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Sat 25 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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On board

Repton School's headmaster, David Cook, says boarding schools could be a new sector for the region.

Repton School in Dubai has started accepting boarders for the first time this year. Its headmaster, David Cook, says boarding schools could be a new sector for the region.

How will Repton's offering differ from other international schools?

In some ways we're a school like all other schools, but we are the first partnership school in the Middle East. We share many things with Repton School in the UK, not least the uniform and the name.

Eight of our teachers have also come from the UK school. Aside from that, we're the first boarding school in the country.

We're very confident that we'll succeed here, because parents see the facilities we have available, and they believe in the boarding way of doing things. They prefer their children to do activities here rather than come and pick them up every day.

Is boarding available for all children?

We've decided to start with a relatively small number, so there are now 30 boys, from year seven to year ten. We've got the challenge of girls' boarding starting next year. It's actually interesting to note that over half of our boarders are from Dubai. I suspect that other schools will watch to see how we get on.

Many parents equate higher tuition fees with quality of education. Do you think this is a safe assumption to make?

I hope parents don't take a school charging a high fee to mean that it's providing a high quality of education, because there are other benchmarks. The key question is whether you get value for money with the fees that a school is charging.

I think the most important development last year in Dubai was the introduction of the Dubai Schools Inspections Bureau. I think it's a great move for Dubai, and it's a vital step for Dubai to enjoy the sort of reputation for education that you get in places like Hong Kong or Singapore.

Do you think more expensive schools in the region should have a social responsibility towards less affluent children?

Most of the leading independent schools in the UK were originally set up to provide education for children who didn't have funds behind them. Scholarships are a major issue for us; we have an extensive policy here.

We will be bringing in a whole range of scholarships soon. Of course we will have academic ones, but there will also be scholarships for music, drama and sport.

I believe that the facilities we have should in some way be made available to the wider community, so we have plans for sports academies, and music and drama courses which will not only be open to the children at Repton, but to children in Dubai.

What challenges did you face with recruitment?

Teacher recruitment for Repton hasn't proved difficult at all. I think that's partly because of the reputation of the school. We have looked to specific areas to recruit our staff, so we've recruited a lot from the independent sector in the UK, teachers with a background in boarding schools, and a lot of staff who have experience in the IB (international baccalaureate ) programme.

What does Repton do to promote environmental sustainability in its buildings and curriculum?

The school has been built with sustainability in mind. We also have lots of plans to develop the curriculum with things like solar energy, to help support the school.

Today's children are very aware of the environment anyway, and they make demands on us that we fulfil very willingly, in terms of recycling and so on. I think it's fair to say that the IB programme reflects sustainability more than the curriculum of England and Wales. What differences have you found between the education sector in Dubai and the UK?

We teach the national curriculum of England and Wales, but we've got over 40 nationalities now, so the curriculum changes in the sense that we try to embrace a degree of internationalism.

What we do here is incorporate ideas from the IB programme, and we will actually follow the IB in the 6th form. Other than that, there's very little difference between Repton Dubai and Repton UK. The level of teaching is virtually the same.

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