The Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai opened in September 2021. It is the second school in the Middle East to be established in partnership with the 510 year old UK school - the other opened in Qatar in 2016. The Royal Grammar School Guildford UK is one of the most academically successful in the country.
Established in 1509 and one of the most academically successful all-boys schools, RGS Guildford (RGS) is consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the UK at both A Level and GCSE, achieved by 'combining a foundation of heritage with a forward-thinking approach to teaching and learning'.
According RGS, 'this spirit of innovation has kept the school at the forefront of education'and will ensure that the Dubai branch will be a Beacon of Excellence for British Education and one of the finest international schools in the world.'
The Dubai branch was officially opened in the city as a co-educational school for boys and girls aged 3 to 18 years on September 1st 2021. The school opened its Prep School section (from FS to Year 6) in 2021 and opened its Senior School for students in Year 7 in August 2022. The school, known as Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai (RGSGD), has been brought to the UAE via a partnership between Royal Grammar School Guildford and one of the world's largest school groups, Cognita.
RGS Guildford Dubai has been built on a new development, Tilal Al Ghaf, located between Dubai Sports City and Dubai Motor City. It will be part of a major new development by the Majid Al Futtaim group, owner of Mall of the Emirates, Vox Cinemas, Little Explorers and Magic Planet.
Feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been fulsome in its praise of the school during its first year, focused mainly on the "amazing leadership, exceptional teachers, small class sizes, and great facilities."
Comments from two specific parents that impressed us particularly are the following:
"Amazing bespoke plans for each of my twins. Wonderful leadership who put an outstanding team of talented teachers in every year. A reward system on top of a well-tried curriculum directly lifted from the parent UK school."
"The school has exceptional leadership with Clare Turnbull and the experience that she brings to the school directly from RGS. The years of experience in running schools that RGS and Cognita have combined has led to the school feeling like it has been running for years from day 1 and they have invested properly in the school. Despite being a brand new school it has had a tremendous impact on my three children in a very short period of time. Their whole attitude to learning has been transformed and they are so excited to go to school and do well. The school is pushing them to achieve the maximum they can in way that is inspiring yet challenging and their teachers are supportive yet pushy and not letting them relax and take the easy route out. Their academic achievement has sky rocketed!"
Speaking at the opening ceremony for Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai, Dr. Abdulla Al Karam, Director General of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said:
“The Royal Grammar School Guildford is joining the Dubai education community in a new academic year full of excitement and optimism. The school’s students, teachers and parents will get the best of two worlds – a school with a long history of excellence in education, in a dynamic city that is focused on the future. We welcome RGS to Dubai, and to a school community that has quality and wellbeing at its heart.”
RGS Guildford in the UK is a truly 'independent school', bought by the parents and staff of the school in the 1970s. The new Dubai school will be the second Royal Grammar School Guildford in the region. The Royal Grammar School Guildford in Qatar was established in 2016. The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai shares the same ethos and academic rigour of its parent school in the UK and its expansion to the UAE marks a key milestone in the school’s 500-year history.
Dr. Jon Cox, Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School Guildford, who attended the opening in Dubai, responding to questions from WhichSchoolAdvisor.com said the new school feels like the original in a number of ways:
"Firstly, I look around and see the RGS Tudor Rose symbol everywhere. I see the windows I look out of every day in Guildford reflected in the roof design, I see the beams in the old building in these great black beams around us here, but most of all I see RGS in terms of the community that is already coming together. We have lovely staff in Dubai, some of whom I have worked with for years in Guildford. I know the team; I trust them and I have absolute confidence in them in bringing our ethos to this school as well."
Asked how he plans to ensure the relationship between the two schools endures, Dr. Cox told us:
"That is one of the reasons why we wanted our UK staff out here. It is very difficult to transfer an ethos and a community feeling to another place unless you have people who know what it is all about. With Clare [Turnbull] as the Head of Prep here, well, she has ‘lived’ RGS for the past 15 years and has been fundamental to everything we do. The pupils here are already talking about the ‘RGS values’, and that has been great to hear so early on."
In January 2022, Dr. Cox announced the appointment of Clare Turnbull, who had been recruited from the Royal Grammar School Guildford home campus in the UK, initially to lead the Prep School on the Dubai campus, as the new Principal.
Although its leadership is pleased that so many parents have given it their trust, according to the school, RGSG Dubai is "in no rush to maximise student numbers; it’s about quality first for us, always. With the new changes in the covid protocols we can look at adding small numbers of students over the year, but we won’t do that at the risk of the education programme. We have a waiting list for some classes already, so if we can get the right outstanding teachers later on in the year, then possibly we will look at enhancing the number of students in the school."
The school opened with 250 students and by the end of term 2 had already increased this number to 350 at the end of the first year. With the opening of the Senior School in September 2022 and the ongoing demand for places in the Prep School, student numbers are anticipated to grow to between 600 and 700 in the 2022-23 academic year.
With the opening of the Senior School in August 2022, nine new teachers have been recruited as form and specialist teachers. One of the expected highlights for the Year 7 students is the first visit by a group from the Dubai school to the 'parent' school in Guildford.
In July 2022, RGSGD announced the expansion of its leadership team as a result of the opening of the school's Senior section.
Joining as Deputy Head of Senior is Nicholas Radbourne who has more than 30 years of experience in educational leadership in a range of schools in the UK and Middle East. His experience has given him an excellent understanding of what is needed when developing outstanding teaching and learning in schools, and how to create an innovative and challenging environment for students. Mr. Radbourne moved to the Middle East in 2018, and his role at RGSGD will be his second leadership position in an international school in the region.
Also joining the school’s Senior Leadership team this August is Charlotte Grieves who will take on the role of Deputy Head of Prep. Having taught at three Outstanding rated schools across the United Arab Emirates that include GEMS 'Jumeirah Primary School, Wellington International School and Royal Dubai School (where she was latterly Interim Principal), Ms. Grieves has been committed to delivering high-performance teaching in the Emirates for more than 15 years.
Like RGS Guildford in the United Kingdom, the Dubai school follows the British curriculum from three years to 18 years of age.
Announcing the formal launch of the school in November 2020, Headmaster of RGS Guildford in the UK, Dr. Jon Cox, commented:“Dubai is a global city which is renowned for its diversity and dynamic mindset – qualities which have inspired RGS Guildford for hundreds of years. To prepare our pupils for the challenges of the 21st century, we must lead by example: staying true to our values, collaborating with others, innovating and striving always to be the very best we can be. RGS Guildford Dubai is a central part of allowing us to realise this vision.” He added: “Investing in the very best teachers, consistently and across the entire school, is a top priority for RGS Guildford Dubai, to ensure that our pupils achieve top-level results, and to build a culture and community that holds our children at its heart.”
For primary years, which has been the focus of the school on launch, the curriculum is based on the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Throughout the school, standardised assessments from GL will be used, in line with the UAE National Agenda. In Year 11 (aged 16) students will be examined at GCSE and then, in their final two years of school, against a broad range of A Level courses and the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ).
Although a focus of the school will inevitably be on academic achievement, Dr. Cox says that RGS Dubai will mirror the original school which is 'forward-looking with a big heart of which academia is just one part of a richer experience. A particular strength of the school is its mentoring programme, whereby older students are responsible for supporting younger students in the school.
In August 2021, just prior to the opening of the school, RGS Dubai announced its first CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) partnership with Team Angel Wolf ahead of the school’s official launch. A non-profit foundation that has been created to encourage the inclusion of People of Determination and to embrace healthy living through Inclusive Impactivity, Team Angel Wolf works with families and individuals of all ages.
Created to support the school’s passion to encourage its young people to think big, develop an understanding of the significant challenges in the world, and to use their education to support positive change, the partnership will see RGSGD work alongside Team Angel Wolf to develop opportunities for its students and the wider UAE community. The partnership will also feed into the school’s specialist leadership programme, Riyada, that has been created to focus on character development, leadership, and teaching young people the skills they need to thrive in an ever-changing world.
In a further recent initiative aimed supporting its local community, students participated in a new child-led design initiative in collaboration with Majid Al Futtaim Communities, part of Majid Al Futtaim Properties. Aiming to create child-centric playgrounds by design, Majid Al Futtaim Communities, in partnership with RGS and Design Thinkers MENA, hosted a unique workshop to capture ideas and inspirations from children.
RGS Guildford Dubai pupils, aged from 4-to 11, had the opportunity to participate in the workshop, allowing them to share their vision of today's playgrounds and open spaces. In the coming weeks, Majid Al Futtaim Communities' experienced team of architects and designers will be assessing the output and feasibility of these workshops before the final concepts and models will be presented to participating RGS Guildford Dubai students in the coming months.
Inevitably, in common with almost all UK private schools, sport will also be a major focus of the Dubai campus.
As evidence of the school's commitment to sports, The Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai hosted a once-in-a-lifetime meet and train rugby experience with one of the world’s best Rugby Sevens Team and Olympic Gold medallists, Fiji, on Tuesday 30th November 2021.
120 students from Year 2 to Year 6 enrolled at Dubai-based Cognita schools (which now include RGS Guildford Dubai, Horizon English School and Ranches Primary School), had the chance to take part in an academy coaching session with the famous team, as well as a meet and greet with the team’s star players that including Olympic Gold medallist, Osea Kolinisau.
Director of Sport, James Bennett said:
“We want to inspire our young people to be the best version of themselves and we truly believe that we can do this through sport. Providing them with amazing experiences like today is our promise to them of delivering the best sporting opportunities. It has been a brilliant day seeing our pupils out on the field with these respected sportsmen. It has been a truly memorable experience for all.”
In October 2022, RGSGD partners, Cognita, announced the launch of the Cognita ENRICH ME programme in the United Arab Emirates.
Designed exclusively to empower students enrolled at the Cognita family of schools in the Middle East, that include the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai, Ranches Primary School, Horizon English School and Horizon International School, the Cognita ENRICH ME programme is said to combine everything that enriches students’ lives from sport to music and the arts, with expert coaching provision to provide unparalleled opportunities in football, swimming and academic excellence. The inclusive programme will allow the four schools to expand their curriculum and provide an even higher quality learning experience to the 4,000 students they have enrolled, as well as developing high-performing students to achieve professional results.
The programme’s founding ambassador, Beth Mead, is known around the world as an integral member of the England women’s football team that won the UEFA Women’s Euro Cup for the first time in history in 2022. Beth’s involvement with the programme will provide the Cognita students with a true role model and give them direct access to the sporting hero’s expert coaching and advice. Students will also be able to learn from her invaluable experience and leadership qualities that have seen her recognised with endless accolades that include Player of the Tournament and Top Assist Provider in the UEFA Women’s Euro Cup 2022. Designed exclusively by Sean O’Shea, ex-Assistant Manager of top division Swedish club, AIK Stockholm, the football programme will provide Cognita students in the Middle East with unmatched pathways to professional sport and will support them to excel in all that they do.
As one of the most academically successful schools in the UK, expectations of RGS Guildford in Dubai will inevitably be high. The UK school certainly has every right to be proud of its reputation.
The Dubai school will have much to do if it is to emulate the academic successes and positioning of the UK school. In 2019 at GCSE, 50% of all student grades were grade 9 and 75% of grades were grade 9 – 8 (the equivalent of the old A* grade) - which would put it in the top 3 schools in the emirates. At A' Level, 35% of all the results were at A*, significantly ahead of any school in the country. In the UK itself, RGS Guildford came 41st.
RGS Guildford is also said to be extremely proud of its record of getting students into top universities. In the last ten years 325 offers have been achieved at either Oxford or Cambridge. RGS Guildford’s alumni have gone on to successful careers in all areas from business to sports, the creative arts and politics.
However, RGS is not the first UK independent school to arrive in the UAE with a strong academic record in the home country. Schools such as Brighton College and Cranleigh (with established branches in Abu Dhabi), and Kent College, North London Collegiate School and Repton in Dubai were also established in coordination with their highly rated Alma Maters in the UK, but are probably not yet in a position to boast similar results, in part because of their young age.
According to Dr. Cox, RGSG has prepared thousands of young people for life and wants to do the same for young people in Dubai. Oversight of the Dubai branch will be the responsibility of Dr. Cox and the Governors of the UK school.
A key to the school's success has been how well the RGS Guildford team has been able to export the culture and character of the UK school to the United Arab Emirates. To this end the governing body of the School includes representatives from RGS Guildford in the UK, as well as parent representatives and a community representative (non-parent).
Now led by Mrs Clare Turnbull, who joined the school in its run up to opening as Head of Prep from the parent school in the UK, where she had served as Head of Prep for 13 years, from January 2022, Mrs. Turnbull assumed the Principal role.
According to Dr. Cox, prior to moving to Dubai, Mrs. Turnbull had spent 16 years at the Guildford school, where "she held a variety of leadership and governance positions in both the Prep and Senior schools including work as a school inspector. She has brought academic excellence and a real understanding of the RGS values, culture and learning habits with her, truly embodying the very special ethos that has underpinned the Royal Grammar School Guildford in the United Kingdom for over 500 years."
In the run up to opening, in February 2021, further key leadership positions were announced and included three further staff members with direct experience at the parent school in the UK. These are Assistant Head, Upper KS2, Mr Joe Creal; Head of Inclusion, Mrs Laura Evans, and Director of Sport, Mr James Bennett.
Mr Joe Creal, an old Guildfordian, and former teacher at the school, completed his Masters in Educational Leadership, taught mathematics to Years 5 and 6 and coached games afternoons. Prior to re-joining RGS, he taught in Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and a co-ed prep school in Surrey.
Mrs Laura Evans had led the Learning Support and EAL Departments at the prep school in Guildford for the previous 11 years prior to her move to Dubai. Through a Masters in Special and Inclusive Education that focused on Special Educational Needs, Mrs Evans brings a wealth of experience in child support with her to her new role as Head of Inclusion at Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai. Mrs Evans joined the team in April 2021 to assist with the new pupil assessments.
Director of Sport, Mr James Bennett, has over 15 years of experience in sports. Following his role at RGS, Mr Bennett moved on to one of the largest Prep Schools in the UK, to lead the boys’ games department where he took on the role of Acting Director of Sport in his final year. He has taught sports to a wide variety of age groups and specialises in recognising the specific needs of each pupil, both on the sporting field and in life. Mr Bennett has extensive coaching experience in cricket, football, swimming, athletics, gymnastics and climbing.
In addition, Mrs Angela Sutherland has been appointed Head of Early Years. Mrs. Sutherland has sixteen years of school leadership experience across the primary age range from roles in both the UK and the Middle East. Her vast experience working in Early Years has given Mrs Sutherland a deep understanding of how children learn, particularly in the acquisition of language, phonics, reading and the arts. Mrs Sutherland joined the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai from a school in the UAE, which has consistently been rated outstanding for the past five years for its Early Years Department.
The school has solar paneled parking to meet much of its energy needs
Mrs Beckie Bennett, Assistant Head of KS1, has more than 10 years of primary, early years and sports teaching experience and will join the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai’s senior leadership team in September.
The Assistant Head, Lower KS2, Mr Imran Akhtar, has 13 years of teaching experience from both UK based schools and outstanding rated schools in the UAE. Mr Akhtar had previously taught at Kings Al Barsha where he was a Year Group Leader, before returning to the UK to a Leeds based Primary School.
Head of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Mrs Sajida Al Bashir, brings 24 years of Arabic, Islamic and Social Studies teaching experience from schools across the Middle East to her role at Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai. She is an experienced Head of Department, holds a Masters in Education, and regularly contributes to conferences and national debates about curriculum developments.
With the expansion of the school in 2022-23, Nicholas Radbourne has joined as Deputy Head of Secondary, whilst Charlotte Grieves has taken on the role of Deputy Head of Primary.
The new school will be located within Majid Al Futtaim’s flagship Dubai community, Tilal Al Ghaf, adjacent to Hessa Street, between Dubai Motor City and Sports City.
Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Communities, Mr. Hawazen Esber, said:
“Tilal Al Ghaf is located in one of Dubai’s fastest growing freehold residential areas, popular with international families and designed around the integrated principles of place-making and people. The decision by the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai to be part of Tilal Al Ghaf is a significant endorsement for this exciting community and we’re working closely with the educational team as construction of the flagship international school progresses. We are proud to welcome the school to Dubai, establishing new benchmarks in quality education.”
On completion, the school will sit on an impressive 40,000 square metres, and will be able to accommodate 2,100 pupils. The light and dynamic building will include a 25-metre competition standard swimming pool and state-of-the-art classrooms and labs that will support science, art, languages, music and more.
Dr. Jon Cox, Headmaster of RGS Guildford said
"We firmly and passionately believe that RGS Guildford Dubai will be one of the very finest international schools, which will allow us to share our expertise in a global city renowned for its diversity of dynamic mindset."
Whilst the school will offer some sports facilities on-site, much of the outdoor sports activities will take place at ISD Dubai Sports City. RGSGD pupils will experience some of the region’s best facilities, featuring both indoor and outdoor sporting grounds, brand new tennis courts, a nine-lane athletics track and five full-size FIFA approved football pitches. As a Platinum Partner of ISD Dubai Sports City, RGSGD will have access to the facilities from 9am to 4pm on school days, giving pupils the opportunity to play sport all year round.
At the end of Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai's first year, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received a limited number of responses to our Parent Survey, but those parents who have provided their feedback are clearly impressed! Parents have rated the school 4.7/5 - a positivity rating of 94%. Highlights include that 82% of children have a 'tremendous' sense of belonging and enjoyment of their school; 36% of children attending RGSGD had moved from other Dubai schools, so parents have a point of comparison.
None of the respondents to our survey had considered moving their child from RGSGD to another school, over 90% of parents were completely satisfied with the academic performance of the school (none were dissatisfied), and the same responses applied to feedback from the school. Every respondent would recommend RGSGD to other parents. If there is a niggle, it is, as usual, that of fees. But even in this context, feedback was positive, with 73% of parents agreeing that they receive value for money, and the remainder partially agreeing.
If you are a parent or teacher at Royal Grammar School Guildford in Dubai, please share your opinions and experience with other potential members of your community and complete our Survey.
Royal Grammar School Dubai already feels like an established school in the UAE, which is a feat few new schools manage to pull off so quickly. It has achieved this by being clear about what it is, what it stands for, and what it will delivers, and then in delivering, repeatedly. This is a school that understands what it is and who it is for, and that it is incredibly important to deliver on promises made to its parents.
To this end it helps that this is a flagship school for the global education group, Cognita, and that it has been staffed by some of its best leaders from around the world. Integrity is a word that is flippantly used, but this is a school that has it in spades. Parents love this school because, so far, it is exactly what it said it would be.
As expected, opening fees are Premium Plus. KHDA approved fees start at AED 75,000 for FS1 rising to AED 97,000 for Year 6. Fees for subsequent year groups, which will open year on year, are from AED 97,000 to AED 114,000 for years 10-13.
However, the school has already announced a 10% discount on the approved fees for 2022-23, making FS1 fees AED 63,750, FS2 AED 68,000, Years 1 to 4 AED 77,350 and Years 5, 6 and 7 fees, AED 82,450.
In addition, the fee concession is guaranteed for two years and a personal IT device included for two years, a first year uniform package, two school-led extracurricular activities subject to availability, and an Extended School Day: Early Bird Club & After-school care included (7.00am drop off – 4.30pm pick-up) subject to availability.
Royal Grammar School Guildford in 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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