Dubai’s Hartland International School: Five key ingredients for academic success

Hartland invites parents to discover new sixth form that will shape future leaders

Dubai’s Hartland International School has been further enhancing its globally-sourced team ahead of introducing a new sixth form that embraces five key ingredients for academic success.

James McBlane and Steve Oakes joined earlier this year as head of secondary and head of sixth form, respectively, and will continue to grow an educational philosophy centred around student personal development and the ‘mindset’ required for success.

Hartland says it has laid down a strong marker of its commitment and ambition to offer a “truly world-class and unique sixth form experience”, delivered from September by experienced staff drawn from some of the world’s best schools.

Located in Nad Al Sheba, Hartland prides itself on providing highly personalised education with small class sizes and exceptional pastoral care in fresh, dedicated, state-of-the-art facilities.

It will deliver a full range of A-Level and BTEC Diploma qualifications.

Students can also study for the unique Hartland Diploma; a personalised academic and leadership development programme supporting their individual ambitions, skills and interests.

Hartland agrees that IQ and natural abilities play an important role in academic success, but it says the “myth” that success is primarily derived from those attributes fails to recognise the vital role played by non-cognitive abilities.

The school says academic achievement is much more about students developing the right behaviours, skills, attitudes and strategies that are crucial to academic performance.

Hard-quantifiable evidence from numerous research studies has clearly shown the huge impact of successfully developing these attributes, especially the transformative effect on examination results, test scores, GPAs, and on long-term success beyond school.

This is where Mr Oakes’ arrival is key; he developed VESPA, a model that focuses on the five key ingredients of vision, effort, systems, practice and attitude embedded in Hartland's approach.

“Through developing abilities in these areas, we are able to increase student self-confidence, self-management and self-awareness, ultimately having a significant measurable impact on academic performance and grades,” Mr Oakes explains.

“This approach to personal development, linked to academic success through the VESPA model, is the cornerstone of our sixth form provision here.”Mr Oakes developed and refined this evidence-based approach, undertaking doctoral research and publishing three books on the subject, based on his experiences leading one of the UK’s most successful sixth forms, as well as working with and advising hundreds of leading schools around the world.

Mr McBlane, after 14 years as a leader at one of the UAE’s most prestigious and highly regarded schools, says he too was seeking something special in his next career move.

“Within five minutes of walking through the door, I knew this was the school I wanted to work at…the first thing I noticed was the warm, friendly feeling that seems to permeate through the whole school, from the greeting at reception to smiling pupils, saying ‘good morning’, to the lively and vibrant classrooms.”

Fiona Cottam, Hartland’s principal, says both educators bring an “incredible pedigree” and “first-class track record of success” in the area of secondary and sixth form education.

“As head of sixth form himself and then deputy headteacher, James was instrumental in leading the development of the sixth form at the outstanding British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi, recognised in 2019 as the best sixth form in the UAE by Schools Compared,” Ms Cottam says.

“This is complemented by Steve’s experience of leadership in one of the UK’s outstanding and most successful flagship sixth forms, as recognised by the UK government.

“The tremendous success achieved at Blue Coat School led to him working as a recognised expert advisor to support the development of hundreds of sixth forms across the UK, as well as a number of the very best schools here in the UAE and around the world.”

In addition to the Hartland Diploma and the dynamic VESPA approach, another key component of the Hartland mission is full-time careers counsellor Mary Sheedy.

She offers careers and university sessions to prepare and support students with their aspirations and applications, ensuring they can confidently apply to the best universities around the world.

While embracing the Hartland vision of developing Today’s Learners, Tomorrow’s Leaders, students can benefit from a dedicated leadership programme, coupled with the ASDAN leadership qualification. This develops a student’s theoretical and practical experience of leadership.

Mr McBlane, a leadership trainer and fellow of the UK’s Institute of Leadership and Management, says: “We firmly believe that our students are ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders’.

“As such, leadership development and leadership opportunities are something really important to us.”

Hartland takes pride in providing a “truly holistic and well-rounded education”, so strongly encourages students to develop academic passions and interests beyond the curriculum.

They can do this through the Extended Project Qualification - worth half an A-Level - and via the school’s academic enrichment programme.

And the importance of personal responsibility and service is emphasised in the journey towards becoming global citizens as Hartland encourages all students to devote an hour of service each week to support their community.

“We know what an important time sixth form is in a student's life,” Mr Oakes concludes.

“The challenges that come from demanding academic studies, as well as the pressures of making decisions about your life and future after school is not easy…at Hartland, we are there to support every step of the way.”

He adds: “We pride ourselves on the exceptional pastoral care we offer and work incredibly hard to support every student to be successful academically but also, and importantly, to be happy, fulfilled and to thrive in school and through their lives."

Hartland will be running webinars in the near future specifically aimed at sixth form enquiries.

If you would like to register your interest to find out more about Hartland’s sixth form, or to visit the school and meet the dedicated team, please contact

In the meantime, you can also hear from our new key staff members, as well as some of the students who make Hartland the community it is, by watching the following video

Updated: August 22nd 2021, 1:08 PM