Prestigious British independent school North London Collegiate School (NLCS) opened in Dubai in September 2017, the brand’s first in the Middle East.
North London Collegiate School, London, an all-Girls school which is over one hundred and seventy years-old, is consistently ranked in the top five UK schools for both GCSE and IB results.
The Dubai campus, which opened in September 2017, is the second international campus for NLCS, following NLCS Jeju, in South Korea, which opened in 2011. NCLS Dubai offers exclusively, and is now fully accredited with, the International Baccalaureate Organisation, the IB programmes of PYP (Primary Years), MYP (Middle Years) and the IB Diploma programme.
Parent feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been largely positive including comments such as these:
"Overall good quality of infrastructure and education. Changes in management and staff has impacted the offering. Communication, feedback, educational sessions for parents have been impacted during COVID."
"Strength: Academic expectations; Pastoral Care; High quality teachers; Facilities Weaknesses: Cost"
"Outstanding pastoral care - every child in known. High academic expectations"
Teachers also appear to have positive views on the school:
"We work hard but it works!"
"The school has a collaborative culture"
NLCS Dubai has also been very clear in the type of families it wishes to attract... if you do not fit the criteria, probably read no further.
The school hopes to attract “ambitious parents”, those who, “expect their children to attend Oxbridge or a similar standard of universities globally” and “students who are “grounded, self-confident, curious learners.” The school says that it has a highly ambitious academic ethos and believes that a love of subject and inspirational teaching will motivate students to follow their passions, placing equal value on all academic subjects and encouraging a love of learning for its own sake.
“They will want to go beyond curriculum boundaries to develop and explore their own unique talents. NLCS will nurture these additional talents as well as the academic. Every child matters and is expected to find his or her academic niche and academic excellence.”
The Dubai school is co-educational, with mixed gender classes throughout and was initially open for students in pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 10, increasing to Grade 12 in September 2019.
Find out more about NLCS from our Experience visit report here.
There had been much speculation about the success of the launch of this school whose fees are in the ‘premium-plus’ bracket. The school's reputation and stated aims pulled in approximately 300 children from pre-KG to Grade 10 in 2017. At the start of the 2018-19 academic year, student numbers had almost doubled to a little under 600 and by the time of the school's first KHDA inspection in February 2020, this number had risen to just under 800.
There is an equal number of boys to girls and children come from a total of 60 different nationalities. The highest percentage (40%) are UK passport holders, followed by various European nationals (14%), a relatively high proportion of Koreans (7%), Indian (6%), American (4%) and Emirati nationals (3.5%). Recent new students have tended to come from Russia, a range of European countries, the Gulf countries, and South East Asia. With a significant proportion of students being non-native English speakers, a designated team of EAL teachers support them both inside and outside of the classroom.
Average class sizes currently are around 20 children, although maximum class sizes, as demand grows, will be between 18 and 24 students. Students are supported by 108 teachers, a further 22 teaching assistants, and a guidance counsellor. A staff:student ratio of 1:7 ensures significant individual support. A staff turnover of 33% is on the high side compared with the UAE average of 20-22%. How much of this was driven by the return to the NLCS London school by the school's Founding Principal is not known.
A key area of focus on opening had been the recruitment of staff for the launch of the school. NLCS Dubai said that it had recruited highly experienced and inspirational teachers from around the world. Many teachers are British nationals but others also come from Europe, the US and Australia. Using expertise and input from the ‘mother’ school in the UK, the Dubai school has significant experience in recruiting highly dedicated teachers who care deeply about their students’ progress and well-being and "can deliver inspiring subject lessons to light the flame of enthusiasm in each child".
The school says that it currently has a large group of highly experienced middle leaders due to being a new school. In future years, more junior level staff will be hired to complement this high-performing team. The minimum qualifications required are a Bachelor’s Degree and a teaching qualification. However, many teachers have post-graduate qualifications from the world leading universities.
Staff are offered opportunities for Professional Development both locally and internationally. There is a vibrant in-house Middle Leadership Development programme and staff are trained in line with the International Baccalaureate’s requirements. There is also a highly experienced University Guidance Counsellor providing support and advice for those students who are about to enter the Diploma Programme.
The Headmistress of NLCS (UK), Mrs Bernice McCabe who had been Principal since 1999, stepped down from her role in June 2017 to take over a global function and was directly and heavily involved in the set up in Dubai.
She told reporters at the launch event for the school: “This is an exciting time for the North London Collegiate family of schools, and it is with great anticipation that we announce the opening of NLCS Dubai. Our school in Dubai is part of our international vision and we are committed to delivering an outstanding education for students in the UAE. At NLCS schools, we believe that a happy student is a successful student, and that with the right guidance they will be able to flourish academically and socially. North London Collegiate School brings a unique educational offering to families in Dubai, and has been designed to NLCS specifications in order to ensure world-class facilities and the best possible learning environment. Having worked at NLCS (UK) for fourteen years, the Principal of NLCS Dubai, Mr Daniel Lewis, knows that an NLCS education is about much more than academic success".
Sadly, Mrs. McCabe passed away in early 2019, resulting in the departure of Founding Principal Daniel Lewis at the end of the academic year to lead the planned international expansion of the brand.
He was succeeded by Jamie Monaghan, a former employee of NLCS for eight years, who worked as Head of Boarding at the NLCS Jeju school, prior to joining not for profit Sharjah English School, and then NLCS Dubai on its opening.
What about the curriculum?
NLCS UK has been ranked number one in the UK for International Baccalaureate results with an average Diploma score never dipping below 40 points. In 2016 the school saw an average score of 41.7.
The South Korea school - only in its third year for IBDP - had an average of 38 points – on a par with the highest ranking schools in East Asia.
In its first two years of operation in Dubai, the school undertook the application and authorisation processes with the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) in order to obtain authorised IB World School status. Final approvals for the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the IB Diploma programme have now been received.
“We thought there was room for a high performing IB school,” said founding headmaster, Daniel Lewis, who also headed up the development and launch of the Jeju school. “People might think there is some confusion over a British school using the IB curriculum, but we just want the best. (The IB) Is the most consistent curriculum in the world… for us it is a really easy decision to make.”
In addition to offering the core IB curriculum, NLCS Dubai will also offer a range of other subjects and extra-curricular activities. This will include offering Mandarin, alongside German initially and other modern languages, as well as an extensive range of academic, artistic and sporting pursuits, ranging from taekwondo to horse riding, to fencing and sailing.
The academic programme extends well beyond the classroom and NLCS offers academic societies and after school clubs, such as Economics club, Literature Society and MUN. Most activities are covered by the School fees however any activities offered by outside providers such as taekwondo, skiing, sailing and horse riding incur an additional cost.
In its third year the school was offering a music trip to China, a History trip to Italy, a Geography trip to Iceland and an exchange trip to the mother school in London.
For a school that sells itself on its academic achievement, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was somewhat surprised and very disappointed to see that NLCS Dubai did not share its first set of IB results in 2020. The first MYP exams and the first IB Diploma students (a cohort of 14) was due to take their exams in May 2020.
Results of the IBDP examinations - cancelled as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, and based on predicted grades and submitted assignments - have not been released. For the second year, in 2021, students did not sit the IB exams; instead a process of Centre Assessed Grades based on teachers' predictions and assignments assessed by IB Examiners was used to make the awards.
Clearly, the school was more confident about releasing its results for 2021. With a larger cohort of 24 students (though still among the smallest number among schools that entered for the qualification), NLCS' 24 students achieved an average score of 40 points. Not only, this - which was the highest score in the UAE based on feedback from schools to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com - but 46% of students achieved over 40 points. This compares with the results regularly achieved by the UK and South Korean schools.
Whilst this is impressive, however, we would like to issue a word of warning.
There is general evidence of grade inflation - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students last took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021.
We would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.
What about facilities?
North London Collegiate School Dubai is located on a 38,000 square metre plot in Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum City.
Find out more about the facilities at NLCS by reading our Visit Experience here.
Build and design was done by the Developer, Sobha and the school is located next to Hartland International. NCLS Dubai has six tennis courts, a cricket/rugby pitch, 13 Science labs, and an eight lane indoor swimming pool. A particular feature of the school, reflective of NLCS London, is a focus on Performing Arts, and the Performing Arts Theatre is equipped with a fly tower, orchestra pit, full lighting and sound box and 750 retractable seats. There is also a black-box theatre and recording studio facilities.
With the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, the vast majority of schools were not inspected in 2019-20, and none were physically inspected in 2020-21. In common with all UAE schools (both public and private), NLCS did participate in a Distance Learning Evaluation and achieved the highest of three possible ratings - that of Developed.
One of only three new schools whose first KHDA inspection took place in 2019-20 as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, NCLS achieved a Good rating. But the rating alone by no means tells the whole story...
On opening, NLCS stated that it aimed to be rated ‘Outstanding’ by KHDA within three years. The school could have, and clearly should have, done better still! Despite previous comments from the KHDA that schools could achieve a higher rating than Good at their first inspection, not one has yet done so. However, NLCS came so close!
Almost all ratings for Student Achievement were rated Outstanding or Very Good. Personal Development and Social Responsibility were rated Outstanding across the school. Both Teaching and Assessment were rated highly, with Very Good ratings for KG and IB Diploma students, whilst the Curriculum was rated Very Good across the board. The final two key performance standards of Care and Support were rated Very Good, whilst Governance was rated Very Good, and the relationships with Parents and the Community, and Management, staffing, facilities and resources were rated Outstanding.
The school's downfall - and NCLS is certainly not the first to struggle in this context - was the provision of Arabic as both first and second languages, and Islamic Studies - all of which were rated Weak. Although the overall rating for support and outcomes for Students of Determination was rated Good, it was in relation to the teaching of Arabic and Islamic Studies that weaknesses were found.
NLCS now has a major task on its hands to rectify this situation - with further improvements in overall rating likely to be stymied without a significant change in relation to Arabic and Islamic Studies provision. Concerns were also expressed about safety in relation to the traffic access to the school, particularly in regard to younger students.
The KHDA inspection team described the best features of the school as:
In terms of areas of improvement, the focus is a narrow one:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to see the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
A relatively small number of parents have participated in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Survey. Those who initially responded to our Survey gave the school glowing ratings of 4.5 out of a possible 5. However, with an increase in responses, this number has fallen to 3.7 based on 28 responses.
Given the level of fees at NLCS, we were somewhat surprised to see that 66% of respondents (compared with 78% a year ago) agreed that the school's fees represented good value for money, whilst a further 17% said that they partially agreed with this statement. However, where as a year ago, only 5% disagreed, today this figure has grown to 17%. Despite this, 78% of parents would recommend the school to other parents, though this is much lower figure than the 94% of a year ago.
76% of respondents said that their children enjoyed going to school a tremendous amount. 79% of parents were completely satisfied with the levels of academic achievement of their children, and 76% had never considered moving their children to a different school. Somewhat surprisingly though, 57% (22% a year ago) of respondents thought their children needed additional tuition outside school. We can only assume that the Covid 19 situation has impacted parents' confidence in the provision of the school.
As is often the case, it seems that parents who have become less impressed with NLCS have been keen to comment in our survey. In order to ensure that there is a balance, we would strongly encourage other members of the school community to share their views.
If you are a parent, teacher or student and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please do so by taking our Survey here.
A substantial number of parents - 316 - responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and 99% expressed themselves satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. In general, parents were very satisfied with the quality and value of education. All reported their children to be safe and developing effective learning skills. The large majority of parents stated that their children’s health is good or excellent and they get on well with their teachers. A very high proportion of parents reported their children are positive about the future. Overall, parents’ comments were very positive.
164 Secondary students responded to the Student Wellbeing survey. Students reported very high levels of happiness, optimism, perseverance and satisfaction with life. Some of the main findings indicated that students feel very safe, have very good peer relationships and significant emotional engagement with their teachers. They also expressed high levels of cognitive engagement and academic self-concept in school.
There is no question that the market for a Premium-plus school in the current economic environment is likely to be a tough one. However, competition at this level, for parents who can afford it and want their children to attend a school that is associated with an extremely strong academic record and a leadership team with direct experience, is relatively limited.
Having achieved their initial 300 students and having doubled this number after the first year, and increased it again by one third in the third year, the challenge for NLCS Dubai will be to be seen to deliver against its promises and to continue to tap into a market whose aspirations can be met by its offering. So far it appears to be doing so and its first KHDA report would appear to underline this.
We would like to see greater transparency in regard to academic results in order to ensure that NLCS is really delivery at the level to which it is committed.
What about the fees?
Fees range from AED 66,400 for pre-KG to AED 104,000 for Grade 12. The school can safely be said to be performing better than many expected in terms of admissions numbers, but after a softening of its fee structures for early arrivals. The school offered a founders discount of between 15 and 20 percent for those who joined the school during the first term in 2017 and these have been maintained.
NLCS is a selective school, with children tested prior to being offered a place.
North London Collegiate 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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