First look: Dubai English Speaking College's new sixth formOctober 14, 2017, 11:35 am GMT
Dubai English Speaking College officially opened its dedicated sixth form centre at an event hosted by the school on Thursday, October 12.
The not-for-profit school took over the neighbouring campus that once housed DPS Academy, after the Indian curriculum school closed in January 2017.
Over the course of nine months, the campus has undergone a major transformation, and the new purpose-built facility now houses 364 sixth form students.
The centre increases sixth form capacity to at least 500, principal Andy Gibbs told Education Journal Middle East during a tour of the new campus.
Facilities at the sixth form centre include various learning spaces for private and collaborative study, communal areas, a large dining area and kitchen, a zen garden and yoga studio.
The idea, according to assistant headteacher Roger Hancock, is to prepare students for independent study, similar to a university experience.
"When students go to university, this is the sort of environment they will be in, and there won't be teachers policing them. The onus is squarely on them – so we wanted to create that environment here and make them feel special - that was our goal," he explains.
The new sixth form centre also houses a fully kitted out gym - "arguably the best one in a UAE school" according to Gibbs, along with changing rooms with showers. Outdoor sports facilities have also doubled with the new complex. DESC now has a full-sized, all grass rugby field, a cricket pitch, and a mini golf course.
It's clear the team is very proud of the new campus. During our visit a week before the opening, Gibbs leaves us briefly to give prospective parents a tour of the centre despite everything still being covered with tarp.
In addition to a brand new sixth form campus, the school is also investing heavily in teaching and leadership staff. There are now nine dedicated senior leaders for sixth form, including a full-time careers coach, an academic enrichment manager, and a team member dedicated to university applications.
"We'rte trying to take away any excuses for students not having every bit of support to succeed both academically, socially and developmentally. We've got a team of nine senior leaders, and their sole remit is to support every sixth form student that comes through our doors.
"It's an expensive model, but to give the right platform and the right support to all these students, you need those roles and you need them to be filled properly. That's why it's such a huge investment – not just in the infrastructure here, but the staffing infrastructure to support sixth form. When you have 364 students, you have to look after every single one of them," Gibbs says.
While the new centre and sports facilities are world class, what really impressed us more is the school's dedication to offering a truly inclusive provision for students.
In addition to a full range of A Level qualification, DESC also offers BTEC options in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, Sport, Applied Science, Hospitality, and ICT. DESC is also mulling more BTEC options, including travel and tourism, and possibly engineering, although the latter would require specialist facilities that DESC is looking to create in the future.
This year, the school has also launched a new foundation year, which offers a number of Level 3 courses for students who may have struggled in Year 11 and haven't received the GCSE grades required to proceed to A Levels. This ensures that no student is left without an option to complete their learning at DESC, and avoids having students scrambling to find a school in the crucial final two years of schooling.
"When you're offered a place at DESC, the place is unconditional. If we offer a place in our sixth form, we will then find a suitable academic pathway for the student, whether that's a mixture of Level 2 and Level 3 courses, mixed with the BTEC qualification perhaps… or maybe BTEC and two A Levels, or even a four A Level course. There's lots of mix and match courses there because the idea is we find an academic pathway for every one of our student, and the transition is secure," Hancock says.
Gibbs adds: "So many other schools let kids go at 16 because they didn't get the grades the school wanted. They were told there's no pathway available to them. That's an approach that we won't take at DESC. If you're with us, you're with us for life; we will find a pathway for you. And I think this foundation year, which bridges the gap for students who found GCSEs quite tough and can't access an A Level course of BTEC course – I think there's a large market for that in Dubai."
While the school hasn't quite promoted its foundation year programme yet, DESC will place emphasis on it during the sixth form open evening scheduled for November. The flexibility of DESC's sixth form provision has also drawn students from other schools, Hancock tells EJME.
"We are truly not academically selective. We will find an academic pathway for everybody – that's what makes us unique; it's our selling point in sixth form. And as a knock on effect, lots of other students from other schools want to come here because of what we've got to offer," he says.
So what's next for DESC? We learn the new sixth form centre and facilities are only the "year one phase" of the new campus, with lots more development still on the cards.
"We want to grow incrementally. I don't want to open the floodgates and jeopardise what we've done so far. It needs to be a steady, managed, evolutionary growth," Gibbs says.