Dubai English Speaking College

Best School for Technical Education in the UAE, 2019/20

As one of our core ambitions as an organisation is to evangelise the importance of providing technical education streams for children, and to celebrate its capacity to enhance education, this Award category is a very important one for journalists. So much more importantly, it is for children. We think it goes to the very heart of defining what makes a good, let alone outstanding school. And no school should be exempted.  

The background here is not a happy one worldwide. Simply, technical, or vocational, education has historically been politicised as an after-thought and deleteriously described, by the worst schools, as the option for “thick children.” Gifted children study for real qualifications, where the failures sit BTEC, so the spurious and damaging argument went.  


Today the story is so different. This is in no small part due to the International Baccalaureate Organisation which, in launching the Career-related Programme, undermined this prejudice by meshing the Diploma core with, for the most part, BTEC. But the KHDA in Dubai also deserve significant credit. 


Abu Dhabi has been some way behind Dubai in technical stream education because ADEK did not recognise the IB CP until 2017. In Dubai pioneer schools like Greenfield have helped to re-draw the landscape and expectation of what inclusive education looks like.


Snobbish-ness, for want of a better word, sadly still persists in some schools. We believe it isn’t justified and damages children. Why should even academic children not have the opportunity to mix and match with vocational and technical options? What does it say to them about children in other schools, and broader society, when it is explained to them why BTEC is not “suitable” for them?


We think all schools, should be offering both technical and academic streams for children. Every school here does this. And they deserve to be celebrated. 


This is an issue that is seeing a final resolution through the launch of T Levels in the UK, the naming deliberate to give the qualification the prestige of A’ levels. All finalist schools here are way ahead of the curve. Every one of them we rate as outstanding in their meeting the broadest possible needs, potential, ambition and potential of children.   


Our winner of the 2019 Award for Best School for Technical and Vocational Education, is won by Dubai English Speaking College.    


As our editors have notes elsewhere in these awards, Dubai English Speaking School, for us, defines (with BSAK) inclusive schooling – and it is ultimately why we think it is very important that this school is recognised. 


There are legion examples, but probably the best, in such a short space, is the way that the school responded to an academically struggling child this year. Faced with this, the easiest and most likely result for lesser schools would have been for the child to leave without qualifications (and arguably hope). 


But DESC claims it will never abandon a child. 


As a result, at huge expense and investment of man hours, they worked with the child to build an entire course around him so that he would graduate school with a “business in a box” enabling him to start a professional career. This involved bringing in external experts in business, finance, recruiting specialist teachers and mapping an entire programme around the child’s needs. 


This inclusive aspect of the school shines equally elsewhere, but particularly in Sport where the clear concentration on results is matched with an absolute care to be as inclusive as possible with children so that all children are engaged with and find their own place of joy in a subject that in many schools leaves an in crowd and outsiders. 

“We have put huge effort into expanding the development of the BTEC at DESC, and are hugely proud of this recognition.” Matthew Cotgrove, DESC

Sixth Form provision and subject choice, particularly in BTEC, is a testament to how seriously the school is committed to meeting the needs of all children. Telling was the school’s researching of buying an engineering company so as to be able to provide the BTEC in Engineering. Ultimately the cost just proved too prohibitive – but the fact that it was explored says everything about a school driven to meet the needs of every child. The Sixth form physical facility at DESC, in its design, flow and inspiration, is the best of any school in the UAE. 


Finally, School leadership, in the shape of Andy Gibbs, is so impressive. But there is a much bigger picture that he considers outside the school in how it can engage with all schools to build the capacity and quality of education across the UAE – and how on an ongoing basis, he can learn from other schools the many ways he can drive DESC forward with best practice. Feedback to us is of someone who is very open to other schools, works tirelessly to build bridges between them, and who cares as much about what happens outside his school in broader education within the UAE as within it.


BTEC Options at DESC are overall the broadest available in the UAE because of the structural ways they are implemented. First, they are introduced at standard Sixth Form, through:


• BTEC – Hospitality (1 A level equivalent)

• BTEC – Entrepreneurship & Enterprise (2 A level equivalent)

• BTEC – Sport (2 A level equivalent)

• BTEC – Travel & Tourism (2 A level equivalent)

• BTEC Creative Media (2019-20)


These are supplemented with an alternative/optional technical stream pathway:


• Applied Science (1 A level equivalent)


But Second, DESC also promises to provide a pathway for all students. To this end it delivers a bespoke Foundation Year Programme for students who struggle to meet the entry requirements (5 GCSE subjects at grade C or level 4 and above), to study for Level 3 courses. As a result, no child is ever excluded from DESC Sixth Form entry – and more, is guaranteed a slipstream, industry or university, on graduating the school. Options here include: 


BTEC Level 2 – Extended Certificate (equivalent to 2 GCSE grades) in Business Studies

BTEC Level 2 – Extended Certificate in Sport

BTEC Level 2 – Certificate (equivalent to 1 GCSE grade) in ICT


The school delivers, dependent on the needs of the child, completely bespoke programmes from scratch to ensure that, for example, if a child faces eventual graduation from the school without a university pathway, they are set up with a viable business and funding to pursue a direct route to industry. 


No school in the UAE comes anywhere this level of proven technical and vocational stream provision, delivery and bespoke matchmaking for children to ensure their slipstream pathways beyond Sixth Form. 



The Backstage Interview 


Established: 2005

KHDA Rating: Outstanding 

KHDA weakness: Arabic subjects, data 

Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Outstanding 

Fees: AED 78K – 84K

Number of students: 1514

Age of role: Secondary 11 – 18

Curriculum: British (GCSE, A Level plus BTEC)

School type: Not-for-profit

Number of students with SEND: 129/8.5% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND)

Number of Emirati children: 18/1.2% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population) 

See the 2019 winners

Best for Progress and Value Add

Best School in the UAE 2019/20

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