Dubai English Speaking School, DESS, Umm Hurair, Oud Metha – THE REVIEW
Dubai English Speaking School, DESS, – updated September 2019: “Best School in the UAE” top SchoolsCompared.com Award 2019, KHDA Outstanding, revised school fees 2019-20 and SchoolsCompared.com 2019 verdict
Note to existing and prospective parents: please read this review of Dubai English Speaking School in conjunction with our review of DESS’s sister slipstream all-through school, Dubai English Speaking College.
“As a fully inclusive school, we believe in success for all children.
And we measure success not just academically – but also across the many other areas integral to each child’s development.
Our excellent standards in teaching and learning are evidence of the commitment of all our highly dedicated staff in achieving the very best standards across every area of school life.
DESS is, simply, an awesome school for children.”
Catherine Dando, Headteacher, Dubai English Speaking School
One of Dubai’s most loved Early Years and Primary schools, Dubai English Speaking School [DESS] is also 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. The school is resolutely not-for-profit with all revenue re-invested back into the school for the benefit of children.
Dubai English Speaking School educates around 995 pupils aged between 3 and 11 years of age from FS1 to Year 6 across the English National Curriculum. Core subjects focus on Arabic, Performing Arts, French, Geography, History, Islamic Studies, Numeracy, Literacy, Physical Education [PE], Science and Personal Health and Social Education [PHSE].
An automatic slipstream offers all Dubai English Speaking School children guaranteed places within the prestigious, equally inclusive, Dubai English Speaking College [DESC]. Together, both schools combine to offer children a seamless British education through to Year 13.
Our bottom line view is that the ways that Dubai English Speaking School crafts, through building design and year differentiation, stellar teaching and curriculum innovation and breadth, a “story” for children as they progress through each year of Primary school education, is uniquely inspirational and powerful – and probably the stand-out feature of any primary school we have visited anywhere in the UAE.
This is the first Primary school in the UAE we have visited where the journey of children through each year of Primary education is individually and expertly differentiated, separated, zoned and calibrated to near perfectly meet the learning and developmental needs, ambitions and potential of the full spectrum of children at each distinct phase of early years learning.
In short, Dubai English Speaking School presents an absolute tour de force exemplar of the best in primary school education in the UAE.
KHDA Ratings and History
A consistently KHDA rated “Good “school over seven years, in 2016 Dubai English Speaking School secured a rating of Outstanding in its British Schools Overseas Inspection and “Very Good with Outstanding Features” under the Dubai Inspectorate’s then new 6 gradings of inspection.
In 2017-18 Dubai English Speaking School secured its third “Very Good School with Outstanding Features” accreditation in succession.
In 2018-19, justifiably, Dubai English Speaking School secured the KHDA’s highest “Outstanding” school status accolade across the board and was the shared recipient, with its Outstanding sister slipstream school, Dubai English Speaking College, of the SchoolsCompared.com top award for Best School in the United Arab Emirates 2019 in a category of Awards dominated by a plethora of world class schools.
The KHDA drew out the following core strengths of Dubai English Speaking School:
- Outstanding leadership that has developed an inclusive culture in which creativity flourishes
- First-rate teaching and the thoughtful use of assessment information which promote outstanding attainment in English, mathematics and science
- The outstanding environment for learning in the Foundation Stage, excellent personal and academic development, and a sense of social responsibility
- The outstanding partnerships with parents and the excellent arrangements for keeping students safe and promoting healthy life styles and emotional well-being
- The imaginative curriculum, excellent library and stimulating teaching areas for Arabic, French, art and music.
“Outstanding schools have exceptionally high standards of students’ learning and personal development. Teachers have expert knowledge of their subjects, they understand how children learn, and they create inspiring learning environments.
The curriculum at Outstanding schools is rich and innovative, and provides challenge, support and options for all students.
School leaders at Outstanding schools know their school exceptionally well and, despite already extremely high standards, they continuously strive to be even better.”
British Schools Overseas Rating
Read the 2016-2018 British Schools Overseas Report for Dubai English Speaking School here.
2015 – 2019 Investment and Facilities
Dubai English Speaking School has a uniquely engaging feel; colour abounds and children’s attainment speaks through displayed work around almost every corner. The school very much retains the warmth of its roots; DESS is resolutely not a post-modern adventure in glass architecture, despite the quality and breadth of facilities being Tier 1.
Sports facilities are exceptional including dedicated FS and main swimming pools, dance studio, outstanding playing fields and an abundance of play equipment designed to inspire its pupils.
From hula hoops and skipping ropes to the standards (netball, football, touch rugby &c.) you would expect in a school that excels in competitive sports, there is something to engage and inspire children in sport regardless of ability or vocation.
Core sports include rounders, netball, athletics, cross country, basketball, Touch Rugby, Aquathlon, football, swimming, gymnastics and dance.
Investment in Design and Technology too is outstanding plus. On our 2019 visit, the investment in higher level tools for children and wrap-around DT provision was a stand-out feature of the school. Too often at Primary phases, mainly because of the investment required in teaching faculty, this is an area which suffers. Dubai English Speaking School shines a light on what parents can expect of schools committed to investing seriously in and across every area of the curriculum.
The DESS library is a haven of peace and wonder:
Teachers are predominantly British, but there is a good mix of other nationalities and the sense of common purpose, and happiness, is palpable across the teaching and student body. whichschooladvisor found in their annual walk-in inspection a traditional British school with an inspiring, and unusual balance of calm and enthusiasm.
In 2015 Dubai English Speaking School embarked formally on major structural changes under the newly-created role of Joint Principal for both DESS and DESC, Andrew Gibbs, and Catherine Dando, Dubai English Speaing School’s new Headteacher.
This saw the creation of a completely new, highly strategic Development Plan for the school, now integrating Arabic centrally into school life within a dedicated Centre of Learning as well as a spectrum of other changes focused on building on the strengths of the DESS curriculum, community engagement and making all learning “irresistible” for children – see above.
Dramatised learning centres, like those for teaching French below, are one of many examples of how investment in school life has reaped dividends for children:
Results are outstanding across core areas of English, Mathematics and Science. Tellingly, DESS has a high number of exceeding writers at the end of Key Stage 1 and exceeding readers at the end of Key Stage 2.
Pupils excel across the range of arts, sports, music, drama, computing and languages, including French.
“Children effortlessly learn Arabic through song, interactive wall displays and by hearing Arabic used interchangeably by adults in the classroom and in the non-statutory, Arabic lessons taught by specialist subject teachers.”
If commitment alone won an Outstanding award, DESS would have two.
Culture and the whole child
Like other traditional British schools, DESS has embraced the traditional English public school house system. At DESS all children are assigned one of four houses from Leopards, Lynxs, Panthers and Jaguars, and the camaraderie and competition, team spirit, sense of community and belonging each inspires is integral to each child’s life as he or she moves through the school.
Cultural whole child development based on altruism and care for others includes a colourful International Shine Day in which over 40 nationalities across the school develop stalls, music and dance, food tasting and clothing based activities to celebrate diversity; its own DESS charity in which children raise funds for good causes and an annual “Pink Day” for breast cancer awareness:
Extra-curricular activities at DESS are truly extensive offering breadth across sport, music, performing arts (a major strength of the school) and sport.
Dubai English Speaking School currently offers in excess of 100 ECAs per week, which run before school, during the lunch break and after school.
ECAs range from Samba Drumming to Philosophy along with a wealth of Sporting ECAs to support every child’s enjoyment, happiness, health and wellbeing.
Activities also include coding, swimming; ballet (Turning Pointe); netball; gymnastics; football; French; debating; creative writing/poetry; guitar; origami; choir; karate; boys rugby; basketball; “scrapbooking;” Formula One; drawing; Arabic drama; recorder; wind instruments; Hamma Beads; calligraphy; Arabic singing; cricket; philosophy; Lego; choir; Quran; storytelling; boxing; musical theatre (DESPA Academy); and Futsal (5 aside football).
ECAs extend to parents with outstanding community outreach including Arabic classes:
Both the KDHA and BSO describe school life as “exciting”; a very positive and rarely used description by either organisation in their evaluation of schools. This reflects, we believe, the significant investment made by DESS in a curriculum that has been designed, ground up, to fire the imagination of children in very specific, relevant and meaningful ways at each phase of their developmental journey as they progress through the school.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2019
Whilst for many parents a major draw of Dubai English Speaking School is the automatic slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College, we think this misses the point – Dubai English Speaking School stands as an outstanding school in its own right – and offers parents a very different culture and ethos matched perfectly to the age of its children.
Many parents, and academics, argue that there are clear benefits of defined, independent primary provision – including the protection of childhood, and DESS delivers this in spades – and inspirationally.
For our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, Dubai English Speaking School, like its sister College, has a richly deserved reputation for delivering a world class, truly outstanding education for its children.
With fees running between AED 37,334 in FS1 and AED 46,204 for Years FS2 to Year 6 (2019-20), we rate the value proposition here for parents as exceptional.
DESS is a much loved, and worthy WhichSchoolAdvisor Top 11 “Ivy League” school in the UAE and, in 2016-17, 2017-18 and in 2018-19, DESS was, rightly in our view, awarded WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Good School status, its highest awarded accolade.
We have no hesitation in recommending Dubai English Speaking School to parents.
In our view no school in the UAE matches the beautiful and thoughtful way Dubai English Speaking School creates a journey for children through each phase of early years learning, one profoundly well matched and mapped to the needs of younger children as they develop. This shows itself in the drama of the physical surroundings provided by the school at each phase of learning, the considered and inspired investment in technology and infrastructure to bring this alive for children – and the astounding quality of teaching faculty and school leadership.
Dubai English Speaking School leadership, parents, teachers, families – and children, deserve to be extraordinarily proud of what they have achieved together.
Highly recommended. Very.
Request School Information
2018: Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding Features
Good with Very Good and Outstanding Features
See Dubai English Speaking College (Outstanding)
See Dubai English Speaking College (Outstanding)
YEAR 1: 46,204
YEAR 2: 46,204
YEAR 3: 46,204
YEAR 4: 46,204
YEAR 5: 46,204
YEAR 6: 46,204
YEAR 7: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 8: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 9: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 10: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 11: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 12: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
YEAR 13: NA (Slipstream to Dubai English Speaking College)
National Curriculum for England
11% (2019) (Low)
2% (2018) (Extremely low)
Umm Hurair, Oud Metha, Dubai
British (largest nationality)
52 Special Educational Needs [SEN]/Students of determination
00971 (0) 4 337 1457
• Outstanding early years/primary curriculum
• Inspirational world class teaching
• Exemplary core subject attainment in Mathematics, English and Science
• Extraordinarily inspiring extracurricular programme
• Significant whole child development based on altruism and global understanding
• Visionary, driven, hugely passionate and innovative school leadership embarking on new Development Programme further strengthening the school’s provision across all subjects including Arabic
• Fabulous school atmosphere – happy, creative, welcoming and inspiration-filled at every corner
• Slipstream to top UAE Dubai English Speaking College
• Outstanding in its own right, DESS stands proud in competing at the highest level of schools in the UAE for its care, quality of whole child and academic provision, and inspirational curriculum.
• Continuing investment with pool upgrades and further investments in IT and classrooms planned for 2019-20