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The English College Dubai, Al Safa 1 – The Review

The English College Dubai, Al Safa 1 – The Review

by March 1, 2018
Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

Good with Very Good and Outstanding features

Rating FS


Rating Primary / Elementary


Rating Secondary / Middle

Very Good-Outstanding

Rating Post 16 / High

Very Good

Type of school

Private, for profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 47,150
FS2: 47,150
YEAR 1: 49,450
YEAR 2: 49,450
YEAR 3: 51,750
YEAR 4: 51,750
YEAR 5: 51,750
YEAR 6: 51,750
YEAR 7: 51,556
YEAR 8: 51,556
YEAR 9: 51,556
YEAR 10: 55,931
YEAR 11: 55,931
YEAR 12: 61,765
YEAR 13: 61,765


National Curriculum for England
(2) A Level
(3) BTEC

External Exam Boards


Number of A Levels offered

22 + BTEC Business and BTEC Travel and Tourism

A Levels offered

Art & Design
Business Studies
Drama & Theatre Studies
English Literature
English Language & Literature
Government & Politics
Mathematics: Level 3 Mathematical Studies
MFL: French
MFL: Spanish
Physical Education
BTEC National Level 3: Creative Media Production (Television and Film) (for historic reference)
BTEC National Level 3: Information Technology (for historic reference)
BTEC National Level 3: Travel & Tourism (2019)
BTEC National Level 3: Science (can be studied as 1, 2, or 3 A level(s) equivalent) (for historic reference)
BTEC Business (2019)

A Level A* to A

22% (2018)

A Level A* to C

85% (2018)


93% (2018)


36% (2018)

Number of I/GCSEs Offered


I/GCSEs offered

English Language (Core)
English Literature (Core for most students)
Mathematics (Core)
Science (Core)
Physical Education (Core – Non Examination)
Arabic (Suitable for second language Arabic students) (Option)
Art and Design (Option)
Business Studies (Option)
Computer Science (Option)
Drama (Option)
Economics (Option)
French (Option)
Further Pure Mathematics (Option)
Geography (Option)
History (Option)
Leisure and Tourism
Media Studies (Option)
Music (Option)
Physical Education (Option)
Physics (Separate Science) (Option)
Spanish (Option)


(1) The English College is a school for English Speaking students. It does not teach English as a second language.
(2) Students are eligible for admission if it is believed that the school can meet their particular needs.
(3) Admission decisions are made on the basis of the previous educational record.
(4) If necessary students may need to sit a placement assessment, an interview and/or a letter of recommendation from the present school.
(5) The English College has a limited number of places for students with specific learning difficulties.
(6) Sixth form entry requires at least five passes in GCSEs at A* to C, and A* to B grading in their proposed subjects of A Level study.

Waiting list


Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

Current role: 663 (2018)

Teacher to Student Ratio

2018: 1:10
2016: 1:10
2015: 1:9
Years 7 - 11 class size: 22 or less
Years 12 - 13 class size: 1:15 or less

Largest nationality teachers


Teacher turnover

37% (2018)

Year opened



The English College Dubai, Al Safa 1, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest nationality)
Emirati: 3
Nationalities: 40+ (most from English speaking countries)
Special Educational Needs [SEN]: 77
Note: ECD does not teach English as an Additional Language [EAL]


Mixed, co-educational

School canteen



Not published

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0) 4 394 3465

Web Address

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Updated June 2019 – The English College Dubai KHDA verdict and bottom line 2019

The English College Dubai, Al Safa 1, is one of the most loved schools in Dubai, but, if there is one single message that came across from school inspections over the last nine years, it is that the EC governors, and owners, had not played the role that you would expect from a Tier 1 school. As it stands, governance is now an area (as of 2016-2017) that is being addressed, although it will take time to ascertain the degree to which this is resulting in positive change.

It is worth quoting key concerns of the KHDA historically:

May 2010: Governors are “not sufficiently involved.”

May 2011: “Governance not sufficiently rigorous.”

May 2012: “Role of the governors was unclear among the entire school community. Parents, teachers and students felt that the relationship was remote and that school governors were not yet meaningfully involved in the school’s improvement journey.”

May 2013: “…neither parent, student nor class teachers, were represented on the board. As such the governing body continued to seem remote to many representatives of the school.”

May 2014: “…not all key stakeholders were represented on the Board and parents were unable to communicate directly with them.”

May 2015: “The governing body was still not fully representative of the school and the local community … with a lack of consideration given to parents’ and other stakeholders’ views. Governance lacked expertise and effective communication… Governors did not ensure a full range of resources were available to address the weaknesses of the school.” Governance does not “provide sufficient resources to enable teachers to enhance students’ personal and academic skills.”

May 2016:  “The governing body was not representative. It did not take enough interest in the development of the school or hold the school leaders sufficiently to account.  The board did not seek the views of parents, or of students, and had poor knowledge of what the school was actually doing in terms of teaching and across the broad field of education. The governing board had not shown great interest in the academic or pastoral performance of the school.  The board had generally abrogated its more specific educational responsibilities.”

As of November 2016, however, the KHDA recorded change:

“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.”

KHDA 2016-17

However, there remained a note of caution on investment in areas in which it is clearly needed:

“Although a variety of new resources, including staffing, have been provided to enhance learning, some teaching areas remain unfit for purpose [….] The governing board has identified the need for significant additions to the premises: a separate Sixth Form complex combined with enhanced sports facilities; the refurbishment of the science laboratories, and accessibility and safety. ”

KHDA 2016-17

Following extensive changes throughout 2018, The English College is, today, a school firing on all cylinders.

Significant work has been undertaken including new provision for specialist facilities for Music, Drama, Media and Art; new investment in Sixth Form provision including a Common Room and study areas and ongoing demolition of buildings that were accepted to be beyond their usable life.

The school’s web site now provides an inspirational window onto the school with examination results celebrated and published in full.

The school’s highly respected Head, Ian Jones, left the school during the 2017 academic year following illness.  Saiqa Liaqat took over leadership of the school for 3 years, driving through significant changes, including the investment in provision identified above. In 2018 Sir Greg Martin was appointed as Principal. Knighted for his service to education in the UK, Sir Martin’s career historically was shrouded in controversy around the roll-out of UK academies and the commercialisation of public sector education in the UK – but there is no disagreement that his impact on schools was transformational and profound. It’s early days, but feedback  has been positive.

No better indication of the challenge faced by the school in communicating about itself historically was the closure of the hugely loved English College’s primary school in 2013 “for business reasons”, a decision leaving almost 400 children searching for a replacement school.

On that note, better news emerged in March 2016 that the school would re-open its Primary slipstream on the same site, although under the new name of the Manor Primary School. Our review of Manor Primary School can be found here. In our first visit we left genuinely impressed.

The two schools will  now be merged in a single all-through.

In March 2016, the school announced its (still unnamed) owner had passed complete governorship of the English College to LVS Ascot, a prestigious, highly respected UK independent whose patron is the Queen. The promise was to improve the school’s KHDA rating from Good, to Very Good and then Outstanding. The LVS work has now been completed.

Both schools receive levels of positive parental and student feedback with our sister site that other schools would fall over backwards for despite the heady mix of changes. To all intents and purposes a completely new school is midway through the process of being constructed.

What the English College does do well is recruit. The teaching staff and leadership of The English College, particularly given their historic constraints, create a school environment that brings out student talent at outstanding levels.

Staff morale had been badly hit by a sense that the school was not supported by its owners – and there is clear sense to that the closure of the Primary School exacerbated this. The re-opening of the primary, under a new name, and now plans for its integration within a single school, we hope will settle nerves – certainly the heartfelt investment of the Art department in (beautiful) murals within the re-opening primary is suggestive of teachers that are passionate about their school.

A Level subject choice in particular is outstanding, offering a breadth of choice to students that competes, and in some cases overtakes, many Tier 1 ultra-premiums – and The English includes BTEC provision to maximise the school’s ability to match its offer to the needs of each individual child. GCSE provision is almost as expansive, although we question why key subjects offered at International A Level are not offered at IGCSE. We know that there is a call for the introduction of BTEC Music at the school from parents (2018) and it will be interesting to see whether The English College responds to the expressed needs of its children and parents. Current subject choice at A Level and BTEC (2019) include:

Arabic, Art & Design, Biology, Business Studies, BTEC Business Studies, Chemistry, Computing, BTEC Creative Media Production, Drama & Theatre Studies, English Language & Literature, English Literature, Economics, French, Geography, Government & Politics, History, BTEC Information Technology, Mathematics, Mathematics Level 3, Music, Physical Education, Physics, Psychology, BTEC Applied Science, Sociology, Spanish, BTEC Travel & Tourism.

The English College is very well located just off the Sheikh Zayed Road in Al Safa 1. Facilities do need investment. Currently good, where there are gaps, the school leverages its close relationships with partners including the Police Officers Club Stadium which it uses for its Sport Day. New investment will radically transform the school – but it has been a long time coming.

Not surprisingly again, the school, unlike most other schools in the UAE, does not actually list or describe its facilities, but they do include a swimming pool, indoor sports hall, shaded play areas, learning support, a shared sports field and an excellent art department. The WSA review notes these are “becoming a little frayed at the edges” mirroring KHDA notes, historically, that there were:

  • Adequate premises only – specialist facilities were limited and the absence of a sixth form area
  • Resources were sufficient – but there was only limited Wi-Fi in the building. This remains an on-going issue.
  • Only a “sufficient number of computers are provided, with limited opportunities for students to enhance their learning experience using a full range of learning technologies.”

As of 2019 new investment is now seeking to address each of these areas (see above)

There are outstanding features of the English College of course. The KHDA highlights in particular:

  • Students are happy in school, work well together and with their teachers
  • Students in the post-16 phase have an outstanding understanding of Islamic values and UAE culture and its impact on Dubai society
  • The strong curriculum provides students with interest and challenge across the wide range of interesting and stimulating subjects
  • There are outstanding levels of student support as a result of strong pastoral care systems within the school
  • Outstanding progress in literature and language
  • In secondary Science, the outstanding progress of students, with grades well above international benchmarks
  • Extra-curricular activities are extensive and wide-ranging
  • Whole child development, understood through the lens of self-development and self responsibility remains outstanding and a real credit.

Negatives outlined by the KHDA (2018) include ongoing limitations in communication technology (ICT) and ongoing turnover – the latter inevitable in this period of transition.

The English College Dubai bottom line? The verdict 2019

After more than two decades a very loved school continues to be in a state of flux whilst it continues to embed new investment, establishes powerful and effective governance and “puts things right.”  There does seem to be now a genuine sense of urgency within the school to reform itself, provide security and planning for the future.

In our last review we said that that The English College Dubai needed significant investment if it is to quell the nerves of parents that this will be  another case of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. With that now in place, at least in its ongoing and continuing early stages, we think there is room to celebrate the school’s success in our conclusion.

The English College Dubai, for us, stands out in the breadth of subject choice it provides its students across IGCSE, A Level and BTEC. Given its fees, we think the value here is exceptionally good – particularly given the overall very high quality of teaching on offer. It is here that we would like The English College to build on its stand-out strengths in catering genuinely to the different needs of students and further expand its BTEC offer in particular.

The English College Dubai is a school with a unique character and history – it is now also one that has shown itself willing to invest in building on that to the benefit of its children. Bells and whistles do not make a school. The quality of teaching, breadth of subject offer, care for children – and links with parents are much more important. In these areas The English College has the potential and capacity to set benchmarks if it holds its nerve and continues to invest. There is no doubt that the the serious new investment in the Senior School, and merger with its lovely historic Primary school, is impressive and to be applauded.. On performance over the last two years we think there is much to be optimistic about.

The flux though makes this such a difficult school to reach a conclusion on. We have been rooting for the school for so long now because it does so much, so well. But the strategy, its implementation, investment and changes of consultancy, owners and leadership make it a complex choice for parents. We need to see stablisation of teaching faculty in 2019 to give us more confidence. Teachers are the absolute lifeblood of a school – and they have historically proven themselves loved by parents and children in the midst of eternal change. The balance here is a genuinely wonderful education that endures as a beacon at the heart of the school and its community life – the makings of an outstanding school if the bigger picture can, finally, be made real and take its rightful role behind the scenes.

Bottom line is this is a school that will achieve for all children. The care and quality of faculty is all in place. But parents must expect something of a roller-coaster ride of change over the next few years if history is any judge of what should be expected to come.

Despite this, we continue to recommend The English College Dubai with reservations that we still believe will all but disappear in the medium term

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

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