Eton, Repton, Cranleigh, Harrow, Brighton – Do Big Name British School Brands Matter in the UAE?
Big Brand British Schools in the UAE – The Benefits.
A SchoolsCompared.com 2020 Special Report by Melanie Swan.
Brands do matter in the global economy. We pay a premium for them in every part of our lives. From shoes and high fashion, to fizzy drinks and theatre productions, we pay for what a brand carries with it – reputation, celebrity, authenticity, some form of guarantee of quality, however nebulous, status and often simply the comfort of a known quantity. One estimate suggests that by removing brands entirely from our lives we could more than double the disposable income of the average family.
Many question too whether a branded cola drink is any better than its unbranded counterpart, or an AED 50,000 pair of shoes is any better than one sold at a the nearest supermarket. Or at least, that much better.
In terms of costs, school fees pose a continuous challenge to parents in a tough economic climate. Gone are the days, for the vast majority of parents, of employer-paid fees.
So how do branded schools in the UAE, whether official branch campuses of an international school or a franchise, stack up against their famous international namesakes?
Certainly, published fees at some of the emirate’s schools exceed those of many well-known schools in the UK and Europe in particular – although that is without factoring in travel, boarding and other related costs of dividing your family across countries and continents.
However, surprisingly, for the most part, in terms of fee levels, branded British campus schools in the UAE stack up remarkably well against their international home campus schools. Fees are less, not more, expensive – and that is without factoring the significant costs that come with sending children to international day, or boarding, schools overseas.
In the case of schools, generally, parents in the UAE can buy into top educational brands at a lower price tag than their founding schools.
Do they offer value for money?
Schoolscompared.com got the lowdown from three of the emirates’ premium British branch campuses for a close-up examination of where your hard-earned dirhams go.
Multiple British schools have opened branches in the UAE – and their draw for parents has been significant. In the early days, many even questioned whether top-tier, established, but local and non-branded schools here would lose their sparkle against the influx of globally recognised school brands.
Certainly, these schools have attracted some parents sufficiently to move their children from existing schools.
When it comes to academics, as well as extra-curricular learning, these brand-rich, campus schools tick a lot of boxes. Yes, the draw does come from the fairy dust of celebrity, but it is also more grounded too in real benefits for children – well-established global alumni networks, historically proven teaching practice and an official stamp of guaranteed quality.
Every parent wants the best for their children – and brands here, suddenly, became in reach of the pockets of parents without even needing to think through the tribulations of moving to home countries, or boarding.
Parents quickly realised that they could buy into these top brands for their children without needing to lose them to boarding overseas, upping sticks from the UAE themselves – or paying fees and related costs that were simply out of reach.
Repton School Dubai
Repton School Dubai is a sister school to the UK’s reputable predecessor. The school boasts impressive results – and continues to be rated as an ‘outstanding’ school by the regulator, the KHDA, since 2014 – one of only seventeen schools to achieve this accolade in Dubai from a total of 209 private schools. Repton is also a deeply culturally and academically inclusive school. It does not stack the decks by accepting only the brightest children, nor does the school insist that every child joins the school with English as a first language.
This year, Repton achieved 100% IBDP pass rate for all its students, and 98% of all junior school students exceeded benchmark global test results: 98% in English, 93% in Mathematics and 97% in Science.
Repton School Dubai told us that it’s due to “our outstanding teachers” – and most of these are recruited from the United Kingdom to reflect just the sort of academic and cultural school environment you would find at Repton at home.
The teaching ratio of 1:10 is one of the lowest in Dubai.
Repton School Dubai is certainly one that we rate exceptional. Our review can be found here.
It comes as a surprise then for many to learn that Repton was the first school in Dubai to reduce its fees in the senior school and freeze its junior school fees.
Repton School Dubai reduced these in September 2018, before the KHDA intervention to freeze fees across private schools in the UAE, this despite attracting many of the wealthiest families in Dubai and further afield. Why? The school responded in no small part to the reality of many of its other parent’s circumstances – the commitment to inclusion runs deep here.
Since 2018, Repton has kept its fees at the same level. Governors and leadership at Repton School Dubai are acutely aware of the sacrifice parents are making in a tough economic climate to send their children to Repton – and economic inclusion is seen as important to the vibrancy of school life and to reflect the ideals of its parent school.
This said, the reality is still that Repton ranks still amongst the top 15 most expensive schools in Dubai.
Repton School Dubai fees, notwithstanding their reduction by some 10%, remain competitive against the equivalent costs faced by parents in the UK attending its founding school.
From year 9, day pupils pay AED43,000 in the UK per term, versus AED 80,000 to AED 95,000 per year in Dubai.
Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
Like Repton School Dubai, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi offers a more affordable alternative to its home campus in the UK.
In the UK, annual fees are in excess of AED153,000.
At Cranleigh Abu Dhabi fees range from AED 65,000 in nursery to AED 96,333 in Year 13.
Now in its sixth year, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi has received huge praise from Abu Dhabi’s regulators (ADEK). Child attainment in the foundation stage (FS) is well above expectations for their age and student’ attainment at later phases is “exceptionally high in national and international examinations”.
The ADEK report of 2018-19 found students over-exceeding across every metric.
In terms of brand, Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi was awarded the prestigious International School of the Year Award by the TES in 2019. The school has also won the Red Crescent School of the Year Award – this is a school accomplished across academic and whole child facets of each child’s education – and in its own right.
Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi was awarded the SchoolsCompared.com 2019-20 Award for being the Best School in the UAE for the Performance Arts – more here.
Again, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is a school that we rate as exceptional. Our review can be found here.
Brighton College, Abu Dhabi
In the UK, Brighton College term fees start from £3,520 at nursery and prep level (AED 50,314 annually). These swiftly rise to £8,590 at senior school (AED122,772 annually), including the Sixth Form.
In the UAE, the picture is again of much lower relative fees.
At nursery level, fees are almost on par, at AED 48,900 but for senior school, fees are just AED 77,720 for Sixth Form study in Abu Dhabi.
With over 225 extra-curricular activities, there is so much on offer here to develop all round students. And around 59% of students here move on to Russell Group universities and others including Harvard.
A teacher pupil ratio of 1:13 guarantees personalised learning, and visits from the home campus are frequent to ensure that both the British and UAE school remains aligned. The school says that it invests very heavily in recruiting the very highest calibre of teachers – and this is borne out in our experience of the school.
Brighton College Abu Dhabi was awarded the SchoolsCompared.com 2019-20 Award for the Best School for Art in the UAE – more here.
We again rate all the Brighton College schools – whether in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Al Ain, as some of the very best in the UAE.
Our review of Brighton College Aby Dhabi can be found here.
What is in a Name? Alternatives to the Branch Campus Schools.
Schools which are not a branch campus of a well-known international school, but which share their name, can also attract parents. Brand association and reputation are all carried in a name and the hope is that the “fairy dust” rubs off on schools that have, in fact, absolutely no association at all with their namesakes.
Though not a branch campus, Dubai’s Swiss International Scientific School tells the same story when it comes to value for money in comparison with its unrelated namesake Swiss International School in Geneva.
In Geneva, expect to pay fees for KG at an annual cost of AED 133,995 rising to up to AED 157,236 in the final years of schooling.
In Dubai, fees are a fraction of the cost, from AED 60,000 to AED 120,000.
The school’s early years learners in Dubai enjoy 100m2 classrooms, three playgrounds and some of the best facilities of any school in the UAE. In terms of academics, this is the only school in Dubai (and the wider MENA region) that teaches the full International Baccalaureate programme in four different languages.
Students can study in one of the school’s bilingual English/German or English/French programmes with additional Arabic, with native speakers teaching the programmes. The teacher-student ratio at the school is just 1:9 – enviously small when average class sizes are around 20.
We all know that after-school activities rack up the dirhams, but here, up to two activities a week from a choice of more than 60, are free – offering students the chance to learn many different skills from physical to artistic, creative to cultural and scientific to academic. Active kids can swim in an Olympic training sized pool, or take up sports ranging across the spectrum of rugby, football and tennis to padel, volleyball and fitness. The Swiss International School also boast one of the highest climbing walls in Dubai.
In this case, the Swiss International School Dubai would say, and justifiably, that it does not need a home school brand. It is a fabulous school full stop. Its naming simply provides parents with the context of its offer: a premium Swiss education.
Our review of the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai can be found here.
Other branch campus schools in the UAE.
We have tried here just to provide a snapshot of branch campus schools here to make the point that the value proposition here is high – when that value proposition is measured against the fees and offer of their home and founding school counterparts.
There are many more UK Branch Campus and franchised schools across the UAE offering in many cases the high brand value and sparkle sought out by parents:
- Kent College – our review can be found here.
- North London Collegiate School
- Brighton School Dubai
- Brighton School Abu Dhabi
- Brighton School Al Ain
- Royal Grammar School(RGS) Guildford / Dubai (opened September 1s 2021)
- Cranleigh Abu Dhabi
- Repton School Dubai
- Repton School Abu Dhabi
The same is true of non-UK branch campus schools like Amity and it is a trend we expect to see growing.
Branch Campus Universities
The trend for prestige international schools to open branches, or franchises, in the UAE is also reflected in the rising number of international universities opening UAE campuses:
- Birmingham University
- University of Manchester Worldwide
- London Business School
- Heriot-Watt University
- P. Jain School of Global Management
- Amity University Dubai
- Manipal University
- Hult International Business School
- City University of London
- Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani (Bits Pilani)
- University of Bradford
- Middlesex University Dubai
- SAE Institute
- University of Exeter
- Murdoch University, Dubai
- ESMOD French Fashion Institute
- Islamic Azad University
- Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict on Big Brand Schools in the UAE 2020.
British public schools are seen by many parents as the gold standard for educating children. The draw of big-name brands is not going to lessen. And with fees running to between one third and a half of their founding schools in the UK, this even before the costs and upheaval of uprooting family life to educate UAE based children overseas, the value proposition is, as we have seen, very high:
|SCHOOL||UK FEES||DUBAI FEES (maximum per year)|
|REPTON||AED 135,000||AED 95,000|
|CRANLEIGH ABU DHABI||AED 153,000||AED 96,333|
|BRIGHTON COLLEGE ABU DHABI||AED 123,000||AED 77,720|
Parents want a tried and tested product. They want their children to share in the fairy dust and sparkle that comes from a well-known, globally respected brand. They are drawn to the promise of glittering alumni networks that the UAE’s home-grown schools, even those most established and prestigious, can only dream of. All parents want the very best schools that they can possibly afford for their children. And all these big name schools are, genuinely, exceptional for the right child.
Does this mean that children cannot get an outstanding education at other UAE schools? No. Does it mean that the examination results children gain at these schools is higher than equivalently high performing local schools? No. Does it mean that children will necessarily be happier at a big-brand school? No.
The bottom line is that every child has different needs – and the best school for one child will not be so for another. It may well be a branded school that works best – but it also may well be one that isn’t too. Nothing can replace school visits to work this out. It is too important a decision to make solely based on fairy dust.
It is often mooted that Eton or Harrow might one day come to the UAE. If they did, you can just imagine the clamour for places?
But if they did, as with the UAE’s existing big brand schools, they would not of course be the same as their founding schools. That is, ultimately, the point. Repton, Cranleigh and Brighton argue, with justification, that they are each different schools to, and, in some ways, better than, their founding UK schools. They are not clones, not do they want to be. An outstanding school will be open to the uniqueness of its location and the cultural framework it brings. It will thrive on difference.
It is not simply that green hills and thatched cottages of England are a world away from the equally but differently breathtaking power, ebbs and flows of the Arabian Desert. It is more than that.
But, these schools big-brand, British-founded UAE schools do offer something special. Maybe it is intangible in key respects. But that does not mean it is not real.
Education in the UAE is evolving. The choice for parents is, today, between many, many fabulous schools – whether global brands or otherwise. The day is coming when so many schools will be of an outstanding standard that the sparkle of the brands may be the only way to distinguish schools from each other quickly. When that day comes, it may well be parents from the UK looking to our schools here, big brands and local, and not the reverse. Now that would be something ……
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