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 (under the same ownership) was integrated into the College in January 2019.
The story so far...
In January 2019, The English College 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 well over 25 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 now, finally, in January 2019, the merger of Manor Primary School with the College to create the all-through school has meant the achievement a goal that started 15 years ago.
The on-off-on provision of a through-school has not been the only change that has taken place at The English College in recent years. In WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's previous review of the English College, in 2017, we informed readers about some big changes that took place in 2016, with LVS Ascot - a highly reputed school group in the UK - taking over management of the school.
The involvement of LVS in the management of English College was found to be a significant factor in the improvement in the school's KHDA report for 2017-18, where inspectors improved the rating for Governance from Weak to Acceptable and noted that "Governance has been formalised and now includes representation from a broad range of stakeholders. An experienced chairperson is complemented by governors who bring specialist educational knowledge and business acumen. They meet regularly to discuss feedback from staff,students and parents. Their five-year strategic plan aims to improve the school’s academic standards and its unique ethos."
It came, therefore, as something of a surprise to us, to learn that The English College had terminated its agreement with LVS in 2018, given the improvements that had evidently taken place. Indeed, the 2017-18 KHDA report mentions a 5 year Strategic Plan. However, according to a statement from the school, "the original plan was to terminate LVS relation [sic] at the end of 2017 beginning of 2018 after successfully handing over the management of the school back to the board".
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 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".
And now, at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, there has been a further change at The English College. Sir Greg has 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 has 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 feels well qualified for his new role.
It is our sincere hope that Mr. Ford will be able to provide the stability and leadership that The English College so clearly needs. If anything is evidence of this, it is the staff turnover of 33% - a full one-third of the teaching staff - who left the school in 2017-18. Turnover in the year previous to this was 37% and in 2015-16, 26%. 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 are 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 11 years ago. This is something that surprises us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com given the ratings in the most recent (2018-19) inspection report - you can find out more here.
It will be interesting to 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. For the first time, a Parent Council has 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 tells us he expects the KHDA/DSIB team 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.
With the merger of Manor Primary and The English College, Mr. Ford now presides over a school with some 750 students (based on the 2018-19 KHDA inspection data), 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.
Students are supported by 80 teaching staff and a further 8 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 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.
Secondary students also make use of the Primary facilities, with Drama, Art, Psychology and Sociology, Science, Media and Religious Studies taking place there. Specialist provision - notably the Art, Science and Media facilities - will be handed over to the Primary section once the new Secondary and Sixth Form building is handed over in September 2020.
The Primary section of the College currently has around 120 children in a building with a capacity for 400 - and the development of the Primary is certainly a priority for Mr. Ford and newly appointed Head of Primary David Wilcock who has joined EC from nearby Emirates International School. The Primary section currently has 9 teachers and a further 5 Learning Support Assistants.
Mr. Wilcock's focus will be 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, Middle School (years 6 to 9) and Senior School (years 10 and 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 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. The College 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, in fact, in the A Level results for 2017, the school's cohort achieved 22% A*-A, 53% A* to B and 83% A* to C. In 2018, students achieved similar results with A*-A results again at 22%, A*-B results 51%, A*-C 85% and A*-D results at 99%.
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.
At GCSE Level, the school's 2017 results were similarly impressive with 35% A* to A, 76% A*-B and 91% of students getting an A to C grade for each examination. In 2018, results improved to 36% A*-A (grades 9-7 under the revised UK structure), 78% A*-B (9-5), and 93% A*-C (9-4). In 2019, 95 students entered a total of 844 exams and achieved 28% grades 9-8 (A*), 44% grades 9-7 (A*-A), 78% grades 9-6 (A*-B), and 89% grades 9-4 (A*-C).
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 College has 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 is, at last, going through an extensive rebuilding and refurbishment programme - classrooms are being added, as well as drama studios, multiple music practice rooms, art studios, eight science laboratories, a Sixth form centre, dining facilities, and food technology area. A purpose-built sports complex will house a multi-purpose sports hall, dance studio, fitness suite and tiered seating. However, the entire development has been delayed more than once for mainly technical reasons, with completion now anticipated for September 2020.
The planned investment in the infrastructure and facilities will have been welcomed warmly by parents and pupils alike.
By far and away the most significant development, however, is the demolition and replacement of the structure that was located behind the main reception area.
This is being replaced by a modern four-storey building which will include 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 will 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.
In November 2018, we had the opportunity to meet with then Principal Sir Greg Martin at the college and to learn more about the plans for the school. On arrival, it was evident that some unexpected changes had been made - an updating of the main entrance and lobby and the introduction of a Parent and Visitor Cafe that was available in the lobby for instance. However, where new buildings should have been under construction, only hoardings remained, whilst limited construction had started.
The latest update on the development plans show that the new teaching block and sports block will be completed by September 2020.
During our most recent visit to the College in November 2019, we were able to see the extent of the construction of the new building which appears to be well underway.
During the construction period, students and staff have taken over occupation of the first floor of the neighbouring Primary school building and added a small number of temporary classroom/common-rooms just outside the Primary building.
What the inspectors say
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 2018-19 inspection report reveals that this is simply not the case at The English College.
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.
Highlights of the inspection team's comments in the Summary of their inspection findings include:
'The GCSE results are very high in almost all subjects. Outcomes in most subjects in the post-16 phase are good, and A Level results in Mathematics are Outstanding. In the Primary phase, achievement is Very Good in the majority of subjects.'
'Students' behaviour, attitudes to learning and relationships are exemplary...Students are tolerant of others and work well together. They are often innovative and creative as displayed through their well-planned enterprise projects.'
'Most teachers have secure subject knowledge and are skilled in questioning and promoting learning. In almost all subjects students are challenged to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.'
'Students support and care is given a high priority by individual tutors and senior leaders.'
'Innovative changes are now in place in the Primary phase to accelerate students' progress.'
'Leaders' in depth and carefully recorded monitoring of teaching and learning is a significant factor in securing school improvement.'
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, 34 of the indicators are rated Very Good and 13 Outstanding - well over half of the total. Where the ratings are not Very Good or Outstanding, they are almost entirely rated Good.
For Students' achievement, all measures across all subjects in the EYFS section are rated Good. In the Primary and Secondary sections, all measures for English, Maths and Science are rated Very Good (although English in the Secondary school was previously Outstanding). Maths in the Sixth Form is rated Outstanding, though again English has fallen back to Good and Science has remained at the same Good rating.
However, 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 last inspection report, 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.
Aside from Teaching for Effective Learning and Assessment in the Foundation Stage, and Assessment in the Primary Section (each rated Good), together with Curriculum Design and Implementation again in the Foundation Stage, every other measure across these two key performance standards is rated Very Good.
The school is said to provide "Very Good" special needs provision to the just over 10% of children on roll that require it.
Leadership and Management has also shown improvement, with the inspection team noting that 'Senior leaders have a clear vision for the future development of the school. They have made an excellent start on the amalgamation of both schools...morale is high and the most recent improvement plans show increased rigour and a sharper focus on student outcomes.'
Governance, which had previously been a particular concern of the Inspection teams, has also shown improvement, with a previous recommendation for wider local representation with an increased range of experience, having been implemented.
Overall, the inspection team described the strengths of The English College as:
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team recommended that:
School leaders should ensure that:
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report for The English College - and we strongly recommend that you do, 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 - you may find it here.
The KHDA's pre-inspection survey to parents received 182 responses, with 92% of respondents stating that the College provides a satisfactory quality of education. They agree that the school is inclusive and that teachers support their children, who are safe at school, and teach them appropriate skills. A number of parents were not happy about the merger of the two schools, however, the inspection findings found that the strong leadership is helping a very positive transition.
394 students from the Secondary section of The English College took part in the KHDA's 2017 Well-being Census. The results showed that a high number of students were happy both at home and at school. They state that they have positive relationships with adults at school, especially with their teachers. Although positive about their academic work, some students state that they are not always absorbed in their activities. There is a strong awareness of health and fitness and all students say they feel safe in school.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a limited number of responses. The vast majority of respondents were fully or partially satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school and were confident that the school was meeting the learning needs of their children. The majority were at least partially satisfied with the feedback received from the school and three-quarters were fully satisfied with the disciplinary policy and implementation. Whilst close to two-thirds of parents would recommend the school to other parents, an emphatic 25% would not. Close to four in ten parents had considered moving their child to another school, although the same proportion agreed that the fees they paid represented value for money.
However, during our visit in November 2019, we were able to meet with parents who were overwhelming positive about the 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.
Prior to our visit to The English College, in common with our process when visiting schools, we requested the College to ask parents to complete our School Survey. Unfortunately, this was not possible.
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 here.
Having seen 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, 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 being made in the College's infrastructure, give us cause to believe that The English College is at last receiving the support and commitment 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 College will make an excellent facility for all ages once the upgraded facilities are in place. We hope that the investments being made in the substance of the school will also stretch to its staff and that there will be greater stability in this key resource - particularly in terms of its leadership which has been far too fluid in recent years.
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.
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