“Reputation, reputation, reputation” was the response a panel of Kings’ School Dubai (KSD) parents gave us when asked why they chose the school. With a clutch of ‘outstanding’ KHDA ratings (7 so far to be exact!) in hand, it’s perhaps obvious to see why this might be so. But what's behind the school's great reputation? How has the school achieved its Outstanding status? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com visited the school to find out...
The school sits on a residential street in Jumeirah, surrounded by low rise dwellings. Parking is to the front of the building and easy to find for our 8.30am arrival. The campus is attractive, and shares a design combination of a sweeping silver roof and red brick walls with sister schools Kings' School Al Barsha and Kings' School Nad Al Sheba. Whilst the school campus might be considered ‘small’ by Dubai standards, we later find that it feels spacious inside and, as Principal Mr Bede Higgins tells us, “we are always innovating and improving our space”.
For more on the facilities at KSD, visit our SCHOOL REVIEW HERE.
Mr Higgins greets the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team with a smile and an offer of coffee. Having been with the school for six years and in the role of Principal for four, Mr Higgins still demonstrates the enthusiasm and energy of a leader brand new to the role.
Whilst hugely proud of the school’s outstanding track record, Mr Higgins is keen to turn the spotlight on his team, the 960 current students and the entire school community. Before we let him do that however, we ask him a few questions find out “what comes next” for a consistently high achieving school and Principal.
A New Zealand national with a background in teaching PE and Maths from age 3 to age 18, Mr Higgins describes himself as someone who “didn’t find school easy, but later found the ability to explain and to help others to understand”. These early experiences and challenges continue to inform his leadership style and personal pedagogy: Mr Higgins commented that what he prioritises in teaching is “empathy, manners and good old fashioned values”. He went on to add that service to others is a vital part of the Kings' ethos, commenting that,
“I want children who realise that they can make a difference in the world. We give them the independence, confidence and ownership of their learning to make that happen”.
Having worked with children of all ages, Mr Higgins tells us that he enjoys being in a standalone primary environment. “There is a special energy in primary schools” he said, before adding that “I enjoy being on the gate in the morning, seeing all the children walk in. That is my first data point… my first insight into how our students are feeling”.
Although Mr Higgins does not have a classroom role at present, he does stay hands on by coaching a rugby squad, something he thoroughly enjoys.
Mr Higgins describes his school as “happy and thriving” and cites the wellbeing of the the entire community as vital to this. “Our teachers are always laughing” he says, smiling and adds that “we all know everyone’s names here. That’s really important, the cleaners the maintenance teams…we value the contribution of everyone who makes this school work”.
An issue for schools when they have hit Outstanding status is what comes next, especially so when that rating has been held for longer than many of its teachers have been in the school. In Mr Higgins, it is clear there is no complacency, and a drive to “always be better”. Having a solid grasp on what it is to be outstanding year on year, Mr Higgins tells us that the school continues to push forward in subjects outside of the core British curriculum. He is particularly keen to highlight the efforts of his Arabic leader and team (who he believes are the “very best” in Dubai), his music and arts team and the PE department for the many sporting achievements of the school.
Mr Higgins encourages his team to reflect on every aspect of school life “I ask them…are playtimes fun? What can we change? Our assemblies…are they working, really getting the message across? We don’t want to waste any time at all.”
Before we leave Mr Higgins, he tells us with pride that he more than 60% of his team have been with the school for over 5 years. Quite some achievement in a transient expat location, where teacher turnover averages at around 22% in most schools. “Some of our team have been here for 12 years. It makes for a wonderfully mature culture in the school,” Mr Higgins commented.
We sit down for a chat with Nisha Henry, Wellbeing Leader, Sabrina Riley, Performing Arts Leader, Penny Ashcroft PE teacher and Muhamed Ali Mohamed, Head of Arabic. There is a sense of good natured ease and fun between the team and we enjoy hearing them compliment and joke with one another!
Ms Riley tells us that her most recent focus has been in embedding performance into the curriculum. “Our children learn a new instrument every two years…right now it’s the recorder for years 3 and 4 and the ukulele for years 5 and 6. We learn to play in order to perform and every class plays a piece for an annual showcase,” she said proudly. She felt that as a smaller school, Performing Arts at Kings Dubai had really benefited from collaborating with sister school, Kings' School Al Barsha.
Ms Riley was also proud of how the entire school "really gets behind" the annual Arts Week event, telling our team that last year there had been more than 200 “amazing” auditions for roles.
“We have brass and string ensembles, four rock bands and so many other brilliant performers in the school,” Ms Riley added.
Ms Hayward had recently joined the school from a primary school in Bristol, UK where she had a leadership role with inclusion responsibility. She now leads a team of two Learning Support teachers and eight Learning Support Assistants. Ms Hayward had been impressed by her “intensive” induction and warm welcome the school had given her. Her priorities now were for “training and upskilling staff and community outreach”.
Mr Ali and the Arabic team had been praised during our meeting with Mr Higgins. Arabic is often an Achilles heel in even the most successful of schools, but at KSD Arabic attainment appears to be on an upward trajectory (read more on this in our SCHOOL REVIEW).
Mr Ali hopes to bring Arabic learning to life by ensuring that the curriculum relates to “real life” experiences. He concurred with Ms Riley on the importance of performance, saying that he and his team were encouraging students to perform in Arabic public speech and poetry events. In terms of resourcing, the team have worked hard to create an equivalent to the highly regarded English language “Read, Write, Ink” phonics programme [in Arabic]. Utilising the same principles as the English version had simplified the acquisition of Arabic letter sounds for many young students, forming a solid foundation for learning the language. Mr Ali had also been supported by the school in conducting a number of research projects in his specialism.
Ms Ashcroft, of the KSD PE department, highlighted that the school’s approach to sport was ensuring that every child has a broad selection of sports to participate in. "It's all about opportunities, for every child" commented Ms Ashcroft. For the Wellbeing team, initiatives such as Play Leaders and Wellbeing Ambassadors were helping to promote wellbeing throughout the school community.
We know reputation was a huge factor for our KSD parents, but what else impresses them about the school? What are the challenges of being a KSD parent? We met a panel of parents with children in Years 1-6 to answer these and more questions.
For many of our parents, KSD was not only their first choice of school, but also their local school. Location had been another top reason for choosing KSD. For others, it was the facilities and the community that had “stood out”. One Mum had her third child at the school…“we’ve been here for 13 years” she said “and they have never once let us down”.
The parents agreed with Mr Higgins that the core academic curriculum was excellent, but also that Performing Arts, Sport and Arabic are “very strong”. “This is a well-balanced school,” commented one of our panel.
The parents thought the school fees were “pricey…but not the most expensive in Dubai!” and that “ultimately...you get what you pay for. Yes, I do feel we get value for money here”. In the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com PARENT SURVEY, 52% of KSD parent respondents thought that the school offered good value for money.
Parents feel that the school uniform was “great” but that it was a little irritating to have to source the PE kit from a second provider (there are two separate uniform providers). They would also like to see a uniform shop in the school.
As with so many schools we visit in Dubai, traffic issues were of concern to our parent panel. “Traffic can be tricky, this is a densely populated area after all” said one. At present there are no bus services other than a sibling bus taking older children to Kings' School Al Barsha.
Overall, parents praised the school as being “inclusive, engaging, challenging, varied, diverse, innovative and safe”. As one happy Mum summarised “It ticks all the academic boxes, and look out for wellbeing and happiness too”.
We meet a group of lively, well-spoken and polite children age 6-10 years old. All had attended the school since age 4-5.
The students were aware of the Outstanding rating of the school and were proud of the achievement. They describe their school as “educational”, “extraordinary” and “fantastic”! They also told our team that at KSD “everyone gets an opportunity for leadership” and that they teachers are “funny, not too strict”. The children were particularly complimentary about the PE teachers, who are “great…and really encourage teamwork”. According to our panel, sports are “…so good here! There’s swimming, football and netball and we did really well in the BSME [British Schools in the Middle East] games”.
What would the students like to change? Well, they were very clear… “we want a school dog”, “longer break times”, “more ICT lessons, they’re great” and “residential trips outside the UAE”. On a practical note, the students find the upstairs classrooms “too small” (and on touring the school later in the day, we agree that they are quite compact).
For a detailed run down of the facilities on offer at KSD, visit our SCHOOL REVIEW HERE.
The main school building at KSD is two stories high with an open central atrium area. There is natural light in abundance and the ground floor has several indoor planting areas which really soften the space and give the building a pleasant atmosphere. We are told that the large open foyer area is often used for early morning musical performances.
Classrooms for the youngest children are on the ground floor, older children are located upstairs. Most ground floor classrooms have direct outdoor access and on the first floor each class has a high fenced balcony area. This isn’t a huge campus, and the first floor classrooms are relatively small. That said, they are comfortable and bright and have all the facilities we have come to expect in a premium Dubai school.
Outside, we see high quality play equipment and thoughtful use of space. The Foundation Stage outdoor play and learning areas are a particular strength and offer the children space to have a range of imaginative and challenging play experiences.
The real challenge for a school like Kings’ School Dubai isn’t to become a great school, that’s an accolade they have deserved and repeatedly achieved for many years. The challenge now comes in continuing to re-imagine what ‘great’ means for the community, for each unique cohort and each and every individual child. What we saw was a school with the energy, dynamism and ambition to do just that.
Finally... We really looking forward to meeting the school dog on our next visit!.
Kings' School 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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