At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Repton School for a desert-bound Disney Castle. Its grand campus prickles with turrets, portcullises, 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, in some respects, is still a work in progress – building work is still ongoing and it’s hoped the campus will be completed in the next few years – but the school still comfortably facilitates 17,000 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 since it is now the Middle East’s very first boarding school. The boys’ boarding house has been up and running since 2009, while the girls’ boarding house is scheduled to 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, the expatriates 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 to sending children hundreds of miles for their schooling.
‘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.’
In addition to the full boarding at Repton, pupils have the option of enrolling as weekly boarders, enabling them to return to their families at weekends. Not only does this give the child the best of both worlds (the camaraderie of the boarding house throughout the week and the comfort of home at weekends) but, on a practical level, it spares mum and dad the hassle of negotiating traffic on the daily school run.
Repton’s director of admissions, Felicity Bosworth, believes that another appeal of boarding here in Dubai is that it offers the 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 continuity of education if a family’s circumstances do indeed change.’
While all these are valid points, it’s worth keeping in mind that it costs more to educate a student in Year 11 and 12 at Repton in Dubai than at its more established namesake in Derbyshire, England. In today’s economic climate, this is a hugely important consideration for any family; one that might well lessen the appeal of the school to Dubai-based expatriates. After all, why choose Repton Dubai when you can get the ‘real thing’ for less money?
But to assess the appeal of Repton’s new boarding facilities purely in the context of expatriate families would be folly – by positioning itself in the Middle East, Repton has effectively repackaged the ‘British boarding school experience’ and made it an accessible option to affluent families in the UAE and beyond.
Take, for example, 15-year-old Asad Kamal from Pakistan. Since Dubai is only a three-hour flight away, Asad’s parents were easily able to visit Repton’s facilities for themselves before deciding to enrol Asad. And though Repton in Dubai goes to great lengths to promote its historic connections with its British namesake, its curriculum is very much tailored to international students who will go onto study at universities across the globe.
‘My dad wanted me to be educated in an international environment,’ says Asad, who wants to study in the States after completing his International Baccalaureate at Repton. ‘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 by means of organised activities and field trips – music to the ears of any parent tired of having their children complain of not having anything to do at weekends other than loiter in malls. Assad has also visited Europe with the school and is set to attend Repton in England as an exchange student.
Time Out also had the chance to talk to Assonaly Omarov from Kazakhstan. Unlike Asad, Assonaly is a weekly border whose parents live in Dubai, but rather than him boarding during the week to save his parents the hassle of the school run, Assonaly boards to help improve his spoken English. Repton’s student base consists of 61 different nationalities, so it’s inevitable that the standard of spoken English will vary wildly. The school facilitates non-fluent English speakers by holding special language classes, but for students such as Assonaly, there’s no better way to learn than living in an environment where English is prevalent.
Even in its formative stages, Repton’s facilities are second to none, but the success of the school’s boarding school very much depends on the appetite for a traditional English educational experience (with international characteristics) from families in the Middle East, the subcontinent, and Central Asia. From speaking to Asad and Assonaly the future, for now, looks bright.
Offering both day school and boarding (girls’ boarding house opens in September 2010), Repton’s campus covers 1.3 million sq ft in Nad Al Sheba. The space allows it to offer more than 60 extracurricular activities. Children aged three to 16 years are accepted in the day school with the option of boarding available to students in Year Seven to Year 11. The prices quoted above are for day school, but fees for full boarding range from Dhs114,000 to Dhs145,000 per year for Year Seven through 11. A word from the top: ‘Really, anything and everything is available, and our facilities are second to none,’ says Headmaster David Cook. ‘This is a school for parents wishing to send their children to a school with the best standards in the region… We recruit our teachers from IB schools around the world and from independent private schools in the UK.’
Manama Street, Nad Al Sheba (04 426 9393; info@ reptondubai.org; www.reptondubai.org). Co-ed. Nursey-Grade 11. English. Dhs42,500 to Dhs80,000. Transport available for additional charge.