Background: The Best Schools For Art, Music And Performing Arts in the UAE. The 2021 SchoolsCompared.com Guide for Parents 2021.
In the past, subjects such as Music, Art, the Performing Arts and Drama were considered to be ‘soft’ subjects. Vicariously stereotyped as little more than fun past times and often side-lined into extra curricular activities, the wisdom of some schools (and governments) was that these disciplines were neither educationally beneficial, nor necessarily useful to a students future or the needs of business and industry. Worse, many students who did study (and excel) in these disciplines, if they were fortunate enough to find a supportive school, were often seen as second rate when compared with their high achieving academic peers.
A focus on EBacc subjects, and a supposedly core curriculum of “truly” important subjects, still does not help matters with weaker schools often using a restricted curriculum with limited subject choices as a lever to secure better results – but at the great cost to those many children whose gifts lie elsewhere.
Nevertheless, the perception and value placed on these disciplines has not only changed – but now reversed.
These subjects are now understood to be absolutely key to whole child development – and a vital tool in accessing skills that are critically important to us all in adulthood. It is precisely the soft skills that come with the Arts that are prized across industry which today recognises that the most successful individuals within an organisation are those with that formidable mix of outstanding communication skills, creativity, emotional intelligence – and a capacity for innovation that are so fundamental to students gifted in the Arts – and much harder to measure in the restrictive scope of examinations.
In the US a 2019 study by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts found the Arts contributed some $763.6 billion to the US economy – 4.2 percent of GDP – more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing.
In the UK, the economic output of arts, entertainment and cultural activities was conservatively calculated to be £10.47 billion in Gross Value Added, this equivalent to some 0.5% of the British economy. The majority of this, some £7.92 billion, was from the Arts and entertainment sector.
Investments in events culture and broader Arts related infrastructure has placed the UAE at the forefront of the sector in the Arab world globally. Whilst easily comparable GDP data is not available, the power of the Arts is evangelised as pivotal to the UAE’s mission to establish itself as the leading trading hub between East and West, and provides a key differentiator from competition from Singapore. From the Opera House, to the Louvre Abu Dhabi; from La Biennale di Venezia to LitFest; from the cultural quarter of Alserkal Avenue in Dubai to the achievements of the Sharjah Art Foundation; and, from F1 to Expo 2020, the Arts is everywhere. For many of us, the UAE shines in the way it does precisely because of the cultural richness that has come to define it. The critique of the UAE as a plastic world without substance or depth of culture has long ago lost any substance.
“A Country that loses sight of its heritage and culture risks its present and future”
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Below is our list of schools that meet or exceed the most outstanding level of provision in the Creative Arts in alphabetical order. Every school listed offers something exceptional for children across these disciplines.
- Al Raha International School
- American School of Dubai
- Brighton College Abu Dhabi
- The British International School Abu Dhabi. A Nord Anglia Education School.
- The British School of Al Khubairat
- Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi
- Dubai College
- Dubai English Speaking College
- Dubai English Speaking School
- GEMS Jumeirah College
- GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis
- Kings’ Schools Al Barsha
Covid 19, of course, has wreaked particular havoc in education. It has brought to light, front and centre stage, just how centrifugally important the Creative Arts are to the cultural life of every nation, their economies – and, not least, their fundamental role in nurturing the mental health of people. Under Covid 19, the Creative Arts have grown in stature as the world’s most universal currency, one bringing unity where currencies divide. The calls of economists to begin to measuring economic impacts in terms of values rather than value comes in no small pat because of the sense of loss felt by so many of us as Covid has ravaged the Arts.
Supporting the Arts in our schools, then, has never been more important. They is simply not something we can afford to lose.
On that basis, each of the schools in the following, deserve not only significant credit for their achievements for children, but support for their front line role in ensuring, powerfully, that the creative gifts of our future generation are nurtured for the societies and world ahead of them.
An Arts Curriculum For more than Gifted Students
“Everybody is genius.
But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
A school that incorporates Art, Music and the Performing Arts into its core curriculum, with as much vigour and attention as the traditionally honoured subjects (Mathematics, English, Science and Technology), is a school that understands not only that a student with a gift for creativity and performance deserves an education that fully caters to their skill set and their prospects, but that the fundamental role too of a broad-based education in the development of all children. It is a school that recognises that the future of any society lies in its pioneering rather than conservative, repetitive mindset and ambition.
Tellingly, you will not find either a KHDA or ADEC outstanding school, regardless of curriculum, that does not invest very significantly in a breadth of curriculum and subject choices for students that includes, intrinsically, and at its heart, the Arts. Whole child development and exceptional breadth of subject provision are arguably the definitive hallmarks of outstanding school status for the UAE’s educational regulating bodies.
Having a rich and accessible Fine Art, Music, Design, Photography, Sculpture, Pottery and Performing Arts programme means more that basing a teaching methodology on the principles of STEAM. It requires serious investment. In practice this can mean everything from black box theatres and recording studious to dance studios and investment across the spectrum of musical instruments. In examining the offers of schools we have taken into account the level of investment made by schools and evidence of their ongoing commitment to invest.
It also means teaching art history, fine arts, photographic art, film, theatre, dance and multi-media arts. It means attracting talented teachers and support staff with the skills to deliver modern, dynamic, impassioned and challenging lessons that cater to the highest denominator.
Finally, we also believe that it means recognising those schools which genuinely make the Performing Arts and broader Arts culture integral to their school’s identity, recognising those schools which make the Arts a lever to reinforce school values, leverage them as a key mechanic of inclusion and a driver for cross-disciplinary innovation and understanding.
The Overall Benefits Of Art, Music and the Performing Arts
It is no secret that participation in the Performing and broader Arts reaps dividends. Countless studies have been undertaken concluding that a child’s involvement in Drama, Music and Dance, for example, is directly linked to improved academic attainment, overall social development and improved career prospects. The creative industries are at the heart of thriving and dynamic economies. Music, Art and Design, Drama and Dance are subjects, finally, that all children should have access to within the curriculum. Why? Because a high-quality Arts education should not be the preserve of the elite few who have the financial resources to invest in extra curricular activities, but, rather, should be the readily accessible entitlement of every student. In many cases below, we have looked at availability of cultural scholarships from schools to recognise this.
Higher Academic Achievement
A recent study by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) found that participation in Performing Arts resulted in improved vocabulary, enhanced visual memory, increased problem solving skills, better critical thinking abilities, enriched communications within a team framework and a deeper commitment to perseverance.
Without a doubt these are skills that last a lifetime, forming a solid foundation for success in adulthood.
It is telling that for most of us a dinner party is more often made, rather than broken, by having a sprinkling of the magic that comes from those individuals steeped in the Arts. More often than not these come from the life skills that come with the territory of a broad Arts grounded inclusive education.
- Confidence And Self-Esteem: an obvious benefit of participation in the Performing Arts is the development of self-confidence; a vital life skill. Familiarity with presenting oneself in front of an audience goes a long way in the development of effective communication. This in turn increases self-esteem and the ability to overcome anxieties (a hugely beneficial skill in the rushed modern world).
- Self Expression helps children to understand their own emotions and to develop coping strategies to successfully express and manage them.
- Perseverance: success requires concentration, focus and determination, skills that are learned through the age-old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ or the more modern term ‘putting in your 10,000 hours’.
- Empathy And Compassion: the Arts engage the body and the mind interdependently, allowing a child to feel, think and imagine outwards, which generates an aptitude for empathising and feeling compassion for others.
- Teamwork: allows for the development of key interpersonal communication skills and allows the child to identify and accept their strengths and weaknesses.
The Top Schools In Dubai and Abu Dhabi For Fine Art, Music, the Performing Arts and broader Creative Arts
The majority of schools across the UAE offer some form of Art, Drama and Music education within the curriculum and as part of an established extra curricular activity programme. Many do both extremely well. However, in the following we have focused on those schools which we believe offer students something beyond even this higher level of expected delivery for students. We have looked for stand-out schools offering students an outstanding plus overall education in the broader Creative Arts and Performing Arts disciplines – and those schools in which these deeply embedded within the core curriculum.
In every case, we have identified those schools which have invested significantly in the resources to ensure that every student benefits from access to the Arts – and those which have also ensured that that those students gifted in the Arts have the opportunity, within the school’s programme, to reach their full potential. In many cases this means delivering on the skills and proven talent required by top graduate schools worldwide.
We have looked at schools with significant capital investment in the Arts. Some schools fell at this first hurdle simply because of a lack of obvious investment in facilities, for example, in an auditorium. At least one school on this point does deliver a formidable programme in the Performing Arts but has never managed to follow through with the investment required to make this meaningful when measured against its peers.
Amongst the criteria that we used to shortlist the schools that we have highlighted below, were the quality of provision across disciplines of Art, Music and the broader Performing and Creative Arts. We looked at those schools where the teaching of subjects lead ultimately to public examinations. We looked also to schools where there was a clear and strong peripatetic programme offering support for ABRSM, Trinity or LAMDA qualifications. Finally, we sought evidence that students participated in inter-school or public competitions and events.
Now to our pick of the very best schools for Art, Music, the Performing Arts – and Creative Arts more broadly in the UAE…