Riverston School Dubai

Best International Initiative, 2019/20

Our five finalists this year for the 2019 Award for Best International Initiative in the UAE, in different ways, build bridges between the UAE and one or more countries.

Two of our finalists (Dubai International Academy and Nibras School) have placed Model United Nations at the core of their curriculum and have used it as a springboard to build international links and global understanding at the heart of school life and learning. Where Dubai International Academy is content to follow a fairly traditional Model United Nations, Nibras want to turn a “talking shop” into a vehicle for direct action.

One school has forged close international links as part of their seeking global solutions, technology innovation and learning in sustainability. Fairgreen International School recognises that, having set up a school to work in a high-tech sector, they have no choice but to build international links with relevant organisations to make it credible and deliver for children.

Two schools working together generate the charitable funds for, and then build, a new school to educate 210 children in Nepal. Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) and Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), together, achieve an international first for the UAE in a building a school overseas – and generating the funds to sustain it.

Finally, one school here, and our choice for this year’s Award, is itself the result of an international initiative in SEND.


With Riverston School Dubai, the school itself is the international initiative – and one designed to support vulnerable children with specific SEND needs not currently catered for with mainstream education.

Our guiding focus here has been looking for schools that are outward looking; schools that use an international context to develop the whole child and expand academic horizons beyond the core curriculum.

“We are proud and humbled to have been recognised in the Top School Awards tonights.” Riverston Dubai

Our lens in making our decision has been:

(1) Every international initiative has to have had a defined impact and benefit within the UAE and at least one other country
(2) Every initiative must have in some way created a bridge between the UAE and one or more countries with some degree of longevity and sustainability
(3) The initiative must have had defined impacts on education and the holistic development of children, whether in the UAE or overseas, or both.

Whatever the shape of international initiative in the following, every school here, in outstanding ways, delivers on their ambition.

Riverston School Dubai is a new school, launched in September 2018. The school’s opening has, according to its owners, taken ten years to bring to fruition in planning that has involved individuals and organisations worldwide. The aim of the new school is to mirror “the outstanding work of Riverston Group globally, but in Dubai.”

The school sets itself apart by providing specialist support to children with additional learning requirements, and those with mild/moderate special educational needs who are too vulnerable to attend every-day schooling, between the ages of four and eleven years of age.”

The aim of the international project is “to make a difference for those children who need it most and yet fall through the cracks of mainstream education.” Riverston faculty have spoken passionately to us in terms of the “forgotten children.”

The Riverston School initiative has been established by Tarbia (meaning education in Arabic). Established in 2014, the company is a joint venture between Belhasa Group and Oman-based Daud Group. Tarbia operates in three education sub-sectors: early childhood education, special needs diagnostic and therapy centers, and international schools. Today, it is an umbrella company for the Riverston Children’s Centre (RCC) for Special Educational Needs and Riverston School (a joint international partnership with the Riverston Group, a London based provider of services for children with special educational needs), and Busy Bees Tarbia, a joint venture with Busy Bees Childcare, a UK nursery provider.

The Riverston Group currently manages Riverston School, London; Beech Hall School, Macclesfield; Riverston Children’s Centre, Dubai; and joint venture activities in India and Chatsmore School in Bermuda. The founding of Riverston in Dubai links an international network of schools, without which the school could neither have been possible or sustained.

Globally, the total number of students in Riverston schools is more than 400 children between the ages of 9 months and 21yrs.
The school told us: “In both the UAE and India, this sort of provision simply would not have been possible without international partnerships, intellectual exchange and investment.”

Children’s Centres have initially been established in both Dubai (Riverston Children’s Centres) and Delhi to support assessment and early intervention for young children, especially those with speech, language and communication difficulties.
Riverston’s international work has been recognised by the UK Government in the UKTI brochure featuring case studies in Special Educational Needs (see page 11) – more here.

“Through this international NFP initiative, one that bridges continents, the life of many children can now be transformed and improved. This initiative has been designed to give back to the people and children of the UAE that need it most.”

In many ways, this project mirrors that of DESS and DESC. Here though the project has been developed by adults, rather than in association with children at the school. Both achieve building of a new school, though here this is in Dubai rather than overseas. Both have required generating funds and building global partnerships to make the initiative happen. Both have had profound impacts in education and the lives of vulnerable children.

Our view is that this category is no simpler than any of the others to judge. But, on balance, Riverston School Dubai is the project that would most benefit from winning here. The achievement, ambition and courage here in its development of a world class alternative for families with child SEND needs that are currently often addressed through home schooling deserves recognition.
Dubai, and the broader UAE, would lose much without the potential Riverston School Dubai brings with it to utterly transform the lives of some of our most vulnerable children. Any one of us who have spoken with the families that have been supported by Riverston are left in no doubt that it represents something of a miracle for them.

You cannot be unmoved.
Riverston School Dubai is a deserving winner of the 2019 2019 Award for Best International Initiative in the UAE. This is a school that utterly transforms lives for the most vulnerable in our society. Its work with, and care for, families and children simply takes your breath away.


The Backstage Interview 




Established: 2005

KHDA Rating: Outstanding (2012 – 18)
KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding Fees:Arabic subjects
Number of students: 20 students (300 capacity)
Age of role: Primary 4+
Curriculum: British EYFS and specialist SEND
School type: Private, for-profit
Number of students with SEND: 15/75% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 4/20%(Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population) 18

See the 2019 winners

Best UAE Post-16 School 2019/20

Best School in the UAE 2019/20

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