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End of an era? “No Final Decision made…” BUT historic Dubai English Speaking School, DESS, now confirms formal consultation on major relocation with parents.
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The Emirate’s oldest, and first, British school, established in 1963 by the British Embassy on land gifted by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former ruler of Dubai, is now “very seriously” considering moving from its gifted site in Oud Metha to a “new location” in Academic City.

The proposed move would see the closure on its current site in Oud Metha of a much-loved school where it has served its community for 53 years.

Parents have been formally consulted and the process is in full swing now to potentially construct an all-new school – although school leadership at DESSC is at pains to point out that “no final decision has been reached.” Trustees of the school have now, however, formally approved the next stage of planning for a new school to progress.

The school has been resolutely not-for-profit since its founding with all revenue re-invested back into the school for the benefit of children. We understand that the school will remain not-for-profit despite the move, with the full project costs coming from capital funds built up over time. Whilst the new school, should it proceed, has the certainty of remaining fully not-for-profit, It is too early, however, to gauge whether there will be an impact on the costs of an education at DESC. We would expect/hope that existing parents would be protected should fees rise. Well known schools have historically relocated with increases in fees, either simultaneously with the move or down the track.

The school has also not confirmed whether there will be an increase in capacity should the school move. Currently the school has the capacity to educate around 1000 students. One of the aspects of the school in its current location we found most inspiring was the sense of its being a small community school through its extremely clever and thoughtful  design, historic character and distinctiveness.

Both will need greater detail for parents to be able to properly weigh up the benefits of the move.

Parents should note that this is a deserved Top Schools Award-winning school, one that wowed Judges by the “extraordinary quality” of the education provided to its students in its current home as “one of the most beautiful Primary schools in the UAE.” The school is ranked Outstanding by the KHDA, Dubai’s regulator schools.

We understand that the move has been pondered for many years on the basis of the site’s dislocation from its slipstream senior school – Dubai English Speaking College. The aim is to relocate the school to a new site adjacent to DESC, although we understand that the school will maintain its separation and unique identity as a Primary school should the plans be confirmed.

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There is huge sensitivity about the potential move – the Emirates has seen a number of historically important schools move from their founding locations with very mixed results. There is acute awareness that “new does not always mean better” – and we understand that the school is now investing everything, should the move progress, to ensure that the new school does not lose what makes it so special in the process.

Worth noting that the school, as it stands currently, is in our view an inspiration, melding beautifully the warmth that comes from an established older school, with all the cutting edge investment of a school which unswervingly places the needs of children first. One worry of parents expressed to us, is whether that “magic will be lost” together with concerns that the school will become just another, albeit, outstanding, primary in the process. A number of parents were also very concerned that the school would completely lose its identity and be absorbed within DESC. Already we know of historic frustrations that an outstanding school in its own right has too often, and unfairly, been forgotten in the glitter of its bigger sibling. One of the aspects of the school we always found most inspiring was the absolute passion of its school leadership in the importance of Primary education in its own right – and the profound contribution that DESC made to the development of its students.

The school argues that the move is necessary:

“The site is 53 years old and increasingly costly to maintain, access and parking in and around Oud Metha are generally chaotic, and the scope for enhancing the facilities there extremely limited.”

[Our view is that] “…going forward it will not meet the needs and aspirations of a premium, high performing school.”

The school is resolutely committed to nothing being lost in the potential move, but this is no small undertaking.

It is early days, but we expect too that the school, should the move progress, to assist parents with the inevitable upheaval caused by the move to its new location. These are different communities and parents have lives constructed around its current location.

To their credit, both schools understand the risks, as well as the opportunities – and there is a concerted and very deliberate commitment to ensure that any move works for children and families.

You can read our review of Dubai English Speaking School here.

You can read our review of Dubai English Speaking College here.

You can read about historic fee increases at Dubai English Speaking College here.

The schools, together, won the Top Schools Award for Best School in the United Arab Emirates 2019-20.

This is a development, in our view, that carries significant risks. Two important schools in the UAE have significant weight on their shoulders to protect their families, children and shared reputations.

We will update this story as we receive further clarifications from both schools and parents.

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Do you have a view on the potential closure of DESS in its current form? You can contact us at [email protected]

© SchoolsCompared.com. A WhichMedia Group publication. 2023. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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