Schools meet growing demand for boarding facilities in the UAE

Repton School, the only boarding school in the GCC, plans to open a new house on campus this September with room for up to 55 more girl boarders.

Repton School boarders, from left Ali Shabbir, 17, year 12, from Pakistan, Mashfik Quaderi, 15, year 10, from Bangladesh, Abi Adekoya, 14, year 10, from Nigeria and Gorgia Zavos, 14, year 10, from USA. Jaime Puebla / The National
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Roberta Pennington

DUBAI // Demand for boarding schools is soaring as parents seek a high-quality British education close to home, according to experts.

Repton School, the only boarding school in the GCC, is expanding its girls’ housing to meet the rising need.

“Every year for the past four years, the girls’ boarding house has been completely full. We have to turn away new applicants, which we don’t want to do,” said Nav Rai, Repton’s business development officer.

The British private school can accommodate 18 female boarders and about 100 boys. It plans to open a new house on campus this September with room for up to 55 more girls.

The multimillion-dirham project is expected to break ground in March. It will offer 32 rooms, each with ensuite facilities.

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi will open its first boarding school in the capital this autumn and there are plans to build four boarding houses, the first of which is due to open by 2017.

“There is a very strong demand out of Dubai because people want top quality education in Dubai and they are struggling to find places in schools there,” said Brandon Law, headmaster of Cranleigh Abu Dhabi.

Unlike Repton, which offered boarding as soon as it opened in 2007, Cranleigh plans to gradually expand to full boarding.

“I’m convinced that the best way to develop boarding – and to show people the benefits of boarding, the enjoyment that can come from that and the extension of the educational programme – is to actually reflect that in an extended day programme, and then for people to have those opportunities to come on board and join us in occasional boarding,” Mr Law said.

“From the occasional boarding will grow the desire for slightly extended boarding. But the weekly boarding out of Dubai is a big need.

“It will be very easy for families to bring their children down on Sunday morning to start the programme with us and then leave on a Thursday afternoon and spend the weekend at home.”

Both schools offer a British curriculum and the option for an extended day, which requires students to be in school for longer periods of time fulfilling academic or extracurricular activities.

Sue Anderson, an educational consultant in Dubai and the UK who has been advising families about British boarding schools for 25 years, said UAE-based boarding schools appealed to parents who wanted their children to receive a good British education without sending them too far away.

“I did an event in Oman once and there was a British family and she came to see me and she was interested in boarding,” she said. “She really just couldn’t part with her son, so he ended up boarding at Repton because, you know, you can drive to Oman in five or six hours or fly very quickly.

“The fact that he was closer and she could see him on the weekends, she was much happier about that.”

Cranleigh has not yet set its boarding fees. Repton’s costs, including tuition, range from Dh126,479 for year 6 to Dh161,199 for year 13. But it is a bargain compared with sending children to the UK, said Mr Rai.

“If you live anywhere in the Gulf region or Asia and you want your child to be a boarding pupil, it’s going to cost you a lot more to send them to the UK because it’s 4,000 miles away or more,” he said.

“Also the fees are the same, there are less opportunities and it’s arguably just as expensive of a country to do things in.

“Arguably, they’re in a much safer environment as well. Lots of parents worry about sending their kids to the UK or the States because of all the distractions and in the UAE you don’t have to worry about that.”

“The opportunity now is for children to come in and have boarding-style education in the UAE so that the family is still together every weekend. That’s a huge advantage and I think people will quickly recognise that.”

Pupils at Repton have said they enjoy life at boarding school.

“I think some people think that it’s more strict than at home, but from my experience it’s not as strict,” said 14-year-old Nigerian Abi Adekoya, who is in year 10. “In Nigeria, it’s stricter. You’re not allowed your own phones, you’re not allowed laptops in school. Here it’s more relaxed – you can bring your laptops in for homework, you can use your laptops for research and you have more communication with your parents because you have your own phone and you can phone any time. In Nigeria, you have to use the house parents’ phone to call your parents. Your parents can come and see you anytime here, in Nigeria you have visiting days. They can only come and see you like once a month.”

Georgia Zavod, a 14-year-old American who entered the Repton School in September, said it was fun living with friends.

“If you ever have a question about schoolwork or anything they can always help you because they’re in the same class as you, you live with them, you’re with them all the time.”

The school day begins at 7am and ends at about 6pm, but Ali Taimur Shabbir, 17, from Pakistan, has few complaints.

“In the beginning it was really intense because it was so much work,” said Ali, who has been at the school for three years. “But now it really helps you a lot because the school day passes by so quick because you’re so busy. It took me about two months to get used to the routine.”

Mashfik Quaderi, a 15-year-old Bangladeshi, said at first it was difficult to live away from his family.

“Now I actually don’t like going back home, I’d rather just stay back here in Dubai,” Mashfik said. “I enjoy being with my friends and like staying at a boarding house. I believe it has made me even more social and taught me how to be more interactive with people, and how to behave in front of them.”