSE cohort of 14 students. 24.8% scored A* or 9/8, 47.9% achieved A* - A or 9 to 7, while 95.9% scored A* - C or 9-4. Whilst a small group, these results are on par with some of the very best schools in Dubai. There’s clearly ambition ahead too; this year, more than 50% of the current year 10s will take early entry Mathematics GCSE.
The management team were unified in their praise for the Performing Arts departments at Kent. Right from the first year of operation, there has been a ‘whole school’ (bringing together children from Year 3 to Year 13) musical theatre production (held in the impressive state of the art 458 seat auditorium).
Music is delivered by specialist teachers from FS1 (age 3-4) and Drama from year 7. We spoke to Head of Drama, Mr Thomas Thurston and Head of Music, Mrs Karen Bourdillon who were keen to stress how valued their respective departments feel at this school. Citing the freedom of being able to ‘do things a bit differently’ by showcasing lesser known productions such as this year’s choice, ‘The Wiz’ (a retelling of the classic ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ in the context of modern African-American culture) both agreed that these cross-age-range productions had been a key element of developing the all-important ‘whole school’ feel at Kent. They had both thoroughly enjoyed seeing younger and older children interact, noting the confidence these opportunities give younger children and how well the older children had taken on leadership roles.
Both Mr Thurston and Mrs Bourdillon were looking forward to implementing IB, seeing their subjects as a natural fit for this broad spectrum curriculum.
Kent College is also now home to a burgeoning competitive sports programme, with teams across the age groups representing the school in football, rugby, netball, basketball and more. Nominated for the SchoolsCompared.com Best School for Sport Award 2019, the school has also seen individual children achieve considerable success in more niche sports such as Girls Boxing and Fencing.
The school already has a reasonably developed set of extra-curricular activites, including sewing, papercraft, a multitude of sports, puzzle games, board games, maths club, reading club, fitness, dance, singing, mindfulness colouring, music, arabic stories, film club, pinata, yoga, construction, tumble tots, animation making, 3D design, chess, photography, drama, and an entrepreneur club.
There is also an extensive 'external' extra-curricular activity provider, Just Play, who offer a broad range of (paid) sporting activities including martial arts, gymnastics and football. Rugby is provided by Mike Phillips, ex Welsh National and British & Irish Lions team player, under the banner of his academy, The Mike Phillips Academy.
Despite being a considerably larger school than their Canterbury counterparts, teacher to student ratios will be broadly similar. Kent College Dubai currently employs a significant 75 teachers (predominantly recruited from the UK, Ireland and UAE).
Facilities are as you would expect – top tier. Noteworthy are the outdoor & indoor sports facilities including sports hall, swimming pool and training pool, and specialised hockey astro pitches.
Classrooms are equipped with Promethean smartboards. From Year 3 upwards children carry around state of the art equipment, each being issued with a Chromebook (purchased by parents, via the school). Each stage of the school has its own library, with reading time built into each child’s curriculum through to Year 13. In the Senior School, we were particularly impressed by the Design Technology suite, with one room entirely given to 4-D printers.
Innovative technological resources are top notch at Kent College with every child given access to learning with drones, a robotics programme and regular robotics competitions and (as excitedly reported to our reviewers by the students) a brand new bank of ‘Virtual Reality goggles’. The use of coding begins in Foundation stage, with even the very youngest children having access to readily programmable ‘Beebots’ (small, toy like robots).
The school will no doubt benefit in terms of future growth from its location in Nad Al Sheba 3, next to a 1500 villa development built by Meydan for Emirates Airlines. Keen to point out that they are not just a school for the immediate area, however, Kent College has bus services from Arabian Ranches, Jumeirah and Dubai Silicon Oasis, with more planned concurrent with parent demand. The school now offer a corporate discount of 15% for many employers.
To replicate or, maybe better put as, translate a school with the heritage of a long-lived and very traditional English private school in Dubai is a goal with many inherent challenges. Here in the UAE, the expectations of parents are incredibly varied, the tenure of children within our schools a perennial issue and the bringing together of many cultures both a challenge and a significant strength of our education system.
It’s clear that in three short years of operation, Kent College Dubai has laid the foundations of becoming more than simply a second campus to its sister school in Canterbury. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Kent College Dubai.
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