The sibling school to long-established Dubai English Speaking School (DESS), the Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) opened in 2005. It picks up where the primary school leaves off: it’s rated Outstanding by the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) of Dubai and follows the UK curriculum.
DESC is inland, in Academic City, and the school serves a lot of compounds such as Arabian Ranches. It’s split into three sections: KS3 (Years 7 to 9), KS4 (Years 10 and 11) and KS5 (Years 12 and 13). In 2017, the school renovated a property next door and practically doubled the size of its campus, including a new sixth-form centre that caters for 500 students.
Designed with a university campus feel, it incorporates learning spaces for private and collaborative study, indoor and outdoor social spaces, a big dining area and kitchen, plus a zen garden and yoga studio to promote mindfulness. The library is fantastic too and has around 12,500 books.
Andrew Gibbs is principal of both DESS and DESC and he ensures cohesion between the two schools. His mission, the website states, is that ‘no child at DESS and DESC will ever, ever, be left behind. Every single young man and woman will leave Dubai English Speaking College with whatever they need to meet their own potential and ambitions for their lives ahead.’ At other schools, this might just be lip service, but from parents we’ve spoken to, here it seems to be true.
Chris Vizzard is the head of DESC, who manages the day-to-day running of the school.
DESC is always oversubscribed and there is a waiting list for all years: the best way to guarantee a place is to come up through DESS, where the transition is automatic (at the discretion of the head). There are around 1,700 pupils in DESC, which is large for schools in this region. Children applying from a school other than DESS are required to sit an entrance assessment with both verbal and non-verbal reasoning elements. These are used to determine their general academic level to ensure that each pupil can access the curriculum offered. Children must be fluent in English to apply. For the sixth form, an original School Leaving Certificate from the previous school is required to register. All potential students are also required to attend a formal interview.
Academics and university destinations
DESC follows the UK curriculum, with pupils studying for IGCSEs, followed by A-levels or BTECs. In the sixth form, EPQs are offered to anyone interested in extending their knowledge in a specific subject.
Around 10 per cent of pupils have additional needs and the support provided to children comes at no extra cost. We hear very positive reports of this assistance and how inclusive the school is at dealing with children on a case-by-case basis, monitoring constantly and developing strong relationships with parents.
Although non-selective, academically this is a school that delivers. There is a careers coach and academic enrichment manager who can help students with their university applications (all pupils are encouraged to do some work experience to support their subject choices). The majority tend to go on to study at a university in the UK.
DESC has a well-respected performing-arts department with facilities that encompass relatively new music recording studios, as well as studios for dance and photography. An hour of music is compulsory for everyone each week. There’s an annual Year 12 and 13 photography exhibition and a big yearly drama production.
One of the leading schools for sport in Dubai and the UAE, DESC is on a par with Dubai College. The new sixth-form centre doubled the size of the sports complex and it now arguably has the best gym facility in the UAE, in addition to full-sized rugby and football pitches, cricket nets, Astroturf pitches and much more. There is a development programme for those who excel in swimming, netball, football and rugby. Pupils are taken out of class twice a week for skill sessions with elite athletes that teach them strength, conditioning and team training.
Children are expected to take part in at least one extracurricular activity. Options span everything from beginner brass and LAMDA drama to debate club and Model United Nations. There are plenty of trips on offer, from skiing and sports to Tanzania in conjunction with the Dubai Cares charity. DESC Eco Club promotes pro-planet initiatives such as reducing plastic and paper waste (each tutor group agrees a pledge each year which they collectively aim to achieve).
The British are the predominant nationality and very few Emiratis attend the school (there are a total of 60 nationalities enrolled).
Parents tell us how amazingly supportive and caring the school is, and there is a genuine focus on providing roots for the children (very helpful if their friends leave, as so often happens in transient Dubai). Each house has a head, deputy head, parent liaison and a team of tutors who are responsible for their pupils’ wellbeing.
GROW is DESC’s wellbeing curriculum that teaches children to be empowered and the art of self-improvement; there are weekly lessons for those in KS3 and KS4. As part of this, external speakers are invited in to talk about subjects such as mental health, self-defence and how to be an active learner. Parents are also often invited to participate in GROW information sessions so that the whole DESC community is working together to support the children. There are shared initiatives with DESC around health and personal security too, as well as community events that encourage a collaborative feel.
Truly inclusive and with a real community spirit, this is a school where a child’s happiness is as important as results.