Founded in 1978, not-for-profit Dubai College (or DC, as it’s known locally) is one of the oldest schools in the UAE and regarded as one of the best in Dubai. For parents who are academically ambitious for their children, top-ranking DC is always on the list.
Set in 19 acres, in the very central Al Sufouh district. There’s a large expat compound within walking distance, and it’s well located for those living on the Palm (the only area that would require too long a commute is the Creek). Facilities are fantastic, from the state-of-the-art science block to the design suites and the SPACE building (Sport and Performing Arts Centre of Excellence), which opened in 2020. The recently updated Learning and Teaching Innovation Centre has classrooms with writable walls (the idea is that pupils can make their thoughts visible to others, so they are ‘thinking about each other’s thinking’). Brilliantly, the activities taking place in the areas outside the innovation centre can be patched into the theatre – pupils can listen to whatever is going on in that space.
There is a 10-year plan for a campus overhaul, which pupils have been really involved in; the architects have spent time with them at different stages to understand what they want from their school. Parents aren’t allowed into the school at drop off or pick up; children are dropped off from the car each morning. This is to encourage them to be independent and take charge of their own actions – although it could also be due to the fact that parking options are terrible around campus.
The school is split into lower (Years 7 to 9), middle (Years 10 and 11) and sixth form (Years 12 and 13).
The very impressive Michael Lambert is a relatively young head. Oxford-educated, he’s a good speaker and interested in innovative, research-backed approaches to education. We hear that he is much admired. The consensus from parents we spoke to is that he has great stature and charisma – the only whisper of dissent from some was that perhaps he doesn’t know the pupils as well as he could on an individual basis until they hit sixth form.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for such a highly rated school, the waiting list can be very long for all year groups (the latest round of applications for Year 7 saw 530 for 160 places). Prospective pupils sit an entrance exam in English, maths and reasoning, and also have an online interview. Officially there are no allowances for those with siblings in the school, but parents tell us that most are offered a place.
For Year 12, prospective students are also required to complete an interview with the head of sixth form and achieve a minimum of level of grades at GCSEs. No pupils are admitted in years 11 and 13.
There are strict rules on setting up a charity in the UAE, but DC has established the Dubai College Foundation in England and Wales, which will allow it to offer bursaries and a scholarship programme in the future.
Academics and university destinations
In Year 12, pupils’ study four A-levels, one of which can be dropped at the start of Year 13. Options include subjects such as philosophy, psychology and Latin, which aren’t found in many other UAE schools but have traditionally been favoured by UK universities. All sixth- formers participate in the Moral Education programme to prepare them for the challenges of life after DC. There are also timetabled ‘TopUP’ (Top University Preparation) lessons in a variety of subjects that aim to bridge the gap in knowledge and understanding between A-levels and university. Islamic studies is compulsory for Muslim pupils in Year 12, as is Arabic (as a first language) for Arabic passport holders. PE is compulsory for all.
About five per cent of pupils have SEN provision and receive one-to-one sessions or group work, depending on their needs. It’s worth noting that all children, including those with SEN, must meet the admissions criteria. DC is fully wheelchair-accessible (which is not the case for all schools in the UAE). Parents say that the school is also very supportive of gifted and talented pupils.
There are four pillars to DC: as well as academic endeavour, they are sport, creativity and philanthropy, and equal importance is given to each. Performing arts are excellent, and parents of children accepted into the school for the next academic year are invited to the big annual performance. DC has a summer exchange programme with Bedales’ drama department and participates in the Young Musicians of the Gulf competition (part of the British Schools of the Middle East’s programme of events).
DC is one of the leading schools for sports in the UAE (its main competition is the Dubai English Speaking School). Teams play in all the inter-Gulf events; expect all the usual sports including rugby, football, cricket and rounders. DC has real grass pitches – a rarity in the UAE.
The extracurricular activities programme is long established and well run, and offers some of the best options around (including unusual ones such as ancient Greek). There are lots of overseas trips, from geography excursions to Iceland to trips to Japan and New York.
There is a proactive approach to pastoral care. The school recently held a Positive Education Day, where pupils attended talks on social media and mental health; it also arranges Cognitive Education Days, which deal with mental health topics such as self-harming. Two counsellors are on hand for any issues, although some parents claim that if pupils don’t excel in the key areas (academia, sports, arts), there isn’t always the necessary support. Pupils are allocated a form tutor in Year 7 for their entire journey through the school.
The fact that parents haven’t been allowed in the school means that it hasn’t always been easy to get to know other families, but the new SPACE building has a café, which should improve things. The parents’ committee organises big social events, fundraising where possible (which recently paid for a new pavilion in the field). Annually, parents are invited to the ‘Headmaster’s Session’, where they can hear about and discuss the school’s progress and the research it has undertaken. There is also a very active alumni association – again, something not offered by many UAE schools because the majority are so new.
A superb option for academically strong children, but note: they do need to be able to meet high expectations and keep up with continual tests.