The English College Dubai is a private FS to Year 13 school located in Umm Suqeim, Dubai. The original Secondary school was established in 1992 and has been consistently rated Good since inspections began. Its neighbouring Manor Primary school - now renamed and under the same ownership - was integrated into the College in January 2019.
The story so far...
In January 2019, The English College (EC) merged with the neighbouring and co-owned primary school, Manor Primary School. The newly merged schools are now known as The English College - offering a UK curriculum education under the same leadership, from FS1 to Year 13.
For a school that has been part of the Dubai educational scene for close to 30 years, with a reputation for the provision of excellent academic achievement, and a strong emotional attachment from staff and students past and present, The English College has had its fair share of change in recent years.
This started with the construction of the English College Primary School - a logical development given the move to 'all-through' schools - which opened in 2004 and closed in 2014 due to 'business reasons'. Then followed the re-opening, on the same site, of Manor Primary School (under the same ownership, but separate licence) in September 2016. And, finally, in January 2019, the merger of Manor Primary School with The English College to create the all-through school has meant the achievement a goal that started over 15 years ago.
Despite the changes in terms of the re-organisation of the school, new leadership and governance, recent feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, in what may well have been a confusing time, has been extremely positive! We have received responses from over 150 parents who overall gave the school an approval rating of 84%. Read full details of our survey results here.
Back in 2014, the school appointed an experienced new Principal, Ian Jones, who was previously Headteacher at the Dhahran British Grammar School, and the Head of Primary at The Sultan's School in Oman. Unfortunately, Ian was taken ill (and subsequently passed away) in 2016 and as a result, The English College went through a period of Acting Leadership.
It seemed, however, that in 2018, the owners had taken steps towards leadership stability. In September 2018, Sir Greg Martin, an experienced educational leader who received a Knighthood for services to education in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, took over the role of Principal. The school said that he would bring "demonstrable commitment to rigour in teaching and learning; and is passionate about the life changing opportunities that high quality education can bring to children".
Then, at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, there was a further change at The English College. Sir Greg had been and gone to be replaced by Mark Ford, a name that is familiar to us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. Mr. Ford was previously Principal of the Outstanding-rated Dubai British School in Emirates Hills and returned to Dubai following a three year stint in Kuala Lumpur. In his teaching career, Mr. Ford has been Head of Primary, Middle and High School sections, and is highly qualified for his role at EC.
We are pleased to see that that Mr. Ford has been able to provide the stability and leadership that The English College so clearly needed. If anything is evidence of this, it is the change in staff turnover of 33% - a full one-third of the teaching staff - who left the school in 2017-18, to only 16% in 2021. Average staff turnover in international schools in the UAE is generally 20-22%, but many established schools achieve far lower levels.
In our first meeting with Mr. Ford in November 2019, he informed us that his priorities were clearly focused on the delivery of the new buildings for the start of the 2020 academic year, the re-establishment of the Primary school and the drive towards the improvement of EC's KHDA rating which has been Good since the inspection process started 13 years ago.
It had been our hope that we would see whether one of the consistent concerns of the DSIB inspection team in relation to Governance has been sufficiently addressed to enable the inspection team for 2019-20 to formally provide The English College with the rating that we believe it deserves. According to the KHDA, a "Parent Council had been established which is made up of 12 parents. The Board of Governors of the college now includes a representative of the Parent Council and a teacher representative".
Beyond this issue, Mr. Ford told us he expected the KHDA/DSIB inspection team in their 2019-20 visit to be positively influenced by the new leadership of the school, the clarity of direction following the merger, the high expectations that The English College team has for its students, and the high standards of teaching and learning.
And it would seem that, indeed, they were! Read What the Inspectors say to find out more!
With the merger of Manor Primary and The English College, Mr. Ford presides over a school with close to 900 students, the largest nationality group being from the UK, but with a total of some 60 different nationalities overall, including a small number of Emirati students who made up about 3% of the total cohort.
Students are supported by 83 teaching staff and a further 10 teaching assistants, providing a teacher:student ratio of a low 1:10. This should ensure excellent attention to the learning needs of individual and groups of children, and adaptation of the curriculum to meet these needs. Some 10% of students have been identified as Students of Determination with additional learning needs.
The English College has organised its new through-school into Early Years, Primary (from Year 1 to Year 5), Middle School (from Year 6 to Year 9, allowing for a smoother transition from Primary to Secondary) and Senior School (years 10-13). As part of the strategy to create a through-school, a number of initiatives have been put in place to support transition arrangements. This includes specialists from the Secondary school teaching in Primary - notably in respect of French which students begin in Year 1, Year 6 students spending half of their teaching time in the Secondary school and specialist support by Secondary school students who coach Primary students in English, Maths and Science to stretch their achievements.
Starting in the new Academic Year (2021/22), the school structure will revert to the more usual Early Years (FS1 and 2), Primary (Year 1 to 6) and Secondary (Year 7 to 13).
The Primary section of the College had around 240 children in a building with a capacity for 400 - and the development of the Primary was certainly a priority for Mr. Ford and Head of Primary David Wilcock who had joined EC, also in 2019, from nearby Emirates International School.
Mr. Wilcock's focus is on building the capacity of the Primary school, with a focus on Teaching and Learning, Consistency of communications, Continuous Professional Development and improving the current building and surroundings, capitalising on parental involvement.
What about the curriculum?
The English College Dubai follows the Early Years Foundation Stage in the Foundation Stage and the National Curriculum of England through Primary (Years 1 to 6), Secondary (Years 7 to 11) and Sixth Form. In terms of the curriculum, there is an increasing focus on 21st Century learning incorporating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) and student ownership of enquiry-based learning.
The English College is bucking the trend of some high-performing UK curriculum schools in Dubai of offering the IB Diploma programme, offering GCSE - the examinations taken in the UK at age 16 - (note, not iGCSE which is the international curriculum version of the UK exams) - and A Levels. The College also offers BTEC qualifications in Business and/or Travel and Tourism.
A Level subjects - most students are encouraged to take between 3 to 5 subjects - are available in the following options: Arabic and Islamic Studies, Art and Design, Biology, Business, Chemistry, Computer Science, Drama and Theatre Studies, Economics, English Language and Literature, English Literature, French, Geography, History, Law, Mathematics, Media Studies, Physical Education, Physics, Politics, Psychology, Sociology and/or Spanish.
However, the curriculum at The English College is not just about the academic. EC has always had a strong reputation for Performing Arts and Music, as well as highly competitive sports teams. Sporting provision at The English College includes Football, Softball, Netball, Basketball, Rounders, Badminton Club, Skiing/Snowboarding, Cricket, Running Club, Volleyball, Rugby and Girls Rugby.
In addition, the range of extra-curricular activities is extensive including a Chess Club, European Culture Appreciation, Scholar’s Cup, Film Club, Rock Choir, Drama Production, Eco Club, Debate and Model United Nations, Scuba Diving, Lego Club, Superhero Club, Orchestra, Logic Club, Aerobics, Spelling Club, Senior Vocal Group, History’s Mysteries, Arabic Culture Club, Extra Revision, Photography Club, Gardening, Games and Puzzles, Experimental Science, Disney Club, Ukulele Club, Dance Club and Dr Who Club.
What about academic achievement?
The school helpfully publishes its examination results on its Website, something WhichSchoolAdvisor.com believes all schools should do. It is a key piece of information that prospective parents look for when choosing a school.
You can see the results for the last 4 years on the College website.
EC does remarkably well academically. 2018-19 results showed that a cohort of 78 students entered 195 examinations and achieved 7% of passes A*compared with 5% in 2018, 24% A*-A, 82% Grades A*-C and 100% A*-E.
With the cancellation of examinations in 2020 as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, results were based on Centre-assessed grades (teacher and school assessed) and this will be the same for 2021. See how English College students performed in our 2020 A Level result round up.
In 2020, there were 58 students in the A level cohort who were entered for a total of 118 exams. 6% of entries were graded A*, 30% A*-A, 90% of entries achieved A*-C and 100% of entries were rated A*-E - a 100% pass rate. Overall results showed an improvement across all grades from A-E compared with the prior year.
At GCSE Level, the school's 2020 results were similarly impressive with 89 students in I/GCSE level cohort, who together entered for 655 exams. 26% of results were graded A*/9-8, 46% were graded A*-A /9-7, 70% of exam entries achieved grades A*-B /9-6, 97% of exam entries were graded A*-C /9-4. 97% of all students achieved 5 grades from A*-C including English and Maths and 97% was the overall pass rate. The highest achieving student was awarded 9 subjects at Grade 9. Read the full details in our I/GCSE results round up.
University destinations included such prestigious universities as University College, London, The London School of Economics, Imperial College, London, Kings College, London, and the Universities of Middlesex, Sussex, Birmingham, Kent, Manchester, Cardiff, Liverpool, Newcastle, Exeter, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In addition to the public exam performance, students at The English College participate in the TIMMS and PISA benchmarking tests for Maths, English and Science achieving good results.
What about the facilities?
The English College has historically had good, if somewhat frayed, facilities (indoor sports hall, shaded play areas, learning support, shared sports field) with a strong Art department.
After many years of what appeared to be minimal upkeep and the addition of classrooms in a distinctly adhoc arrangement, The English College has gone through an extensive rebuilding and refurbishment programme. In September 2020, the new Secondary school wing and PE complex opened their doors, featuring: 8 Chemistry/ Physics/ Science/Bio Labs; Prep Rooms; Graphics Studio; Art Studio; Music Class Room; Individual Music Practice Rooms; Group Music Practice Room; Black Box Theatre; Drama Studio Theatre; Large Library; Media Studies Room; Learning Commons; Dining Hall with Outdoor Terrace; Sixth Form Study Rooms and Common Room; Fitness Studio; Changing Rooms separately for Female and Male; Modern, full equipped Clinic for Nurse and part-time Doctor; Activity/PE Classroom and Large PE/Sports Hall.
This has been replaced by a modern four-storey building which includes a wide range of specialist facilities including a Performing Arts Centre with Recording Studios and Practice Rooms, a Food Technology Centre and a range of Science Laboratories to replace those deemed previously unfit for purpose by the KHDA. These facilities enable the College to place additional focus on Creativity (Drama, Music and Arts - though apparently not Design Technology).
The College, with its additional classrooms, hopes to be able to expand student numbers in the Secondary school from around the current just below 650 to approximately 800 students - not a major expansion and one that is designed to keep the friendly, smaller school feel that is much appreciated by students and parents.
The decision to merge Manor Primary School with The English College in early 2019 meant that the first inspection of the Primary School, planned for the 2018-19 academic year, took place in combination with the eleventh inspection of the College. The English College was again rated Good for the eleventh year in a row; in fact, a rating it has held since inspections began.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com have wondered whether there was a deliberate policy among some schools in Dubai to invest in and aim for the Good rating - but not to stretch beyond it - since this is the minimum rating that the KHDA expect schools to achieve. Whilst this may true of some schools, a review of the latest 2019-20 inspection report reveals that this is simply not the case at The English College.
In our review of the 2018-19 inspection report, we wrote "The overall Good rating is simply not a reflection in our opinion of the inspectors' 'scores' in evaluating or rating the vast majority of key performance standards". Finally it would seem that the inspection report for 2019-20 - The English College was one of a small number of schools who participated in the full inspection process as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic - reflects our views!
Highlights of the inspection team's comments in the Summary of their inspection findings include:
Each comment is a reflection of positive aspects of The English College. In the six key performance standards for Students' Achievement, Students' personal and social development, Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and Leadership and Management, 37 of the indicators are rated Very Good and 15 Outstanding - well over half of the total. Where the ratings are not Very Good or Outstanding, they are almost entirely rated Good (with the exception being Arabic where ratings are largely Acceptable, but with two rated Weak).
In fact, the inspectors noted that the strengths of the school include:
The main challenge seems to be a common one across international schools in Dubai - Arabic as both a first and second language.
In fact, The English College achieves a Good rating across all sections of the school for Islamic education. Arabic as a first language is Acceptable in Primary and Secondary, but Weak for attainment at Post-16. Similarly, Arabic as an Additional Language is Acceptable in the Primary section, but rated Weak for attainment in the Secondary section.
These ratings have not changed or improved from the previous two inspection reports, and until and unless The English College can address the Weak ratings in particular, moving the overall School rating to Very Good will remain a challenge.
The school is said to provide "Very Good" special needs provision to the just under 10% of children on roll that require it.
Leadership and Management has also shown improvement, with the inspection team noting that "The new principal has a clear vision and understanding of the actions needed to improve the overall performance of the school. Relationships between leaders are professional. Most have a secure understanding of best practices in teaching, curriculum and assessment".
Governance, which had previously been a particular concern of the Inspection teams, has also shown improvement, but there remain areas of concern which the College will need to address.
The report notes that "The governing board has increased its representation. Systems for gathering the views of stakeholders are in place. Governors rigorously challenge the school over issues relating to finance, staffing and resources. The same level of challenge does not extend over students’ academic performance in all subjects. As a result, governors have not been successful in supporting or challenging the school to bring about improvement in the provision and outcomes in Arabic".
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team recommended that:
School leaders should ensure that they:
We strongly recommend that you read the full KHDA inspection report for The English College, since in our opinion, the overall rating of Good does not reflect the Very Good and Outstanding education which forms the majority of the delivery and achievement at the College.
The KHDA's 2019-20 pre-inspection survey to parents received only a very low 36 responses - compared to 182 in 2018-19, but all respondents stated that The English College provides a satisfactory quality of education. Whether this reduction in feedback was due parents being more satisfied with the school is not known. However, almost all parents were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. They considered that their children are kept safe. Most agreed that the school provides their children with the skills they need to be successful learners. They are happy with the information provided by the school and agree that the school listens to, and acts on, their views.
By contrast, 548 students mainly from the Secondary section of The English College took part in the KHDA's 2019 Well-being Census. Most students confirmed that they feel safe in school and that they have never experienced physical bullying or cyberbullying. High numbers of older students confirmed that they have supportive relationships with teachers, and that students care for one another. Survey responses from students in Years 10 to 12 were almost always more positive than those from students in other Dubai schools.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a significant number of responses - some 156 in total. Parents awarded the school an average of 4.2/5 - or an 84% approval rating.
An extra-ordinarily high percentage of respondents (83% compared with a UAE average of 70%) were fully satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school and a similar number were quite or fully confident that the school was meeting the learning needs of their children. The vast majority were satisfied with the feedback received from the school and close to 90% were fully satisfied with the disciplinary policy and its implementation.
A whopping 92% would recommend the school to other parents and 89% have never considered moving their child to another school - far higher than the UAE averages.
Probably the most striking feedback relates to the value for money that school fees represent - often a bone of contention! But not at The English College, where 69% of respondents believe that they represent value of money, compared with a UAE average of 47%. Only 3% of parents totally disagreed with this statement, compared with an average of 14%.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at The English College and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey.
During our visit in November 2019, we were able to meet with parents who were overwhelming positive about The English College. Those involved had three children currently attending the college, with two more children who have now completed their studies. All were particularly positive about the size and small friendly community feel of the school. They wanted their children to experience a school that was closer to what they might have attended in their home countries, where students would have a real (unglamorous) Secondary school experience with a strong focus on academics.
The parents had found that staff at The English College know students individually and are able to support them through a wide range of concerns as a result. They commented also on the admissions process at the College which ensures that children are accepted irrespective of their abilities and are provided with strong pastoral support. They felt that the most recent change of leadership had led to an improvement in communications and 'a more positive playground vibe'. All said that they would recommend The English College as a school which their children are happy to go to, where bullying is not an issue and well-being a core focus assured through 'very real pastoral care'.
The English College is known for being slightly quirky, and a little bit artistic. It is a very liked school by parents and students.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's team has tracked the unsettled environment of The English College, with the opening and closure (and reopening of the Primary school), the comings and goings of Principals and outside organisations' involvement in the development of the long-term strategy for the school, and concerns among parents and staff about the investment in the College itself. However, following the most recent developments over the past 18 months or so, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's team has been encouraged by signs of longer term investment and commitment in the school.
The merger of Manor Primary School, the clear improvements that have taken place in the management and governance of the school, the appointment of a known and reputed Principal, and the substantial investment that has been made in the school's infrastructure, give us cause to believe that The English College is at last receiving the support and commitment from its owners that it merits.
Its academic support through its staff and curriculum have never been in question, and we believe that the newly expanded all-through English College makes an excellent facility for all ages.
What about the fees?
School fees in the Secondary school range between AED 51,556 to AED 61,765 per year depending upon year group which places the school mid table in terms of fees. Fees for the Primary section of the school have been reduced from those approved for Manor Primary, with fees in FS1 and FS2 reduced from AED 47,150 to AED 33,500, those in Years 1 to 4 inclusive from AED 49,450 to AED 43,500 and those for Years 5 and 6 reduced from AED 51,750 to AED 51,000.
In terms of its peers, a high achieving, UK curriculum school, The English College represents very good value.
The English College 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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