| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Repton School in Dubai

Repton is Dubai’s first boarding school, but will it tempt kids from overseas?

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At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Repton School for a desert-bound Disney Castle. Its grand campus prickles with turrets, port-cullises, and palms – an incongruous yet undeniably impressive addition to the otherwise desolate environs of the aptly named Academic City in Nad Al Sheba. But beyond the fancy facade lies one of the most recent additions to Dubai’s fast-growing number of educational institutions.
 
Repton has been open for more than two years now and is still a work in progress (building work is ongoing). But the school still comfortably facilitates 1,700 students, from the ages of three to 18. Other than its fairytale campus, Repton sets itself apart from the plethora of Dubai-based international schools as it is the Middle East’s very first boarding school. The boys’ boarding house opened in 2009, while the girls’ house will open in September 2010.

Repton’s boarding facilities make it a pioneer in the region, but it remains to be seen whether the competition will follow suit. After all, expats in Dubai who choose a boarding education for their children do so because they want them to be educated in their home country. However, Nigel Kew, head of boarding at Repton believes parents now have an enticing alternative. ‘For one,’ he says, ‘there are many people who believe in the boarding school system who don’t want to be countries away from their children.’

Repton’s pupils have the option of enrolling as weekly boarders, enabling them to return to their families at weekends and get the best of both worlds (boarding house camaraderie throughout the week, home comforts at weekends). It also spares mum and dad the hassle of negotiating traffic on the daily school run.

Repton’s director of admissions, Felicity Bosworth, believes boarding is appealing because it offers children of transient families some stability, and assurance for parents whose careers take them from country to
country: ‘So many families are on the move… having your child in boarding gives students stability and a continuity of education if a family’s circumstances do indeed change.’

While all these are valid points, the service isn’t cheap. It costs more to educate a student in Years 11 -12 at Repton in Dubai, than at its more established namesake in England.Why choose Dubai when you can get the ‘real thing’ for less money? Judging Repton’s appeal purely in the context of expatriate families would be folly, say supporters, who argue that by positioning itself in the Middle East, the school has repackaged the ‘British experience’ and made boarding accessible to affluent families in the UAE and beyond.

Take 15-year-old Asad Kamal from Pakistan. Since Dubai is only a three-hour flight away, Asad’s parents visited Repton before enrolling him. Though Repton goes to great lengths to promote its historic connections with its British namesake, its curriculum is tailored towards international students who will go on to study at international universities. ‘My dad wanted me to be educated in an international environment,’ says Asad, who hopes to study in the US after completing his International Baccalaureate. ‘And for me this school has all the subjects I need.’ In addition to sating Asad’s academic appetite, Repton affords him the opportunity to explore Dubai and the UAE through organised activities and field trips – music to the ears of parents tired of kids complaining they’ve nothing to do at weekends other than loiter in malls. Asad has visited Europe with the school and will attend Repton in England as an exchange student.

Meanwhile, Assonaly, from Kazakhstan, is a weekly border. His parents live in Dubai and Assonaly boards to improve his spoken English. Repton’s student base consists of 61 nationalities, and the school helps non-fluent English speakers by holding special language classes. For students such as Assonaly, there’s no better way to learn than living in an environment where English is prevalent.

Of course, Repton’s facilities are second to none. ‘Really, anything and everything is available,’ says headmaster David Cook. ‘Repton is for parents wishing to send their children to a school with the best standards in the region. We recruit our teachers globally from IB schools and from the UK’s independent private schools.’

The success of the school’s boarding depends on an appetite for traditional English education (with international characteristics) from families in the Middle East and the rest of the world. From speaking to Asad and Assonaly the future, for now, looks bright.
Manama Street, Nad Al Sheba (04 426 9393; info@reptondubai.org; www.reptondubai.org). Co-ed. Nursery-Year 12. English/IB. Transport available.

By Oliver Robinson
Time Out Dubai,

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