Prestigious British independent school North London Collegiate School (NLCS) opened in Dubai in September 2017, the brand’s first in the Middle East.
The story so far...
North London Collegiate School, London, one hundred and sixty-nine-years-old this year, 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.
The Dubai school is co-educational, with mixed gender classes throughout. The school was initially open for students in pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 10, increasing to Grade 12 in September 2019. The first MYP exams will be held in 2020, and the first IB Diploma students (a cohort of 14) will take their exams in May 2020. This is also the year when the first DSIB school inspection will take place.
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 in a range from AED 70,550 for pre-KG to AED 110,500 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.
That, along with the school's reputation and stated aims, pulled in approximately 300 children from pre-KG to Grade 10 in 2017, made up of 1 Pre-KG class, 2 classes each from KG1 to Grade 4, and 1 class each from Grades 5-10. At the start of the 2018-19 academic year, student numbers had almost doubled to a little under 600.
Average class sizes currently are around 20 children, although maximum class sizes, as demand grows, will be between 18 and 24 students. With staff numbers having doubled from 45 to 90 teachers, in line with the expansion in student numbers, this is currently a staff:student ratio of 1:7 ensuring significant individual support.
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%). 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.
What about facilities?
North London Collegiate School Dubai is located on a 38,000 square metre plot in Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum City.
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.
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 which is only in its third year for IBDP has 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. The School also aims to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ by KHDA within three years.
“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,” said Lewis.
(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 from 2018/19 as well as an extensive range of academic, artistic and sporting pursuits, ranging from taekwondo to horse riding, to fencing and sailing. Additional languages are expected to be added from September 2019, including Korean, French and Spanish.
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 the current school year the school is offering a music trip to China, a History trip to Italy and a Geography trip to Iceland and an exchange trip to the mother school in London.
NLCS is a selective school, with children tested prior to being offered a place. However, once admitted Lewis says, “We have a no ceilings approach… we are committed to our students.”
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 schools 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 Headmistress of NLCS (UK), Mrs Bernice McCabe (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 imminent departure of Mr. Lewis at the end of the academic year to lead the planned international expansion of the brand. Daniel returned to NLCS London in July 2019, to head up the school's continued international expansion - a new school will open in Singapore in the coming year. He has been succeeded by Jamie Monaghan, a former employee of NLCS for eight years, who worked with Daniel 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.
A key area of focus has been the recruitment of staff for the launch of the school. NLCS Dubai says that it has 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.
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, 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.
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