Dubai English Speaking School

Best Primary School in the UAE, 2019/20

This proved another very tough category to judge. The quality of Primary provision in the UAE, and particularly British curriculum primary provision, is stand-out in the region. What stands out, for us, however with our chosen winner in this category is an outstanding balance of innovation, leadership and investment.

All shortlisted schools here are outstanding and any one of them pretty much guarantees a first-class Early Years education at the highest level whether measured in UAE terms of reference or indeed globally. Each school met our brief head-on.


We looked at the following areas in reaching our decision:


(1) Whilst our views on testing at this age are mixed, all schools here establish baselines to track progress – and follow through. Most have dedicated slipstreams – and we have looked at the transitions between the schools and their setting up the “fit.”

(2) Care of children. We have looked at breadth and depth of child engagement within the context of standards of child care and school environment. None of these schools falls at either end of the spectrum of hot house or unstructured learning. Balance is the key here within the context of high calibre teaching and investment in resources

(3) School leadership and impact – here we have been looking at how the schools differentiate themselves, their levels of innovation and strategic ongoing investment. Two schools in the following have strong claims to have moved beyond delivering outstanding early years learning to actually shaping best practice.

(4) Finally, we looked to how the schools met our value structure.


In this category, however, we do have a clear winner in DESS that we think must win on pure science – but we also have a school that should also win on the basis of something that is, whilst intangible, profound.

Worth closing on a few words why we think this category is important.


Commercially, primary schools make much less sense when set against the profits of their all-through competitors. There is little incentive for new Primaries, so we need to celebrate and nurture those we have. We are of the view that Primaries, on balance, have the edge over integrated all-through provision – they protect childhood in a way that very, very few all-through schools can, however cleverly they are designed to demarcate learning.


Primary specialism too, in an educational context, reaps dividends for children. There is a shortage of places in this sector – the bigger picture is inspiring new investment and expansion of the outstanding schools we have.


It’s an uphill struggle because of commercial pressures – and the ideal small school role blueprint that tops the wish-list criteria of parents.


Whilst just missing out on our top spot for Best British School, DESS is our firm recommendation for Best Primary. As written elsewhere, “It’s very difficult to describe just how successful the remodelling of DESS is – it has set a benchmark in our view on how to manage the transition of children during early years learning. Learning has been set up to travel through three two-year phases – and the children physically experience almost three completely different schools within one school. Certain elements are carried through from the earlier phases to maintain the core aspects of school identity, but with progressing sophistication of learning cleverly blended into the mix as children mature in the school.”

“We are hugely proud to have come out on top what is a seriously impressive list of schools... Absolutely blown away.” Jane Shaddick-Brady, Deputy Head, DESS

We have not seen this done in any other school. It’s almost a Disneyland theme park for children – that’s the best way of describing it, particularly in the later years, when you add into the mix the extraordinary investment in child-friendly engines of imagination that seem to pop all over the place. From indoor fountains and water gardens, to a Head of Technology delving into the wondrous possibilities of tool boxes, the school is a feast for the senses and mind. In the younger ages, the effect is like a tunnel within we counted at least 40 different activity clusters.


As the children become older you can see the impact of DESC working its way down. It’s significantly more “adult” with a clear sense of purpose.


DESS has for too long been overshadowed by its slipstream outstanding school – and we think it’s time that DESS, in its own right, secures the recognition that it undoubtedly deserves. The approximate AED 18M investment in the school has been transformational.


But it is the role of DESS in preparing children for their eventual success at DESC that has been unrecognised historically – and we know that this has, bluntly, hurt. This award very much aims to correct an injustice.


The stakes are three-fold higher, however, too.


First, it is rare to see this level of investment in a Primary. That should be recognised because it sets the bar high for other schools (and the beneficiaries of investment are children).


Second, as above, what DESS has achieved here is not short of a transformed model of British primary delivery. By sharing its model across the sector the awards can achieve impacts for other schools.


Third, and importantly given our values, we need to celebrate female leadership in education more than we do as a sector currently and the awards are a clear vehicle for this. DESS, as other schools here, fit this brief.


Even with flowering and proliferating DESS strengths, this is a hard category to judge. EYFS education is structured outstandingly in many schools and the achievements of schools here in our shortlist are all outstanding. The Primary sector in the UAE, at its very highest levels here, is globally competitive and all of these schools have very powerful cases to make. Only DESS here, however, can stake the claim, on the back of its investment, to re-define what Primary education looks like. That, for us, tips the balance, and powerfully.


In practice, what this stacks up for, for parents seeking the most outstanding primary education for their children in the UAE is a school, in DESS, that delivers a structured breadth of education that gets the foundations established for outstanding educational journeys to come. It’s a happy school, an inspiring one, with investment in individual child focus, teaching expertise, resources and leadership that is palpable and impressive. The journey for each child is mapped more carefully and powerfully than we have seen in any other Primary – it is that impressive and special. The DESX slipstream is the icing on the cake – but make no mistake, this is a Primary school that deserves its accolades and reputation in its own right. DESC would certainly not be the (outstanding) school it is without its DESS slipstream.



The Backstage Interview


Established: 1963
KHDA Rating: Very Good with Outstanding features (will be Outstanding 2019)
KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects – historically data now addresses
Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding
Fees: AED 36K – 45K
Number of students: 1022
Age of role: 3 – 11
Curriculum: British Primary
School type: NFP
Number of students with SEND: 54/5.2%) (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)
Number of Emirati children: 6/0.6% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)

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