Where is it?
Kent College is conveniently situated just off the Dubai-Al Ain Road in the Nad Al Sheba 3 area. The school opened its doors in 2016 and is very much part of the original Kent College in Canterbury in the UK. Mr Tim Clark, the President of Emirates Airline is also linked being a well known alumnus of the prestigious UK boarding school.
Kent College Dubai campus is 53,000 square metres and is housed in a series of beautiful modern blocks surrounding large sports fields and secure car parking areas.
An eye-catching corner block juts out and is covered with asymmetric red, white and pale yellow block tiles giving it a cool, arty style first impression. Bikes in racks are also quite obvious outside so it is clear that many pupils live nearby and are able to cycle to school.
One of the new Meydan housing developments is directly across the road so Kent College is a convenient choice for many local residents. Once our ID was checked we were warmly greeted by Mrs Emma Starling, the marketing and communications manager. Emma had arranged a series of interviews and guided tours for us to explore the campus. First impressions, thoughts:
The Early Years Tour
Our guide in the early years section was conducted by the open and sincere head of the junior school, Mrs Carmella Jodrell. She had taught first in the UK in Hounslow before embarking on an international career in a school in Cairo. In the early years there are already 77 pupils and in years one to six 274. Carmella believes Kent College Dubai to be unique because of its connection to the Kent school in Canterbury where David Lampur is overall head of both schools. He was in fact at the Dubai school on the day of our visit.
Carmella has spent time in the Canterbury branch and feels that their aim here is to provide the same quality of education. She believes the small class sizes enable the staff to know all the children very well. She spoke of how the staff are 100% focused. Exchanges between the Canterbury and Dubai schools have taken place already. There have also been shared assemblies via skype and Arabic lessons via skype as well.
Carmella emphasized that as a school they pride themselves on the ‘value added’. She feels that the ‘warm people’ they recruit help create a family atmosphere. She believes they have a strong learning support department with a good SEN and dyslexia unit and they also employ two EAL as well as two special needs teachers. Standout features:
Inside the classrooms
We were next able to explore the early years classrooms and play areas. The rooms were light, spacious and welcoming. In every room we observed small children happily engrossed in educational play.
For example we saw a bubble water tray where a happy group were whizzing up the soap with hand whisks.
Other children were learning a song, waving colourful pom-poms, doing interactive drawing on a whiteboard or painting a picture quite independently.
We observed a good deal of one-to-one or small group lessons and several reading sessions. Teachers sat on the floor, down low or danced along with the pupils. Equipment is all appropriate, fresh, new and natural materials are used wherever possible. All displays are attractive, fun and children’s own work is very much in evidence.
Play ‘To the forefront’
Both indoor soft play and outdoor spaces are available. Classrooms have doors to open onto outdoor areas when the temperature is pleasant. Creative/educational and independent play looks to be at the forefront and the general atmosphere is one of calm and exuberance – it feels very much as if the children are enjoying themselves.
Pupil guides take us on tour
Girls wear a pretty, flowery retro dress and boys a polo shirt and shorts. Our junior school guides were two year 6 pupils who now dress in tartan shorts/skirt, white shirt, tie and a blazer. Amelia Vivesh and Shayan Malik were our enthusiastic guides.
We were treated to a thorough viewing of the facilities available to this age group. The beautiful auditorium is state of the art with a wonderful stage and seating for 458 people.
Sporting facilities are impressive with large outdoor pitches, a spacious sports hall and a lovely six lane covered swimming pool.
The classrooms we saw looked colourful, exciting, large and appropriately equipped. As a new school and early in the term the library at this level has a limited book selection and wall displays as yet are not prevalent.
We took a look at their huge new cafeteria, dance studio and walked past outdoor shaded climbing equipment and through several shaded seating areas. As yet the trees are all young and gardens just being developed around the site. But benches and chill-out areas are attractive and plentiful.
Our senior school tour was conducted by Hannah Marouf (y13) and Aris Michaelidis (y8). Both were smart and articulate as they guided us through the rest of the campus. Other departments such as music, art, technology and science are all of a high standard.
We were able to discuss the two children’s thoughts on the school as they have both attended since it opened two years ago. They felt that what is special at Kent College is the approachable, patient and passionate teachers. Both described their relationship with staff as ‘very friendly’ and that ‘they never felt anxious’.
We asked how the school could improve and their reply was ‘more students’ but they did speak of how they appreciated the small, family feel now. Student culture they described as very friendly and generally collaborative but fun competition usually comes out of house events.
We wanted to know if they had ever witnessed any form of bullying and their reply was ‘no, not ever’. Their elected student council members they believe are taken seriously, have access to leadership and in fact have been able to shorten the school day by 50 minutes.
We inquired about the school food and learnt that the company Keita provides what they feel is a very good, healthy menu. The workload at Kent Dubai is challenging but ‘not too much’ and our pupils spoke of how teachers helped ‘if you feel stressed’. Both are satisfied with the quality saying ‘yes they are confident about the teaching and that the staff bring out the best in you’.
ECAs & community events
ECAs they feel are varied and there are plenty on offer. Pupils may bring in mobile phones at secondary level but they must be switched off. We inquired about the community events and activities take part on the neighbouring compound along with raising money for cancer patients.
These pupils from different age groups chat together with ease and appear to know each other well. When we asked them to describe Kent Dubai to prospective pupils they chose the phrases ‘warm and friendly’, that they were ‘excited to come to school’ and ‘they’re very happy here’.
A highlight of their school experience so far was sports day when during a 600 m race a pupil wanted to give up. In support the whole house joined in and ran with them. They spoke of the great sense of team spirit.
The Parents View
We wanted a parent’s view of Kent College Dubai and were next able to speak to Avtar and Dominique who both have children in year 8 and Kirsty who has a child in Foundation 2. We asked why they had chosen this school and heard how important they all feel is the link to Kent Canterbury. The fact that it is as close as possible to a UK private education and not part of a bigger franchise.
What most impresses this group of parents is the balance between academics and pastoral care. They believe their children are very well known by staff who they describe as ‘gentle rather than pushy’. They believe their children have become much more confident since attending the school and the teachers know how to bring out the best in each child.
We inquired about challenges that the school faces and it was mentioned that there were a few teething problems with communication at first. They also feel it would be good to have more pupils although they also feel the school is working very well at the moment.
Inquiring if our parents thought it good value for money we received these comments: ‘it’s the same cost as Kent in Canterbury’, ‘you can’t put a price on confidence and happiness’.
Parents told us they like:
We learned that the uniform provider is Threads. There is no shop on site and it is not considered particularly good in either quality or design. Kent College Dubai is also quite strict with their uniform policy. The parents are happy with the quality of food provided here and that at 18 dhs a day it represents good value. We received mixed messages about the traffic situation at drop off/pick up times ranging from easy to ‘a nightmare’ so clearly there is room for improvement.
A bus service is available for parents who need this rather than driving. Successful school trips have run for younger pupils locally but overseas trips have not yet happened due to lack of takers. A parent’s association has been formed which has access to school leadership and they believe that they are listened to. Parent teacher conferences so far have been excellent and communication between home and school works very well via a homework diary.
Our group felt that their younger secondary pupils could cope with more homework generally. However in school they feel their children are challenged, stimulated and that the pastoral team are ‘excellent’. Learning support is on offer for any children who require help in any way and our parents are happy with this.
We inquired if education here in Kent College Dubai is as good as their home country and the response was ‘definitely’. Finally we asked for phrases to sum up Kent College Dubai for parents and these words were used ‘excellent’, ‘caring’, ‘the only school with balance between academic and other areas’.
Observations from parents:
Meeting the Principal
To complete our visit we were able to speak to Mr Patrick Lee-Browne, the founding principal of Kent College Dubai. Inquiring why he chose to work in education we heard that he loves ‘this very creative job’ and that ‘children have so much energy and a huge amount of initiative’. Patrick believes that every day here is different and that progress is constant. He began his career as an English teacher focusing on critical thinking, teaching in the UK before moving into management.
He arrived in Dubai in March 2016 and believes that Kent Dubai is unique because of its link to Canterbury. Patrick is ambitious for the school seeing it as ‘eventually competitive with all others here’. He believes it will be one of the best. He is proud of the school’s accomplishments so far particularly being able to open from FS1 to Year 13. He spoke of ‘happy, engaged children and satisfied parents’.
We asked about the biggest challenges here and he joked ‘there are not enough bike racks’! Wanting key phrases that he would use to describe the school he said ‘individual education’, ‘one that is centred on developing moral education’ . Looking to find out which department he thought stood out he praised the great sense of collaboration throughout.
Key messages/values coming from the principal:
Performing & Creative Arts, Sports
Lee-Browne told us the school was already winning a good reputation of the performing and creative subjects, and had notched up early successes in sport .
The school is ‘being innovative in every area’.
Patrick believes that the "lovely" environment and small class size will be positive when it comes to teacher retention. Due to a generous budget staff receive weekly "In Service Training Day" for professional development.
The school has ‘an open acceptance policy within reason’. A CAT test system is used when appropriate.
As yet scholarships are not on offer.
There are only four pupils in year 13 this year and their university destinations are likely to be either the UK or South Africa.
Finally, Patrick is confident that Kent College Dubai is ‘an excellent school with fabulous facilities’ and he is particularly proud that they offer the same quality and values as their founding school in the UK.
He wants to offer his pupils the very best start in life.
- Kent College, 11th October 2017
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