Cranleigh Abu Dhabi

Best School for Theatre and the Performing Arts in the UAE, 2019/20

Whilst there has been much focus on integrating the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in recent years, increasingly educators are recognising the importance of the Arts as the creative, innovative glue that connects and actions the hard sciences. 

Studying performing arts enhances a 21st century focus that highlights the transferable skills of Critical Reflection where students gain valuable life skills by learning the importance of feedback, both positive and constructive, together with self-reflection – a vital skill for life after school.  The Performing Arts discipline encourages collaboration and teamwork, whether that is in writing, creating or during the act of performing. Through creative expression students learn to understand the world in a unique way, preparing them to navigate the challenges after school. Finally, communication skills can be accelerated through performing arts, as students learn to use verbal and non-verbal techniques in new ways to deliver their message. 


The Performing Arts in education provides students with the opportunity to engage the mind, the body and emotions into a collaborative expression of all that it means to be human. Through study and performance, students explore and present great themes and ideas. They discover their own voice, grow in confidence and develop empathy and ethical insight into the contradictions and paradoxes of the human condition.  Individually, students may also find new levels of confidence through performing arts. A prospective barrister, for example, with a professional future built on the ability to perform in court  and build empathy, requires skills that flow naturally from this discipline.


In many findings, researchers are linking the study of Performing Arts to better child development and higher academic achievement. These findings demonstrate that children studying music, dance and drama are more proficient in reading, writing and mathematics. In countries with students that rank highly in these subjects, such as Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands, arts and music education form a mandatory part of a school’s curriculum. Other studies show children exposed to all three performing arts are happier, more engaged and enjoy going to school — all of which contribute to their future success.


Our view of the schools following has developed in most cases over a period of years visiting the schools, and experiencing the reality and evolution of their offers, beyond the marketing mumbo jumbo that all schools seem to use these days to play lip service to the broader ambitions of holistic education. All of our finalists deserve their place – and in different ways represent what outstanding school delivery, commitment and vision looks like in the Performing Arts discipline. This is of course measured not only in terms of performance, but the much broader impacts on children across disciplines and school life. 


The winner of the 2019 Award for the Best School for the Performing Arts in the UAE is Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi.


Cranleigh’s Performing Arts programme is unique to the region, offering subject specialist lessons throughout the school. Specialist Music lessons are timetabled in pre-prep. Key Stage 2 pupils from Year 3+ have one hour of specialist Drama & Music lessons every week with Dance on a PE rotation. The Drama curriculum at Cranleigh is bespoke and works through cross-curricular links across the school in supporting a range of subjects including the Humanities, ICT and English. Beyond classroom lessons, a vast array of co-curricular Performing Arts activities and events are offered for all pupils. 


Drama clubs, Dance companies, Music concerts and inter-house performing arts competitions form the day-to-day foundation of the school. The values of tenacity, teamwork and creativity emanating from the school’s moto Ex Cultu Robur: from culture comes strength, are embodied on a daily basis.


A Performing Arts scholarship programme sets the standards for performers from Year 7+. Students are able to gain individual Dance, Music and Drama scholarships or an overall Performing Arts scholarship. GCSE and IGCSE results have been successful in the two years that the school has offered this level. 100% A-C has been gained across all areas with particular success in the recent 2018 IGCSE Drama cohort who gained 100% A-B. 


Events such as the Music Exchange to Cranleigh UK, hosting the inaugural BSME Dance and ISTA festivals have established the Performing Arts within the school, local and international community. 

“Delighted: Education is as much outside of the classroom as it is within.” Michael Wilson, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi

In our view the Performing Arts curriculum sets the benchmark for schools in the UAE. At the BSME Music & Drama Expo in Dubai and at the BBC INSET day, staff from the faculty presented to like-minded peers. The Director of Performing Arts presented at the 2018 London Music & Drama Expo. The Drama department has welcomed teachers from other schools to observe lessons and share best practice. 


Cranleigh Abu Dhabi has substantial and impressive Performing Arts resources including a 600-seat theatre, recital hall, dance studio, blackbox studio as well as purpose-built classrooms and practice areas. Beyond the regular curricular and co-curricular programmes, opportunities allow pupils to be inspired by external experts. These have included Mask and Ted Talk expert Russell Dean who led an Open Minds talk, followed by a weekend workshop for pupils. Parents from the school community were so inspired by Dean’s talk that the final workshop was opened for parent participation and sharing. 


Dance workshops have been attended at NYUAD with award winning British dancer Aakash Odera. Masterclasses took place at Emirates Palace lead by Bolshoi Theatre and invitations were extended from The Louvre Abu Dhabi for a one-off workshop with South African Dance Company Via Katlehong Dance. 


The Director of Performing Arts completed an ‘Ideas to Action’ research project, to complete an M.Ed at Trinity College Dublin. Eight participants from Science, Maths, Islamic Studies, Humanities and Early Years embarked upon a 6-month cross-curricular project, where drama in education skills were used to encourage active learning within other curriculum areas. All teachers successfully enhanced their teaching and learning with creative and innovative practice that was welcomed by pupils.


No better example of just how extraordinary the offer at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi really is, can be found in Opera projects, unique for the scale and support provided by professional artists brought to the school, the involvement of students and beyond outstanding public performances.  


Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy was a devised opera, created by students from Cranleigh in a partnership with professional UK practitioners. In celebration of the UAE’s Year of Zayed, and in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Tolerance, the opera was designed to celebrate the Year of Zayed and the environmental values he espoused so strongly, ultimately, challenging audiences to think about individual and collective responsibility for sustainable practices. 


The Director, Designer, Musical Director, Choreographer, Videographer and Librettist came to Abu Dhabi from the UK for devising workshops in June 2018 and then the final rehearsals and performance in October 2018.  The project involved students from Year 2 to Year 13 with over 80 children (from Cranleigh and two other Abu Dhabi schools). While the opera itself involved around 80 students, more than 800 students in Year 2 and above were engaged in its associated cross-curricular programme which was directly linked to the opera’s themes of heritage, identity and sustainability. Cranleigh’s outreach programme has formed links with other schools, notably including eight pupils from Abu Dhabi schools who were integrated within the Dance Company.


The opera was performed at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi in October 2018 and attended by HE Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, HE Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and many other dignitaries.  


The sheer investment scale and commitment (including scholarships) that Cranleigh Abu Dhabi has shown in building its Performing Arts programme, its outreach programme to the community at large and to other (local) schools, and its inclusion and focus on local culture and language, make this, for us, the standout Performing Arts School in the UAE. 



Established: 2014

ADEK Rating: Very Good with Outstanding features (we rate Outstanding and expect uplift 2019)

ADEK weakness: Arabic first, various issues with monitoring that come with new school territory

Subject breadth/meeting the needs of children: Now Outstanding (earlier issues in phased launch)

Fees: AED 65K – 97K

Number of students: 1033

Age of role: 4 – 18

Curriculum: British A Level and EPQ

School type: Private, for profit/governmental

Number of students with SEND: 4.6% (Above 5% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive for SEND) (Note G&T 38%)

Number of Emirati children: 17% (Above 10% in an international school we rate as outstandingly inclusive to the local population)

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