The design of Repton Al Barsha has clearly taken architectural cues from its sister school in the UK, Repton Prep in leafy Derbyshire in the North of England. Similar to the UK school, both the Pre-Prep and Prep School entrances are flanked by rather grand pillars and the building is decorated with cornicing and traditional looking stonework. Long slim windows complement the aesthetic.
Our first impressions of the school certainly set it aside from more ‘typical’ new build schools in Dubai. The design is a clear emphasis of the link to the heritage of the UK school.
Despite the striking architectural style, Repton Al Barsha occupies a relatively small campus. Even from the outside it is clear that use of space has been at the forefront of planning: we note underground parking for teachers and roof top multi use sports courts – just one element of the school’s (recently upgraded) sporting facilities.
Parking is a simple process and on arrival we note several groups of parents enjoying a last-minute chat after drop-off. Security is efficient and friendly. Our ID is checked and we are issued with a visitor pass. Throughout our later tour of the building we notice security doors at sensible intervals inside the building, which staff can open with quick click of their pass.
Our visit begins by sitting down with Mrs Zoe Woolley, who became Headmistress of Repton School Abu Dhabi at the start of the 2018/19 academic year.
Our first impressions of Mrs Woolley? Energetic, organised, committed to her pupils and proud of her team (with a great sense of humour to boot!). After graduating with a degree in Primary Education and Mathematics, Mrs Woolley began her teaching career in primary schools in East London. She believes that honing her teaching craft in tougher, more challenging state [government] schools gave her career a great grounding. Certainly her career to date has been varied: Mrs Woolley has taught in The British School of Riyadh during a stint in Saudi Arabia and at the well regarded and somewhat alternative Bedales School in Hampshire, England before taking five years out of work to be with her own three children.
“I definitely understand the challenges of being a working Mum” said Mrs Woolley, “although mine have now reached a much more independent age! I think my own experiences have helped me to build good relationships with parents.”
She continued: “I believe in always, always being truthful – honesty is absolutely vital in this role. I don’t simply tell parents what they want to hear. On this, I never change my tune, I am all about the children. They are my priority”.
When asked why she chose teaching as a career, Mrs Woolley responded; “To make as much as a difference as I can. I know that might sound like a cliché but, well, it is just what drives me. This is what makes teaching such as special profession”.
Mrs Woolley joined the ‘Repton family’ as Head of Prep School Maths at Repton Dubai. She later moved to a role as Head of Infants at Repton, before being seconded to Repton Al Barsha as Deputy Head. Mrs Woolley was appointed Headmistress of the school after the departure of her predecessor, Mrs Naomi Williams.
Mrs Woolley leads our tour of the school, starting with the Foundation Stage. With a separate entrance and dedicated facilities, we conclude that this area has been well thought out for the youngest members of the school (Foundation Stage, known as 'Nursery' at Repton Al Barsha, caters for children age 3-6).
The space it doesn’t feel too big or intimidating, and the separate play areas are equipped with high quality, age appropriate equipment and each classroom is incredibly well resourced with varied educational toys and learning equipment.
We then move on to the prep school, crossing the ‘quad’ (the central green space at the heart of the school, used for both playtime and sports). Once inside, the first thing we see is the house system noticeboard. There are six houses at Repton Al Barsha, all named for previous Heads of Repton Prep in England. Students later report a healthy sense of competition between the houses!
Prep School classrooms are again spacious and well equipped. We find several specialist rooms including Art, Music, Science labs, language rooms, a large library and art gallery space and dance studio. These facilities reflect the fact that in common with many British prep schools, children have specialist subject teachers from Year 5 (age 9-10) and up.
Sports facilities have recently received significant investment and improvement. Of all the impressive facilities here, the students have particular affection for the dining hall which serves much loved hot lunches to prep school students.
After our tour, we meet a group of teachers, all Head of their respective departments. We met:
The team clearly enjoy working at Repton Al Barsha, and are pleased at the direction the school has allowed each of their respective careers to develop in. Professional development is encouraged, they say, and teachers are given ‘autonomy and creative license’.
Ms Grafton highlights linking Maths learning to ‘real world’ maths as a strength of her department. Children learn about diverse yet relevant concepts such as economics, taxation, free zones and the oil industry in order to complement the more traditional aspects of the curriculum. Technology (such as ipads) is used in approximately 40% of each maths lesson. Ms Grafton tells our team that Repton Al Barsha is a “small but mighty school” adding that the children are “willing, eager and have a real desire to learn”.
Mr Asbury, Head of Sport, is keen to express his ambition for the school to compete at the very highest level of school sport in Dubai. “We are already known for sport and it is our intention that Repton Al Barsha will be up there with the very best”.
He is excited about the opportunities opened by the host of new sports facilities, but also points out that sport in schools is about more than simply competing. “I think we are one of the only schools here who offers a traditional ‘match tea’ to visiting teams. After the fixture, we offer refreshments and encourage our students to engage our visitors and supporters in conversation. It is all about courtesy, which is such an important thing here at Foremarke”.
As explored in detail in our review, the school has recently achieved “Apple Distinguished School” status something Ms Kabbani, Head of Computing and Digital Innovation is proud of.
“We feel having passed through this rigorous process has reinforced our position as a school that is leading the way in digital learning in the region. Teaching and learning in every department has been reinvigorated by what the teachers have learnt in the process of becoming ‘Apple Distinguished’. We are now looking to connect with other schools to share ideas and best practice”.
We spoke to a group of year 6 children, all of whom had been with the school for between 3-6 years.
We began by asking what makes Repton Al Barsha special to them and we were impressed by the maturity and range of answers! “This is a very academic school” said one “and we all like that. We like the challenge and we are proud of what we can do”. Not only that, but the “people, the yummy food and really lovely teachers” stand out for the children.
What would the children change about their school? Maybe a “little less” homework and “even more sports”. Children would like to see dodgeball and golf added the already extensive list of sports at the school.
Our last stop in our day at Repton Al Barsha was to see a panel of parents. The parents on our panel had children aged between 5 and 11 years, and most had been with the school for 2 or more years.
The parents were:
• Tania Pietersz
• Sarah Pran
• Katie Down
• Heba Yacout
• Monique Kerr
• Rebecca Sprenger
When asked why they chose Repton Al Barsha, most parents agreed that this was the one school in Dubai that felt “100% true to what a British prep school should be”.
Our panel felt the school has a very strong identity and culture. They also liked that the school is not too big (when compared with many Dubai schools) and was able to maintain a "cosy feel and social atmosphere”.
Rebecca (whose eldest child is currently considering his options for life post Repton Al Barsha) felt that the school had been superb preparation for UK boarding school. She commented that Mrs Woolley has been very much involved with some excellent advice. “This is a school that always gives that little bit extra” she went on to say.
Parents agreed that the focus on and quality of Music and Drama had, in recent years, been a concern but that the department had now been “rejuvenated”. Heba felt that Islamic and Arabic still require some improvement, but that Mrs Woolley has taken this on board - there are now extra Quran classes before school.
The practical elements of school life were keeping parents happy too. Communication is good, with school using a variety of apps as well as email and a parent portal to share information with parents.
The school had sensibly chosen a somewhat later start time (8.20am for most students) than other schools in the local area – meaning that traffic and parking are “just not an issue”. Foundation Stage students typically finish at 2.30pm and the rest of the school 3.30pm (extending to 4.30pm if attending an extra-curricular activity). This is a longer day than many schools but parents agreed timings were managed well and the children happy.
And on the often thorny topic of value for money? Our parent panel agreed that the Repton Al Barsha offers the “same quality” as a similar school in the UK, but in fact “better value”, all things considered. Parents also liked there is no big “post year 6 fee hike” as can sometimes be found for children moving to secondary school.
As one parent said, “yes, this is an expensive school, but frankly you get what you pay for. My children are being prepared for the best schools in the UK and are so happy they just skip right in to school. What more could I ask for?”
Repton School Al Barsha (formerly Foremarke School) 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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