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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
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

Type of school

Private, for profit

WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 47,150 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
FS2: 47,150 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 1: 49,450 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 2: 49,450 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 3: 51,750 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 4: 51,750 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 5: 51,750 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
YEAR 6: 51,750 - Manor Primary School slipstream open from September 2016
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


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)
BTEC National Level 3: Information Technology
BTEC National Level 3: Travel & Tourism
BTEC National Level 3: Science (can be studied as 1, 2, or 3 A level(s) equivalent)

A Level A* to A

Not published

A Level A* to C

80% (2012)
(1) Not published since 2013


95% (2012)
(1) Not published since 2013


Not published

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


Teacher to Student Ratio

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

(1) Down from 31%

Year opened



The English College Dubai, Al Safa 1, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest nationality)
Emirati: 1
Nationalities: 40+ (most from English speaking countries)
Special Educational Needs [SEN]: 135
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
Attainment Nur SEM

Refer to Manor Park Primary School from September 2016

Attainment Pri SEM

Refer to Manor Park Primary School from September 2016

Attainment Sec SEM


Attainment Post-16 SEM


Progress Nur SEM

Refer to Manor Primary School from September 2016

Progress Pri SEM

Refer to Manor Primary School from September 2016

Progress Sec SEM


Progress Post-16 SEM


Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

Refer to Manor Primary School from September 2016

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)


Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

Refer to Manor Primary School from September 2016

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)


Islamic St. Primary Results

Refer to Manor Primary School from September 2016

Islamic St. Secondary Results


Islamic St. Post-16 Results








Quality of teaching


Student personal responsibility


Quality of curriculum


School Governance

40% (up from 20%)

SEN Provision



• Outstanding leadership and teaching staff
• Good level of facilities (albeit with frayed edges)
• A lot of love from generations of students and parents
• Positive independent feedback to whichschooladvisor
• Re-opening of primary provision and potential for outstanding new governance
• Flashes of outstanding school provision within a mixed picture
• Widest choice of A Level subject provision available in the UAE


• Poor levels of communication across the board
• History of remote, nunaccountable governance
• No published examination data since 2013
• Ongoing sense of insecurity amongst parents following closure of primary school
• Very different culture of parental communication to the best schools, top down, with parents informed that fees will increase and not engaged in the process
• Lack of investment in resources

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Arts & Drama
SEND Provision
Scl Community
Scl Facilities

What could by now have been such a success story for the UAE education sector, is arguably heavily compromised. Flashes of outstanding provision are diluted by, in many cases, just getting the basics rights. There are signs that the school is picking itself up. The English College Dubai has the makings of a very good school – but it should already be an outstanding one.

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Updated March 2018 – The English College Dubai KHDA verdict and bottom line

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

As of March 2018 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 continues to fall short of the levels of the best Dubai schools, and certainly those operating in keys ways in the premium end of the market. However there are improvements particularly in communication from the Head and newsletters. Examination data is still not published to enable to parents to properly benchmark the school.

The school’s highly respected Head, Ian Jones, left the school during the 2017 academic year following illness and the new Head, Saiqa Liaqat, has driven significant changes, including the investment in provision identified above.

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.

There is some room for optimism too with governorship. 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 is to improve the school’s KHDA rating from Good, to Very Good and then Outstanding.  Information remains …. limited, but we will update our information as, and if, we receive news from the school. As of March 2018 we can still find only a single oblique reference to the new governance in a letter to parents but LVS Ascot’s role, whilst not publicised as much as we would like, is clearly having impacts.

The school receives levels of positive parental and student feedback with our sister site that other schools would fall over backwards for.

What the English College does do well, however, is recruit. The teaching staff and leadership of The English, given their 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, we hope will settle nerves – certainly the heartfelt investment of the Art department in (beautiful) murals within the re-opening primary is suggest of positive things to come.

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.

The English College is very well located just off the Sheikh Zayed Road in Al Safa 1. Facilities do need investment – but are good, and 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. 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 2017-18, we understand that 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 (2017) include ongoing limitations in communication technology (ICT).

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 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 – 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 is impressive and to be applauded.. On performance over the last two years we think there is much to be optimistic about. Recommended.

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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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