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.
Kent College Dubai has been rated Good (the minimum rating sought by the KHDA for all Dubai schools) on its first inspection in the 2018-19 inspection process. Due to the cancellation of school inspections as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not inspected in the 2019-20 academic year.
The story so far...
The team at Kent College Dubai are now well into their fourth 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 the time of their first KHDA inspection in March 2019, there were 880 students enrolled at the school including 22 Emirati students.
With some 80 teachers (predominantly from the UK) and a further 17 teaching assistants, the teacher:student ratio of 1:11 is what we would expect for a school of this calibre and price-point.
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 focused on preparations for the school’s first and imminent Dubai Schools Inspectorate Bureau visit (and subsequent KHDA report - linked to above).
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 (some 700 of a whole school total of 1052) 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 700 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 350 children across years 7 to 13 the Senior School is most definitely ‘in action’.
The Senior School, (led by Tim Hollis, an experienced school leader who joined the school from Repton School Dubai) 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.
Clearly this is a school that aims to tailor the curriculum to the needs of their community, as Mr Hollis tells us that the BTEC pathway has now become an additional priority for the school. Formal approvals are not yet in place, but the school hope to begin offering BTEC Business Studies from September 2020. Eventually, the BTEC will form part of the IB Career Programme, to complement the IB Diploma and A Level options. The school may broaden pathways further still by offering BTEC PE.
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.
In 2020, Kent College celebrated what it described as 'exceptional' GCSE examination results. 98 per cent of all GCSE examinations entries resulted in grades 9-4 (A*-C). Additionally 47% of all examinations were graded 9-7 (A*-A), an increase of 7% over 2019.
The College provided less detail about its A Level results, advising only that 26 students had been entered for the assessed exams, with 83% of results being graded A*-C and 99% receiving A*-E pass grades.
Kent College was inspected for the first time by the KHDA's DSIB inspection team in March 2019. The College was awarded an overall Good rating - one above the minimum Acceptable rating that the KHDA requires.
Progress in English, Maths and Science was found to be Good across the school but only Acceptable in Arabic and Islamic Studies - the Achilles Heel of many international schools in the UAE. Attainment was mostly acceptable, with the exception of first-language Arabic-language students in the Secondary school, where it was weak.
Whilst students' personal development and behaviour was found to be Good in the FS and Primary school sections, positive attitudes were less evident in the Secondary school and Sixth Form.
The inspection team was positive about the delivery of the National Curriculum for England, noting that the promotion of enterprise and innovation were being developed in the FS, Secondary and Sixth Form sections. Support for students of Determination through curriculum adaptation was also found to be good, though this was less well applied to students with Gifts and Talents.
However, when it came to Teaching and Assessment, the inspectors found that the quality of teaching was inconsistent. It was found to be best in Maths and Science, but less developed in Arabic and Islamic Studies. Students and teachers had strong, supportive relationships. Assessment was Good in the FS but only Acceptable in the other sections of the school, driven by a lack of understanding by some teachers of how to use assessment informaiton to promote learning.
The Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students was found to be Good and the College was found to offer a highly inclusive environment. The Governors and leaders were found to have an ambitious vision for the school and a strong capacity for further improvement. Governance was found to include wide representation and expertise and the relationship with the community and parents were good.
In terms of the strengths of Kent College, the inspectors found what the school does best:
In terms of areas of improvement, key recommendations include:
Raise attainment and progress by ensuring that:
Improve the quality of self-evaluation and improvement planning by ensuring that:
Develop the role of middle leaders to support teaching, learning and assessment across the whole of the school, particularly by ensuring greater consistency and coherence across the Primary and Secondary phases.
As first inspections go, no doubt Kent College will have been pleased with the overall Good rating. However, the inspectors have clearly flagged those areas where improvement is required in order to ensure that the school is able to progress towards the next higher rating of Very Good to which they will clearly aspire.
In common with many UAE international curriculum schools, quality of teaching and assessment in general, and particularly in the core Arabic language subjects, will need to be a focus of the school before it is inspected for the second time - hopefully in 2021.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to get a real understanding of what the inspectors are seeking and the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
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).
Performing Arts is an area the KCD leadership hope to amplify further by announcing a partnership with UK Performing Arts college, Urdang Academy. Students of Kent College Dubai will receive professional workshops, scholarships and fast track auditions via the affiliation with Urdang. Read more about the partnership HERE.
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).
We look at how parents perceive their child's school based on two sources. The first is the KHDA's pre-inspection survey sent to parents and students before the DSIB inspection takes place.
In 2019, some 270 parents responded to the KHDA survey. Of these 93% professed themselves satisfied with the quality of education offered by Kent College. 7% strongly disagreed. Those who agreed believed that their children were happy at school and felt safe. Most agreed that school leaders listened to and acted on their views.
103 senior students participated in the Student Wellbeing Census. A largely majority of students said that they felt happy, safe and optimistic. They persevere with their studies and enjoy positive relationships with their teachers and peers.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has received a limited number of respondents. Those parents who had given their opinion seem for the most part to be happy with their choice, although almost one-third have considered moving their child to another school. Having said this, 84% were happy with the level of academic performance of the school, although a surprising 57% felt that their child needs additional tuition to supplement their learning.
It does seem that there may be some room for improvement in communication between school and home - with 54% being satisfied in this regard. However, a sizeable 69% of parents would recommend Kent College to others, although 23% of respondents were not sure. Whether this was driven by some concern around value for money in relation to fees is hard to say - for whilst 46% of parents agreed that the school's fees represented value for money, 31% only partially agreed and 23% totally disagreed!
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Kent College, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
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 four 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.
Kent College Dubai 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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