WSA Experience Visit - November 2018
More than ten years after its opening, the Whichschooladvisor team returned to Repton for the second time. Our return visit was prompted by the change of Headmaster and the continuing academic success of the school – rated Outstanding by the KHDA again in 2017-18, and once more achieving excellent IB Diploma results. We particularly wanted to learn more about how the school has matured and how it has changed with the arrival of the new Head.
From the outside, nothing has changed very much at Repton. It still occupies an enormous site, although there are now several other schools close by. Still, there seems to be adequate parking and safe arrangements for pick up and drop off, even if parents have to drive a little further before they can turn back towards Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road or towards the Al Ain Road.
Security is efficient and pleasant as has always been our experience during previous visits. Students look well turned out, even at the end of the day, and the obviously broad mix of nationalities is evident as children depart with their parents.
Before touring the Secondary School and Sixth Form – the focus of our visit this time – we first have the opportunity to meet with David Cook, the new Headmaster of Repton, together with Tim Hollis, Head of the Senior School and a veteran with 14 years UAE experience, and with Kila Barber, the Head of the Junior School. Before we find out more from the team about the impact of David’s arrival, we first ask him to tell us a little about his background and his choice of Repton Dubai.
David tells us that he has spent 25 years in Good private schools in the UK, but felt that the time had come to test an international experience. His particular focus has been on Continuous Professional Development and Teaching and Learning, both key aspects of staff development in UAE international schools that David felt were strongly desired. He also felt that schools internationally were inclined to be more innovative and that he could potentially offer his own experience in getting the best out of staff to support this direction. David is also very aware of the competitive nature of the UAE Education market and the need to drive up quality in schools whilst exceeding parental expectations.
We asked him how he would measure the success of Repton Dubai and he informed us the key criteria would be the calibre of students leaving the school including their academic achievements, the retention rates – indicative of satisfied parents and students - and, of course, the KHDA’s inspection ratings.
The presence of both Tim and Kyla is, in itself, evidence of a more than subtle change at Repton Dubai. Previously, in line with Repton UK and its Prep School, Foremarke, the Senior and Junior schools were really quite separate in terms of the day to day, but as David explains to us, there is now a “whole school, one school” approach.
The demographic at Repton has changed too; with some 1,080 students in the Junior School and 676 in the Senior School, there is a degree still of bottom-heaviness – common to most Dubai schools – but also now greater balance between the two. One of the benefits of this whole school approach is that there is much closer cooperation and planning between the two sections of Repton Dubai. Initiatives such as Year 12 students mentoring students in Year 5 for specific subjects are the positive result.
We talked about the focus of the school on measures beyond the academic. The first obvious one is that of Inclusion. With around 16% of students being UAE Nationals, Repton is keen to ensure that it meets its Emirati students’ particular needs and aspirations. The achievement by one Repton local student of the Best in World IGCSE Arabic in the last set of exams, shows that the right support ensures the best possible result. With approximately 44% UK passport holders, 10% of students from India or the Sub-continent, and a further 77 nationalities represented in the school, ensuring that each child receives the specific support he or she requires is no easy task, but one that is at the heart of the school’s approach to its students.
Another key focus at Repton is the soon-to-be-launched Wellbeing Survey, which will support the school’s approach to Positive Education. Kyla explains that wellbeing in this context is about “the ability to thrive” and the data from the survey will be used to support the three key strands of the curriculum that Repton offers – Academic, Wellbeing and Creative. Children of all ages will be encouraged to participate in all three strands, enabling a more balanced approach to be achieved for all students. The IB learner profile, with its focus on a holistic, adaptable and resilient approach to learning, will be adopted across the school, although the curriculum – in terms of content – will remain the English National Curriculum until Sixth Form, where both the IB Diploma and IB Certificate Programme are offered.
Tim explains that at the top of the school, some 130 Sixth Form students are preparing for the final two years before moving on to university or careers. Historically, students sat the IB Diploma Programme, or for local students, there was the option to leave at the end of Year 12 with equivalence with the UAE national education system, which meant that they could go on to local universities or to military service.
The school has now introduced an additional pathway in the IB Certificate Programme which is offered in combination with the UK BTEC curriculum. Currently, Repton offers Business Studies and Sports options, together with the IB Core subjects. The decision to offer the IBCP (which currently has 8 students studying in 2018) was not only in order to offer an alternative to the IBDP from an academic perspective, but also to enable students with specific career-aspirations in these two directions, to have a practical qualification that would enable them to move directly to their chosen career after school.
The third section of Repton, in addition to the Junior and Senior school, and one that was introduced very much to reflect the UK school, is the Boarding option. We all agree that this has taken much longer to develop than was anticipated, but numbers have increased by 20% in the current year – albeit from a small base. The school now hosts 22 girls and 39 boys in the two Boarding houses; all students from Year 8 upwards. Families who are, generally, resident in the UAE, make up 40% of students’ homes, with 60% of them Muslim. Often parents travel frequently and are seeking a safe and stable environment for their children. There are 10 members of staff to support the residential students.
Lastly, prior to our tour of the Senior School, we discuss the one element of Repton that has been something of nagging pain since the school opened – the completion of the Performing Arts Centre. Whilst progress has been slow, and this facility is still not complete, there is progress and light at the end of the tunnel. The final fit out of the auditorium is out to tender, and 18 practice and teaching rooms for both Music and Drama are now complete. Meanwhile, Repton is determined that its students should not miss out on opportunities to perform in a world-class setting, and have reached agreement that Repton students will perform on the stage of the Dubai Opera on a regular basis.
At this juncture, our student Guides arrive to show us around the Senior School and particularly the now complete Sixth Form Centre. Repton allows its Sixth Form students to wear smart business attire – the only element of uniform is the school blazer, which is worn on official occasions.
As we walk across from the main Administration block to the Senior School, Jeanne and Jamila, both IB1 (year 12) students, tell us about their experience at Repton. Whilst Jeanne is a relative newcomer, Jamila has been at the school from Junior School days. Both feel that Repton really goes out of its way to support its students – not only academically, but in terms of sports and other activities. There is a real sense of community among the students who are from many different backgrounds and nationalities.
Recently, the school has funded the set up and kit for the Repton Royals Netball team, a group of Under-18 girls who play against not only other school teams, but also non-school teams in the Dubai Netball League. A Repton Rugby team will also be playing at the Rugby 7’s for the first time this year. Students are also very committed to, and supported by the school in relation to CAS activities including their association with a school in Thailand where students complete their community service. Repton arranges multiple options for Sixth Form students to take part in in-school coaching for younger students or other service activities.
The Sixth Form Centre, which is located to the front of the Senior School (adjacent to the Performing Arts Centre) is set in a tower. The ground floor is the Senior School library, but elevators provide access to the two floors above the library, which the Sixth Form students have made their own. These floors include both work and relaxation spaces.
We complete our tour rather hastily in order to complete our visit by meeting two committed Repton parents, who are keen to share their views and perceptions.
Liz, with two children in Years 3 and 6, chose Repton for her children’s education without considering any other school in Dubai. Her reasons for doing so were very simple – due largely to the reputation of Repton UK and its strong links to Repton Dubai. She was impressed by the fact that the Dubai school is supervised academically by the Repton UK/International Board and is subject to inspections carried out by the UK school, to ensure that its standards are being maintained. None of the schools in Dubai – even the longest established – could persuade her that they had the history and experience to compare.
Liz commented that she especially appreciates the academic focus which ensures that her children are “pushed and extended at every level” and is impressed by the support for children who may be considering UK Boarding school, by providing focused tuition for the Common Entrance Exam. She also praised the proactive approach of the leadership, in terms of taking the initiative in respect of developments and changes.
Our other parent, Latifa, has been a Repton parent for three years. Her children are in IB1 (Year 12), Year 7 and Year 4. Previously the children attended a full IB curriculum school in Dubai. She moved her children, as her daughter found the IB Primary Years Programme more difficult and is much more comfortable with the UK curriculum. Latifa has been particularly impressed by the strong inclusion team at Repton which identifies gaps on the one hand – her youngest child needed additional support for Arabic initially - but also focuses on students with gifts and talents. As a result of this, her oldest child has been accepted for a UAE Federal programme to support his Science skills. Latifa feels that the standard of academic and career counselling is high. These experiences, in her opinion, very much underline the personalised approach taken by the staff at Repton Dubai.
Latifa also appreciates the strong focus on ongoing Professional Development for teachers of Arabic and Islamic Studies which has been effective in her view, strengthening reading for Arabic students and the delivery of Islamic Studies (although she feels that there are not sufficient classes timetabled for this subject).
Both parents also praised the “very effective” ECA programme which offers many opportunities for students to follow their interests, including travel overseas. Staff were felt to be open and communicative, supporting the strong values across the school. These are also supported by the House system and the cluster approach (the schools within the school) enabling children to mix across year groups. There is no doubt that the parents, students and staff that we met during our visit are clearly supportive of, and very committed to, Repton Dubai.
And, without doubt, Repton Dubai is quite unique. The external appearance of the school alone sets it apart from the many rather bland, functional and modern buildings that have otherwise been developed over the past 10 years. Clearly, Repton Dubai campus was very much designed to reflect the UK school and its history. However, buildings alone do not make a successful school, nor do they truly capture its culture, history or ethos.
Whilst Repton Dubai cannot therefore be a true replica of its UK “mother”, there is no question that it is developing its reputation, based on delivering academic excellence influenced by the UK school, whilst growing its own character and culture in a very different geographic area, with a very different mix of students. And it seems to be doing so rather successfully.
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