The vision at Cranleigh in the UK has always been to provide a broad education for local children – and that ethos is carried through in Abu Dhabi, where the school opened in 2014. Rooted in heritage and tradition, and infused with Middle Eastern culture, this is one of the top schools in the capital of the UAE.
The school resides on beautiful Saadiyat Island, around 20 minutes’ drive from central Abu Dhabi (for this reason, most families with children at the school tend to live on the island itself). There is no bus system, but there is ample parking for drop-off and pick-up – a big relief in a place where everyone drives everywhere. All sections of the school share the campus – a series of low-rise, white structures – but because the pre-prep and prep has its own building, it feels like a small community within a community (parents tell us that it’s a key reason for choosing the school).
Previously head of Cranleigh Prep in the UK, Michael Wilson took up the post of principal in 2018. He was heavily involved in setting up the school and we hear only good things (friendly, welcoming, thorough) from parents. In September 2023 Tracy Crowder-Cloe, currently Head of Senior and whole school Vice-Principal of Repton, Dubai, will take over the reigns from Mr Wilson.
The new head of the prep school is Adam Gibson, a real believer in giving children the best opportunity possible – whether that’s on the sports field or in a science lab. His last role was at Wellington Prep, where he was head for a decade. Mr Gibson is organised and a brilliant communicator.
From Year 3 onwards, prospective pupils are required to do an online assessment and the head of year will have an informal chat with each child to find out their interests.
Scholarships are available for talented pupils joining in Year 7 and above. All scholarships have a fee reduction – the top awards are calculated as the difference between Cranleigh’s fees and the candidate’s current school fees.
Cranleigh follows the English national curriculum. In Years 3 and 4, pupils are taught in mixed-ability classes, with some subjects (drama, music, PE, art, French, Arabic and Islamic studies) delivered by specialist staff. Setting is introduced in Year 5; in Year 7, non-Muslims opt to take either Latin or Spanish as an additional language. Pupils prepare for Common Entrance at the end of Year 8.
The head of SEN Is Carolyn Wilson, wife of the head and previously head of learning support at Cranleigh Prep in the UK. In the past, we’ve heard mixed reports about the SEN provision, so we’re hoping that with Mrs Wilson’s appointment things will improve. There is a speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist and a school counsellor on site.
Performing arts are a real highlight and include dance classes galore, lessons in more than 30 musical instruments and, for those in Years 7 to 9, a visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi (also on Saadiyat Island) where children work with the museum to dream up creative ways to present their art.
Sport for all and netball, football, rugby, golf, swimming and cricket are the main disciplines (basketball, badminton and volleyball are also offered). Masses of clubs – including baking, art, yoga and ICT. Children are advised on the number of extracurricular activities to take and assessed in their efforts. Girlguiding is popular too.
Pastoral care is at the core of the school and the calendar is full of wellbeing initiatives for pupils. One parent told us how, when her child joined Cranleigh, the school (knowing that he struggles to settle into new places) arranged for a teaching assistant to spend a few minutes playing his favourite game of chess with him each morning.
The school tries to create a culture of wellbeing through putting into practice actions in three areas: the head (mental health), the heart (sustainability; pupils are encouraged to take part in beach clean-ups on Saadiyat Island) and the hand (tolerance, charity and outreach). Cranleigh also has a specific ‘value of the month’ with one child per class chosen as the winner and awarded a certificate. Positive pastoral notes are emailed to a child’s form tutor and added to their file (for effort in a particular piece of work, for instance). Before the end of each day in the primary years, children do an activity that focuses on wellbeing (such as reading a story about kindness, bullying or positive mental health).
There is a Cranleigh Community Committee consisting of parents and teachers that arranges speakers and topic mornings, further reinforcing the community aspect that’s threaded throughout the school. The on-site coffee shop in the atrium of the secondary school is hugely welcoming and usually packed with parents after drop-off.
Cranleigh Abu Dhabi – one of the newer schools on the educational scene and already making waves – lives according to its motto: Ex Cultu Robur, meaning ‘From Culture Comes Strength’.