There are a number of schools in the UAE that don’t give us quite the expected first impression when it comes to a traditional look and feel of a school. Repton Fry Campus on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi undoubtedly falls into this category. Striking architecture and a huge atrium like reception and common areas are our first glimpse of the school. The wow factor is present, no question, but having spent a day speaking to the team, the students and the families of Repton, what quickly becomes apparent is that this is a school where the best of tradition and modernity intertwine.
On approaching the school unmissable letters spelling out ‘REPTON’ on the exterior façade rise above you, which is a relief for anyone who, like us, has had trouble finding the school, even with the help of Google maps. The design of Fry Campus is in keeping with the spectacular modern architecture which Abu Dhabi is rapidly becoming known for. Lots of glass, some open beam work and a very unusual exterior shape delivers a very impressive first impression.
Principal Ms Gillian Hammond describes the campus as “inspiring and aspirational” and we have to agree. Ms Hammond leads our tour, which begins on the ground floor in the classroom corridors for the younger children. Almost every corridor or subject area in the school has been painted one bright colour (and we mean bright – yellows, oranges and almost neon greens abound in this school), marking out either the year group or subject. The corridors themselves can be fairly dark, but this is because all exterior walls have been given to classrooms, making them bright and full of natural light.
This is a city school, no question, and we quickly realise that the trade-off for the location is that outdoor space is at something of a premium. We see a relatively small grassy area which is the shared ‘picnic area’ for years 4 and 5 but the remainder of the outdoor space we see during our tour is the rooftop courts (for balance, there are also three indoor large multi-purpose halls and a swimming pool).
Perhaps due to the fact that the school does not have an Early Years facility (FS1 – Year 1 is housed in the nearby Repton Rose Campus) we also do not see any outdoor play equipment (such as the ‘adventure play areas’ that are typical in many premium schools). This is a school aimed at (relatively) older children, but we do find the lack of play space rather a shame (especially for children in Year 2 for example, who may be as young as 6 upon joining). This issue is raised by the panel of Repton students we see later in our visit.
Inside again, and our tour weaves us in and out of the spectacular central space (which is open from ground floor to the roof, making the school feel almost like an ocean liner!). Children move quietly between lessons and we do not notice a specific demarcation between primary, junior or secondary spaces. This ‘one school’ feel is likely to help the transition to secondary school, as is the fact that by Year 6, students already move between specialist subject areas.
At one point, Ms Hammond and our reviewers stop to chat on the first floor corridor and look down onto the ground floor open area, where we see several secondary students enjoying their break time. Two boys sit down at a piano and begin to play together.
“I insisted that we had a piano there, just ready for any student who wants to play at any time” say Ms Hammond. “Sometimes it’s even the parents who take a turn! It costs a small fortune to keep it tuned but it’s such a great investment, we love to hear our students play”.
The central area is dominated by a curved, four storey glass structure which houses the school’s libraries and will, eventually, have a workroom for Sixth Form students. Note that we say ‘work room’ rather than the ubiquitous ‘common room’ as Ms Hammond has quite clear feelings about common rooms!
“Honestly, I don’t like them” she says “we are trying to introduce a certain work ethic here at Repton and I think common rooms can become a distraction. What our students will have is many great spaces for both group and independent study”.
For a detailed list of all of the facilities available at Repton Abu Dhabi, read our school REVIEW.
The vast number of rooms and open plan areas at the school has allowed for some unusual use of space. We pass a French Café, where children are welcome to enjoy lunch and break, but only if they converse entirely in French! In the music area children have an incredible 10 practice rooms for individual lessons and rehearsals.
Ms Gillian Hammond is a scientist at heart and it was her love of the subject which brought her to teaching. “I was one of only a handful of girls studying chemistry at university and I wanted to change that” she told us. “I was lucky enough to have some superb mentors in the early days of my career who encouraged me to do my NPQH [National Professional Qualification for Headship, from the UK] early on. I’ve never looked back!”
Ms Hammond enjoys the busy schedule at Repton Abu Dhabi;
“This school is characterised by students with an appetite for challenge. There’s a real work ethic and a sense that everyone loves to learn. I think that love of learning is matched by the teachers! It’s their passion and attention to detail that makes learning here fun and relevant. Having worked in a few schools now, I think I can safely say that this is the busiest school ever!”
It’s not just the students and teachers that complete a school community and Ms Hammond is keen to praise the Repton families. “There’s a definite team spirit. Our parents come and help at drop of a hat…they are in here all the time. So much so I’d say that they are part and parcel of the furniture!”
Ms Hammond clearly has a dynamism and energy about her. She is fun, polished and professional. We find she is keen to highlight many entrepreneurial projects within the school. As an example, children studying Design Technology were recently tasked to create a product for sale. They were given a 20 AED budget, then offered scissors to rent and paper to buy! Children were encouraged to drum up support for their business by finding shareholders for their projects. “A bit like Dragons Den!” said Ms Hammond, who clearly relished this idea.
We meet a large group of older students, who are thrilled to have been allowed to enter the sanctuary of the staff room!
When asked what sets their school apart from others, we receive some very thoughtful answers. First and foremost, the children say they appreciate that their school is “Apple Distinguished” [the Apple website describes Apple Distinguished School as “centers of leadership and educational excellence that demonstrate Apple’s vision for learning with technology — and we believe they are some of the most innovative schools in the world”. Read more on this in our school REVIEW].
One young man said he appreciated the “efficient and modern facilities” and all the children agreed they were respected, encouraged and listened to by teachers and school leaders. “We have democracy in our classrooms” commented one Year 5 student. Feedback on workload was varied, although all students said it really depended on the subject and this applied to work in class as well as homework.
Special memories include the sports competitions (“when we compete with other schools, we tend to win!”) and a “Mission to Mars” coding competition.
Good things aside, there is room for improvement, say the students. It was unanimously agreed that the wifi reception throughout the school needs improving. This was the biggest concern and a real issue for students in a tech focussed school!
The students also say that they do not have showers for changing after PE and, in an ideal world, they would like more outdoor space and playing fields. We were heartened to see eco concerns playing on the minds of the Repton students too, with the children asking for more water fountains and recycling options. Although they enjoyed the school cafeteria food, they felt there was too much waste and that this needed to be addressed.
Overall, they liked their uniform, although the PE shorts were agreed to be “very uncomfortable”.
Their message to prospective students? “We are a friendly school who look after new students!”
We met a panel of parents with children age 6 to 8 years of age.
We immediately recongnised an intensity of commitment to the school amongst our panel. All had a story of “searching for the right school” – certainly no one had just stumbled across Repton! These parents had carefully researched, sought experiences of other parents, used WhichSchoolAdvisor.com for reviews and spoken to ADEC (Abu Dhabi’s Education Council, who publish school inspection reports) before committing to the school. All were happy with their choice.
A key element to the positive feeling parents undoubtedly hold regarding the school is its very low staff turnover. As one parent put it, teachers “only leave for births, deaths and marriages!” Parents felt this created continuity and added to the (repeatedly praised) sense of community at the school.
Another factor in parent satisfaction is the school’s ‘open door policy’. “It’s not just lip service here,” they told us. The head of the parent committee (one of our panelists) tells us that she has out of hours contact numbers for all members of the leadership team, meaning that urgent parent concerns can be escalated via the committee. All of the parents were positive about Ms Hammond and they liked the fact that she was on hand to greet pupils most mornings.
Inclusion for children with additional needs is another strength. One of our panelists has a child with additional needs and she felt an “overwhelming gratitude” to the teachers and the school for how he had settled and how his needs were being “not just met, but anticipated”. The same parent said that “here, the care started right from the admissions team, we were blown away by everyone that we met”.
Parents who had seen children progress from Rose Campus to Fry Campus said that the transition had been excellent and “well managed by the school”. For those who still had younger siblings at Rose Campus, the school operates a shuttle bus between the two locations.
There were some irritations, however. Parents felt that administration could be better (especially when compared to their experiences at the Rose Campus, which they describe as “very slick”) and that there had been a few “unexpected, confusing changes of policy”.
Uniform (as in so many schools!) was an issue, with parents complaining that the PE kit especially was “difficult to keep clean”. The parents felt that the school’s uniform policy was applied very strictly.
On the whole, parents agreed that Repton Abu Dhabi is a “family led and very balanced school” which focuses on the “whole person and offers great pastoral care”.
Our last stop was to meet a group of six teachers.
We began by asking how well they had been supported in their own careers at Repton. This sparked an interesting conversation where the teachers were quick to praise each other.
"Communication between colleagues is excellent here and this helps in so many ways,” we were told.
As a new school, the teachers said that they had grown and developed together. One said: “We have grown into our roles. This is a young school where we have been able to forge our own pathways. We know to rely on each other’s strengths, this school is a great place for collaboration and there is a great work ethic, all these things help”.
When it comes to the curriculum, the strong working relationships were fundamental to cross curricula work the teachers felt was a strength of the school. As an example, the students had recently composed a piece of music that had been inspired by their work in art lessons.
The teachers felt that inclusion was “one of the greatest accomplishments” of the school. They mentioned that the school has a fairly significant Korean population, many of whom started school with little or no English. The support they get is “phenomenal” helping the children to “integrate incredibly quickly”.
What else would the teachers want prospective parents to know about this school?
“Just because we are Apple Distinguished, please don’t feel that we are over reliant on tech. Once children are over the initial excitement they quickly understand that tech is a tool like any other. An incredibly effective one but a tool nonetheless”.
Repton, as a group of schools, has been known for being academically selective, however we note with interest that this is no longer stated on the Repton Abu Dhabi website. Certainly it seems that the initial intake of children at Rose Campus is subject only to a mild and fairly typical ‘assessment’ and that inclusion is a well-integrated, much praised discipline here.
We have to comment that on the day of our visit we see and hear little mention of sports (other than swimming, at which Ms Hammond describes the school as “absolutely smashing it!”). This may be because we visit during the hotter months, but if sport is important to you and your child, we would recommend you explore this point further with the school.
To conclude: this is a school with fantastic indoor facilities, an ambitious leader, committed parent body and well behaved, polite and enthusiastic children. Teachers are young, innovative and assured of their own professional development within the school. The new school does lack the buzz of a mature school filled to capacity with students, however numbers will grow as the residential and other developments rise on Reem Island.
An impressive new school, and one we will enjoy watching embed itself in the local community and in the wider education scene of Abu Dhabi.
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