Dubai College, Al Sufouh – The Review
Updated December 2020 – Dubai College provision of Psychology A’ Level from September 2018, school feel and dynamics, KHDA, SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020
“One day in May 1978, after a short two month wait in a certain Creek side office, I was handed a plan of Plot B141 signed by His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Al Maktoum.
The instructions were quite simple, “Build us a school, here.”
Tim Charlton, Founder, Dubai College.
The founding of Dubai College, still one of the Emirates most prestigious schools, has become intricately woven into the history of Dubai. The story is replete with pioneering spirit, adventure, resilience and ambition, and is very much an “if you build it, they will come” kind of tale. But then that too is pretty much the story of Dubai itself.
Today, in a sector replete with increasingly mature schools, a number of which compete with the UK’s best private schools, Dubai College continues to excel and for the moment still gets the better of newcomers. In January 2016 according to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, 20 of its students received conditional offers from Oxbridge. That is seriously top tier.
Extremely impressive academics fuel the Oxbridge and significant Ivy League and Russell Group placements. However, for us, arguably as telling was its securing a placement for a gifted child in Performing Arts at the prestigious Elmhurst, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, for one student in 2015-16.
GCSE results put it in line with the 12th best co-educational independent school and the 3rd best co-educational state school in the UK.
Impressive, but prospective parents should be aware that, perhaps inevitably in a school of achievers, some children, despite best intentions and investment, can feel “lost” according to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com and our own parental feedback.
The school does seek to address this to ensure that no child is left behind – but this is an academic behemoth and Dubai College School Principal, Mike Lambert, is consistently and forcefully unapologetic for this.
The school is resolutely not-for-profit. The level of fees is around 13% lower than Dubai’s most expensive school, although this is balanced by the College requiring a debenture of DHS25,000 on each child’s entrance to the school, a sum returned on graduation. For the right children, however, this adds little to the relative annual cost and ROI is exceptionally high.
Dubai College teaches the English National Curriculum, offering places to students from Year Seven (‘lower school’) up to Year Thirteen (‘Sixth Form’). Middle School students (Years Ten and Eleven) study ten GCSEs alongside a short course in ICT. Up to four subjects are studied at GCE A’ Level.
The College currently educates 921 students, the largest number of which are British. 34 students are identified with Special Educational Needs – less than 5% of the student population and the lowest of all schools we have reviewed. There are only 8 Emirati children at the school as of 2018. We would like to see a much broader SEND and cultural base for the school – but then that would be to wish for a different school. The sole requirement here for entrance to the nth degree is academic ability – and that has meant that siblings are separated if one cannot make the grade.
Waiting lists are long, but places do come on stream and prospective parents, particularly of genuinely academically gifted children, should be resilient despite the school technically receiving between 3 and 4 applications for every place offered.
In 2015-16 Dubai College again came in the Top 20 most recommended schools in the UAE, its recommendation rating rising from 83% to 86% over 24 months. This is no small achievement given both the perceived difficulty of securing a place and its highly selective intake. Ask many parents to answer which is the best school in Dubai and you are likely to still here DC because of its success in league tables and history within Dubai. Things are chnaging though – the UAE now has a significant number of genuinely world class, globally competitive schools although it is true to say that none are as exclusive as DC because of its severe restrictions on entrance.
A KHDA Outstanding school for seven consecutive years, recommendations for improvement focus on strengthening attainment in Arabic as a first language. Islamic Education and second language study today gets a “Good” evaluation – creditable in an international school. It is fair to say that Dubai College has invested in this area and the school has made great strides in radically transformed the teaching Arabic subjects positively following largely historic KHDA concerns.
“In Arabic as a first language, teaching has improved significantly. Teachers’ subject knowledge is secure. Their lesson planning addresses the specific needs of students who are working below the levels expected for their age groups. Lessons include a range of activities which target the development of key language skills. Teachers frequently make appropriate use of oral questioning and IT to support learning.”
In 2018 the verdict of the KHDA is quite telling in the context of such a limited Arab and Emirati role:
“Although most students make progress in the understanding and comprehension of text and spoken dialogue, their ability and confidence to interact with fluency is variable. This is especially evident in lessons with only one student.”
The SEND intake is also small – however it should be noted that the progress made by the limited number of children who do secure a place is exceptional.
It is worth noting the outstanding intervention of school Governors who are often forgotten in reviews of schooling provision, but who, in the best schools, are empowered and empowering.
“The board of governors provide the school with strong support. There is a wide range of relevant expertise at the disposal of the various sub-committees. Governors received parents’ views to inform their decisions, through both the school’s parental survey and the current parent members of the board. … A board member liaised with the Islamic education and Arabic departments and reported regularly to the education sub-committee on progress. Governors were thereby enabled to monitor the effectiveness of the school’s improvement planning in these departments. The board had ensured that the school was well supported in its response to the recommendations of the previous report. New appointments in the Arabic, Islamic education and SEND departments together with more effective oversight of students’ performance had promoted significant development.”
In 2018, governance was downgraded a touch given the frustration that Arabic language teaching was still weak, despite these interventions:
“With the full support of the board, the school should draw on its expertise in additional language teaching, assessment and classroom practice to improve learning and teaching in Arabic.”
The staff:student ratio of around 9.3 students per teacher is one of the lowest in the Emirates – and particularly potent for a highly academic academically selective school in which the temptation (in other profit driven schools) might be to reduce teacher numbers because of the natural gifts of the role. Class sizes are between 20 – 22 students. Dubai College secured an outstanding 13 Oxbridge places for its leavers in 2016, this probably the best single indicator of the school’s ranking in the top 17 of UK co-educational independent schools measured on like-for-like examination performance against its Tier 1 UK home peers.
Post-16 pathways are not as broad as we would like – however, the trade-off is smaller class sizes. Dubai College does offer, rarely, the option to study Government and Politics, but there has historically, in our view, been an obvious omission with Psychology – a critical bridging subject between the Arts and Sciences that is particularly attractive to Top Tier University admissions – and popular with students too. We now understand that A Level Psychology will now be offered from September 2018.
It is worth noting that there is no BTEC. Again, we think this is missing a trick. Technical stream options are increasingly being called on by employers and the T Level will, if it meets its published ambitions, transform British Education.
The argument against it forwarded by Mr lambert is that an academically selective school simply does not need BTEC and it does not fit an academic student profile.
However, we are not convinced and believe that it too easily plays to the discredited notion that BTEC is not designed for academically bright students or a school in which all students are expected to transition to top tier universities. A number of subjects, including Music, Engineering and Business come with a particular technical focus and delivery that is only available with BTEC and we see no reason why some combination of BTEC and A Level should not be offered – even in an academically selective school – and especially one seeking to offer an outstanding breadth of choice to students.
Our Guide to BTEC can be found here. We are perhaps harsh on Dubai College – but only because it operates as a beacon school in the emirates and we think that carries responsibility to set benchmarks for what constitutes outstanding provision.A Level Options Dubai College
Examination results are impressive.Dubai College Examination Results
Current facilities on the 15 acre site (note redevelopment in planning below) include a 1000-seat auditorium (“heartland of the cultural life of the school”), 4 flood-lit tennis courts, black box theatres, 21 independent specialist labs across Sciences, D&T and the Arts; 4 Art studios; 10 ICT Suites; Dance Studio; Sports and Performing Arts Centre of Excellence and, tellingly, a dedicated (and outstanding) Sixth Form. Ongoing investment in facility development and innovation is serious, thoughtful and significant.
ECAs are extensive and include Athletics; Badminton; Basketball; Boxing; Cross Country; Cricket; Fencing; Football; Golf; Gymnastics; Kick Boxing; Netball; Softball; Rugby; Table Tennis; Trampolining; Tennis; Rounders; Sailing Club; Street Dance; Swimming; Water Polo; Yoga; Art and Crafts; a Charity Committee; Debating Society; Duke of Edinburgh Award (a key hub of the schools focus on philanthropic activity); and Environmental Society; F1 in Schools Club; Horse Riding; Latin; Mandarin; Model United Nations; Shakespeare Society; LEGO Robotics; Theatre and Drama Club; World Challenge; Writing Society; Beginner’s Band; Jazz Band; Chamber Choir; Man Choir; and, Orchestra.
New developments since our original review include:
- A hugely impressive new scholarship system in celebration of the College’s 40th anniversary (which falls in May 2018.) The “Foundation 40” will provide at least one fully funded place in each of Years 7 to 13 from September 2017 onwards, each funded in perpetuity by 40 benefactors. The aim is to create a truly meritocratic school in which gifted children are never excluded from the school because of their parent’s inability to afford the fees. Once established this will set a benchmark for scholarship provision throughout the Emirates and very much aligns with the vision of both the KHDA and H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum for education in Dubai to meet or exceed the very best in global provision, and provide an outstanding level of education for all children regardless of the wealth of their parents. Scholarship (and broader bursary) provision of this form is something we and our sister site, whichschooladvisor, have long campaigned for and we feel that Dubai College should be applauded unambiguously for the ambition of this initiative. It should also be noted that this initiative will meet head-on one of the very limited critiques of the College by the Dubai Inspectorate of Schools that it needs to publicise better and broaden its inclusivity, both for children with identified SEND and more widely.
- Related to the above, the development and strengthening of the Dubai College alumni network. Dubai College has a 4 decade’s long history to draw from and its current 3000-strong alumni network has the capacity to both strengthen the school (including through scholarships above) and forge career opportunities and open doors for each member. Alumni are so important for schools in a world in which networks are increasingly definitive for developing careers. Dubai College is introducing a bespoke Alumni App which will locate former students geographically, as well as by specific industries.
- Development of the “High Performance Learning” framework created by Professor Debroah Eyre to re-focus top performing schools on producing Advanced Performers, Global Leaders and Enterprising Learners. This is part of a swathe of initiatives within the College that recognises that in today’s hugely competitive global economy, students require skills beyond those that can be found in core academics.
- Launch of a major school new development plan to support a vision to establish the school as the best British overseas school in the world (March 2017). New facilities in development include a landmark new Administration Building and Welcome Centre, Teaching and Learning hub with cinema and auditorium facilities; and a new Sports Hall and Performing Arts Centre.
Current Staff Quarters will be redeveloped as classrooms and the existing Administration Block will evolve to provide Flexible Learning Spaces. The school will accept an additional 28 students per year (increasing the intake to 160 from the current intake of 132 per year). Numbers will increase gradually from this year 7 intake (2017) – and subsequent year 7 intake (numbers are not increasing further up the school).
Dubai College achieved whichschooladvisor.com ‘Good School’ status for a sixth consecutive year in 2017-18.
Dubai College bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020-21
Dubai College divides views. For the academic child with an eye on Oxbridge few would argue that it provides an outstanding – and probably the best education, available in the UAE. Probably – because even a school so tightly focused on the type of child that should fit, will not be the best school for every child. In a family with siblings, with one less academic child, there will be soul searching questions to answer as selection is competitive and there is little guarantee that both would secure a place.
Dubai College would also not suit academic children with a more technical focus as BTEC is not available and the school does not pull together a British A level cluster variant comparable to the outstanding International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme in IB schools.
Parents should also not expect a Dubai style bells and whistles school. Dubai College has its own sort of very different magic. It reminded us of visiting a traditional British grammar school – far way from the modernity, genteel softness and sparkle of alternative Dubai Tier 1s. Many of the old desks populate the classrooms – many Dubai alumni can still recognise their old inscriptions on some! Get beyond the perhaps subjectively defined austerity of its redbrick 70’s style blockwork and, beneath the surface, you’ll find a depth and quality of provision that today competes with the best available in any school in the UAE.
School leadership too is, in some ways creditably, terrifyingly fierce and uncompromising in its commitment to the school’s ideals and children it seeks to welcome. Parents should understand the strengths and values of Dubai College before applying – and the school would wish this to avoid disappointment.
So where does that leave us? Dubai College is a genuinely, unambiguously beyond-outstanding school for the right child. It is arguably the only unambiguously selective school left in the UAE, given the broader, and in our view welcome, moves to inclusion, focus on value-add and child progress. An academic child that fits at Dubai College is almost guaranteed to be (positively) stretched and to secure the sorts of results and graduation options many parents dream of. For academic student gifted in Sport too, the offer here is pretty unbeatable. DC has strong arguments in its favour for being the best school in the UAE for competitive sport, and certainly if measured in fixture success. Sporting faculty are deeply engaged, caring and impressive. For these children Dubai College comes with the very, very highest recommendation.
So too, if parents worry about the impact of academic competition – there are many, many softer edges at the school. Performing Arts are (beyond) stand-out and the school wildlife centre (it’s something very special to be experienced) is just beautiful.
But it is not the only outstanding school in Dubai. And nor should it want to be. Many other schools do things better, sometimes much better, in areas in which they excel and their values align. So too, Dubai College is no longer the only school with cache and the days of tears when children did not secure a place should no longer be the norm. There is so much choice today for parents seeking an outstanding education in the UAE for their children.
For many children the better education lies elsewhere – and that is exactly as it should be in a UAE school system that has matured to offer an extraordinarily high standard of education, inclusively, to inspire and nurture the gifts of the broadest range of children.
It must be a very tiring battle to manage not becoming a hostage to examination league tables with all the potential impacts that come with that territory. The pressure on, and expectation of, Dubai College to deliver is intense.
We think there is still an extremely important place for this type of outstanding, academically selective, elite schooling in Dubai – and the KHDA clearly agree in enabling Dubai College, arguably uniquely, to thrive in this important space for the most academic children.
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National Curriculum of England
CEM, OCR, AQA, Edexcel, WJEC, GL, CEM
Psychology (from September 2018)
Design & Technology
Government & Politics
Design & Technology
Al Sufouh, Dubai
British (largest nationality)
+971 4 3999111
• Genuinely world class teaching results in outstanding student attainment in all core academic disciplines except Arabic
• The College competes successfully on the international stage in pupil attainment, teaching and prestige
• Talented children in all areas, including the performing arts are valued and teaching provision adjusted to ensure they meet their full potential
• Not for profit status ensures that all funds are re-invested in the highest caliber and number of teaching staff, facilities and the school’s ability respond to the needs of each child
• A very strong Dubai alumni network
• Very strong leadership
• Psychology A Level from September 2018
• Arguably the best school in the UAE for the most academic children
• Outstanding Sport, Music, Performing Arts and Fine Art provision.
• Outstanding capital investment programme - serious, thoughtful and, recently, extraordinary in quality and breadth.
• Failings in the teaching of Arabic as a first language - we would like to see much better integration of Arabic within the curriculum and structurally within the geographical location of Arabic subject provision within the school. We would like to see scholarships used to provide more Emirati inclusiveness - but this does not fit with the school's values or focus and it is probably, on balance, unfair of us to expect this.
• Waiting lists result in many children who would benefit from a place at the College not being accepted
• Building design and "style", even where facilities have been updated, reflects the culture - do not expect the surface shiny “bells and whistles” of many of Dubai’s most recent elite schools.
• No BTEC/technical stream provision - but the school argues it is unnecessary.
• No scholarship programme despite powerful pillar commitment to philanthropy.