Brit education goes around the world and back again

31st October 2014 at 00:00
Dubai College seeks to export its model to UK homeland

Many of the UK's elite private schools have chosen to build outposts in warmer climes, exporting the British independent-sector brand to wealthy people abroad. But one leading school in the United Arab Emirates is seeking to go against the grain - by exporting its own style of British education back to the UK.

Leaders at Dubai College - which was founded by a British teacher in 1978 - say they now want to replicate their international school on English soil.

Unlike UK boarding schools, which tend to limit numbers of overseas students in order to preserve their "British" feel, Dubai College is considering a quota system for the initial intake of its English outpost, to ensure a mix of cultures and nationalities. Like its parent school, it would follow a British curriculum and offer GCSEs and A-levels.

"Your Sherbornes, your Brighton Colleges, your Reptons, you see they are moving their models to the Middle East," said headmaster Peter Hill. "They see there is a really strong market here. It's great to see, but it obviously started us thinking. If we are a very strong competitor against those schools, why don't we move our model back to the UK?"

Mr Hill likened the phenomenon to chicken tikka masala - a dish that was created outside the country that inspired it and then exported around the world.

As well as giving Dubai College the chance to tap into a different market, the new school would give pupils who are studying in Dubai somewhere to transfer to if they had to move back to the UK with their families.

The model that the school will use is still under discussion: it is considering whether to make a bid for free school status and is developing plans for a traditional fees-led independent school. It hopes to open as early as 2016, most likely in London or another major city.

Mike Lambert, assistant head of Dubai College, said the school's long history of catering for a broad international intake would set it apart from traditional British private schools. "With the best will in the world, if your school is in the leafy fields of Surrey, you can talk about internationalism but what experience have you got?" he said.

The move comes as the international schools market is booming, employing 100,000 teachers from the UK alone. Research from the UK-based International Schools Consultancy Group reveals that more than 7,000 international schools are now open worldwide, and about 42 per cent of them follow a British curriculum.

Colin Bell, chief executive of the Council of British International Schools, said he had heard of a number of other members who were considering setting up branches in the UK. "It just goes to show that if there's an excellent brand, why not put it in a suitcase and transport it back? We would certainly support what [Dubai College] is planning."

Mr Bell added that the idea of international schools exporting their brands back to the UK was gathering steam as schools sought to "increase their footprint".

"If your market is saturated in one area, especially in the secondary phase, and your students are looking to move on to British universities, it makes sense to have provision in this country to make that transition smoother," he said.

Mr Bell said that by opening a school in the UK, Dubai College would be following in the footsteps of the King's Group of schools, which started in 1969 as a British international school in Spain but later expanded to the UK and Panama. The group announced earlier this year that it had also been given permission to sponsor academies and free schools in England, and its website says it hopes to launch two bilingual schools in Fulham and Richmond in September 2015 or 2016.

The findings will bolster the belief that the British education system is potentially one of the country's most lucrative exports, with the entire sector, including universities, said to be worth upwards of pound;15 billion a year to the UK economy.

Global reach of elites

The number of foreign students being educated in the overseas franchises of top UK boarding schools will soon exceed the number being schooled on British soil.

The latest annual census from the Independent Schools Council reveals that its schools now run 39 overseas campuses, up from 29 in 2013 and 20 in 2012. These institutions educate a total of 22,514 pupils, but this is expected to rise quickly as all the year groups fill up, rapidly overtaking the 24,391 overseas students who are currently educated in the UK.

Leading private schools have been opening campuses abroad since 1998, when Harrow School set up a branch in Bangkok, Thailand. Other schools followed swiftly, including Dulwich College, which now has a network of seven schools in Asia.

Wellington College has built two replica schools in China that mimic its impressive architecture. One opened in the city of Tianjin in 2011 and another opened in Shanghai this August.

Brighton College and Repton School each run two campuses in the United Arab Emirates. Sherborne School in Somerset runs an outpost in Qatar while Epsom College opened its first overseas school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in September.

And Haileybury School in Hertfordshire has two branches in the cities of Astana and Almaty in Kazakhstan.

Independent school leaders have said that the boom is being fuelled by a desire to fund bursaries for cash-strapped UK parents and "help sustain the British market".

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