We visited the Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai, in October 2021, just over half way through the first half term in action for students and staff. We wanted to find out if RGS Dubai had made a successful start in creating a brand-new school with all the promised hallmarks of the longstanding sister school, the Royal Grammar School Guildford, UK.
Our visit to RGS Dubai began by meeting a group of parents, with children aged from 3 to 11. We were keen to ask what had made them choose not only a new school for their child, but a brand-new school, with all the potential teething problems that could entail.
For one mother, her children’s previous school had "quickly lost its sense of community, and pastoral care was slipping", hence her willingness to take a chance on something new. The entire group of parents commended the RGS leadership team for the care and effort they had put in to getting to know each family and child, right from the very first admissions enquiry. “It all just feels so, so different”, she told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
For another family, the willingness of the team to make a “bespoke plan” for their three-year-old twin girls in FS1 had made choosing RGS Dubai the “easiest decision”. The children both had some additional challenges to overcome, and the school leaders plus “high quality” teachers, had given the parents faith that their needs would be thoroughly catered to. This easy decision had now been ratified by the “amazing progress” the parents had seen in their girls since the start of term, as well as the constant communication from the school.
“They told us we would never be surprised or taken aback by something, and I can see that will be true…it certainly has been so far” said the father of the young twins.
Our parent panel unanimously cited their time spent with Founding Head of Prep, Clare Turnbull (who joined the Dubai school after 12 years leading the UK school) as a significant factor in their choosing of RGS Dubai.
If our parent group could find any challenges that the school was facing, it lay solely in the challenges faced by all new schools, filling classes, sports teams and extra-curricular activities with enough children to make them vibrant and competitive. The parents were confident that this would come in time.
Despite being firmly in the “ultra-premium” fee sector, the parents felt that the school offered “surprisingly good value for money”. That said, they were underwhelmed by the quality of the uniform, with some saying that it wasn’t great quality and that the youngest children were “swamped even in the smallest sizes”. Parents would also like to see a bit more guidance for parents on homework given, but these, they said, were small issues.
A family of an older, high ability child with ADHD, told us the school had been incredibly impressive in their support of his additional needs. The school had created an individual education plan and support system for the child with “real, genuine depth” and even in his short tenure at the school, the family had seen many obvious, tangible improvements.
An absolute highlight of our visit to RGS Dubai school was meeting the students. We sat down to chat with a group of older children to understand how they felt about their new school.
First and foremost, the students appreciated the issuance of their RGS iPads, although they were somewhat disappointed to learn that they “can’t be used for fun, you can’t download games!”. If there was one thing they would change, it would be to allow all students to use Minecraft Education, even if it’s not for their own project! Minor tech issues aside, the children liked a long list of things about the school; the teachers, the history of the school and their visits to Sports City for their games lessons in particular. “We even played our first netball match yesterday, and won!” a proud young lady informed our Reviewer.
One young man in Year 6 would like to see the so far unused, empty classrooms filled with furniture, as those rooms can feel “a little odd, a little empty” at present. If the children were redesigning the school, they would have one less floor – they felt there was a lot of stairs to climb, especially going up to the (top floor) auditorium!
Our student panel were obviously all keen readers, as they would like more library time and more access to books. They all enjoyed the school’s extra-curricular activities and clubs, but they felt that their days were long and that sometimes there was not enough time for school, clubs and homework without becoming very tired.
Overall, our student panel felt at home and happy in their new school. We asked what words they would use to describe RGS Dubai to prospective new students, and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing their suggestions. This, according to students, is a school that is “flabbergasting, amazing, great, sustainable, imaginative, space age like, colossal, sporty and creative”. Praise indeed!
After meeting students, we sat down for coffee with a group of teachers. We met with Clare Turnbull, Head of Prep, Mrs Al Bashir, Head of Arabic and Islamic Education and Mr Bennett, Director of Sport. Mrs Al Bashir had joined the school from Repton School Dubai, and Mr Bennett from a co-curricular prep school in Surrey, UK. Mr Bennett had formerly worked at the RGS prep school in Guildford.
Mrs Al Bashir was pleased to report great feedback from both parents and students as to Arabic teaching and learning in the school. “They say it is totally different than other schools” she reported, adding that “it means the kids are enjoying what they are doing and the way we handle the curriculum...
"We make sure Arabic here is interactive and relatable to daily life. Our teachers have very unique styles and really give personality to their lessons, and of course we have this amazing space and resources, what is not to love!”
Mr Bennett had settled in to his new life in Dubai and new school with ease. “I thought there would be more differences” he said, “but actually the school system is very similar”. He was pleased with the relationships with extra-curricular providers that had been put in place for pupils so far. These include, Manchester City for football, Hamilton Aquatics and Diverse for gymnastics. The emphasis for sporting life in the school at present was on participation, especially given that opportunities the children had previously missed due to Covid restrictions.
Mr Bennett was also pleased with the way in which the RGS Dubai partnership with Dubai Sports City had come to fruition. Children at RGS have one PE lesson per week at school and one offsite Games lesson per week at Sports City. This offsite session had been timetabled to allow children plenty of time, in fact, most children would have around 1.5 hours of Games (usually football, netball, rugby, hockey or other team sports) at the Sports City facility per week.
For Head of Prep Clare Turnbull, seeing the school come to be and the students, families and staff “grow into a community” had been nothing short of amazing. She told us:
“This doesn’t happen just naturally, there’s been a lot of hard work, but it is great to see how happy everyone is together and how quickly they have gelled as an RGS family. We knew what we wanted from the school, but now I can see it, I can hear it and I can feel it, and it is fantastic!”
RGS Dubai Principal, Craig Lamshed was as thrilled as Mrs Turnbull with the first few weeks in his new school. Having seen the school built and brought to life during a global pandemic, Mr Lamshed was now revelling in the more ordinary school life, especially celebration days such as National Day, Diwali and Halloween.
Mr Lamshed had long spoke of his intentions for the school prior to opening, so what was really working now, we asked?
“First and foremost, we have created really supportive relationships throughout the school. This is a school with a lovely environment and a collaborative sense of purpose. Our ties with RGS in the UK are as strong as ever and it’s been great to see children quickly take on board the RGS ethos and learning habits that are so central to the culture of all RGS schools”.
Having been thrilled with how the school had got underway, what lay next for the team is an emphasis on “not getting caught up in the success!" "We don’t want to lose our integrity, we want to make sure we don’t drop the ball!” said Mr Lamshed.
Key to this would be the opening of the secondary phase in September 2022, and there were already plans under way to bring teachers from RGS in the UK to Dubai to, as Mr Lamshed explained “re-engerise the RGS within us”.
Of course, many parents will be aware that RGS in the UK is a highly selective school. RGS Dubai will be entirely non-selective, a fundamental difference in offering between the two. Mr Lamshed is un-phased by this, describing the emphasis at his school as simply “academic aspiration for all”. That said “it’s been clear from day one for me. We are RGS. You can clearly see that we are RGS”.
While seeing a school without children, as we had several times prior to the opening of RGS Dubai, can help in understanding its layout and design intentions, there is really nothing like a school full with the buzz of children! The interior colourways, green plants and planning of the RGS Dubai buildings has created an air of calm and peace. Of course, with around 300 students at the time of our visit, this calm is a much from low density of people as it is from the beautiful surroundings. We look forward to experiencing the school in action, full with students of every age!
What we did see on our school tour were small, but happy, groups of children making full use of what the RGS campus has to offer. Walls are already full of beautiful displays of work and the children speak with enthusiasm of music lessons, play time and visits to the auditorium. Support staff are welcoming and smartly attired and teachers already look most comfortable in their spacious new classrooms.
This visit to RGS Dubai was primarily to discover whether the school had fulfilled its initial promise of a truthful and committed interpretation of what it is to be “an RGS”. From our point of view, on our inspection checklist this question gets a very big tick. However, the most important judges here are the parents themselves, and we could not put it better than one of our parent panel:
“So far, this school has been everything we thought it would be, and everything they said it would be”.
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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