Based on the 100-year heritage and educational excellence of Beech Hall School in the UK, this recent opening is groundbreaking for Saudi Arabia. Of the 44 international schools in Riyadh, it is the only non-selective, all-inclusive, co-ed choice for parents – so a real revelation. The first launch by Chatsworth Schools’ new international division, Blenheim Schools, it had its inaugural intake of pupils in August 2022. A senior section was added in September 2023, catering for boys and girls up to Grade 9.
Designed in collaboration with UK agency Space Zero, specialists in rethinking traditional learning environments, the school is housed in a contemporary purpose-built building in Riyadh that eschews clinical classrooms and avoids sensory overload – spaces are light and airy, with blond wood tables and a warm, calming colour palette. Crucially they are flexible too, so they can be adapted to the curriculum and children’s interests. There are soon-to-be-completed specialist classrooms for design technology and science, computing labs for coding, a theatre, a pool and sports playing courts. The playground is fully equipped with a sandpit, climbing frames, toys and tricycles.
Executive Principal Clemmie Stewart took up her role in September 2023, tasked with overseeing the strategic development of the whole school, as well as heading up the Primary and Senior Girls’ sections. Previously Director of Learning and Teaching at Chatsworth Schools, she’s been involved with Beech Hall Riyadh right from the start, helping to set up and establish the school.
David Ardley left the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz in Switzerland to take up the role of Founding Principal, and now leads the Boys' section. A D&T teacher by trade (an area he is especially keen to develop and push the boundaries on here), he grew up in Hong Kong and has worked in schools all over Europe. We found him to be incredibly warm, chatty and passionate about the school and its vision.
The school is mixed up to Grade 6, and then it's single sex from Grade 6 upwards, as per the Saudi rule. The idea is to grow from primary upwards, with a total capacity of 1,300. As a non-selective school, there is no entrance exam or assessment, and Beech Hall School Riyadh will accept children needing any degree of learning support (to a maximum of 25 per cent of pupils with additional learning needs enrolled at any one time).
When pupils reach secondary school, they will have the choice of following the IB programme or the American High School Curriculum for an American High School Diploma. As with the rest of the school (and others under the Chatsworth Schools umbrella), the international curriculum is overlaid with the bespoke Beech Hall School Riyadh Tapestry – essentially six strands that the school believes are crucial to turning out globally minded citizens and ensuring a skills-based learning experience. These include mindset, wellbeing, entrepreneurship, sustainability and digital literacy. The majority of teaching will be in English. There is a no-homework policy in all years (we can practically hear pupils cheering from here), which the school believes makes for a better school-family balance.
Beech Hall Riyadh’s highly experienced Head of Inclusion Faiza Mubeen and her team ensure that all children at the school with mild to moderate SEND needs receive additional support as part of their education here. Speech and language specialists are on site as well as a school counsellor, so there is lots of support – classroom help, individual support, peer support, study-skills help and independent-learning guidance – and EAL for those who need it. There are dedicated areas in the school for occupational therapy, emotional and behavioural support, physical therapy and sensory support. There is also an enrichment programme so high-achieving pupils can be stretched to reach their full potential.
With a 500-seat auditorium and music rooms, facilities are in place for a strong performing and creative arts programme. Sports classes offer pupils the chance to take part in gymnastics, dance, fitness and mindful yoga; swimming lessons are held in the on-site pool.
Children discuss with staff what clubs they'd like to be run during and after school, and a full programme is offered throughout the year.
All teachers are keen to develop the ethos of the school, believing that with the backing of the Crown Prince, the approach to education in the country is changing. Parents are an international crowd with a broad mindset, many drawn back to Saudi Arabia from abroad due to the current investment drive. Health and wellbeing have been a priority from the outset and take a steer from Happy Space, a mental health and wellbeing charity, on how to ensure that pupils develop their minds and resilience.
This school might still be finding its feet but it stands out from the educational crowd for its unique non-selective, inclusive approach.