Durham Dubai: A School Defined by Tradition

Durham Dubai: A School Defined by Tradition


Another prestigious British private school is opening its campus in Dubai, but the message from this new school’s leadership is nothing if not bold. This is a school that rejects “modern trends” in favour of more traditional education methods and values, focusing on what is sees as the fundamentals; like handwriting and mental arithmetic.

On our visit to Durham School Dubai campus, we met with the Founding School Principal, Mark Atkins. Mr Atkins is a familiar figure in the UAE education sector, having previously held the position of Headmaster at Foremarke School (now Repton Al Barsha) in Dubai. With 36 years of experience in education under his belt, he says he has seen new trends in education come and go and feels strongly that children need a more traditional approach:

“We are offering a traditional British education. We will make sure we get the basics right: science, reading, writing, good manners and discipline, proper dining. Once you’ve got the basics in place, you’re giving children all the tools they need to be successful.”

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With modern educational messaging more often referencing ‘individual needs’ and ‘student led-learning’, and with phrasing such as “future-proofing” in frequent use in school marketing, the message of Durham School Dubai is certainly in sharp contrast and bucking the trend, so to speak. The use of the word ‘trend’ in reference to more progressive educational movements however, would likely be disputed by proponents of a less traditional approach. 

Children are constantly looking at screens now,” Mr Atkins told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, while passionately espousing the importance of human interactions and a face to face education, as well as mastering key academic skills. He told us:

 It can be argued that increased use of technology in the form of texting, messaging and emojis are responsible for a decline in the standards of both written and spoken English. I believe in teaching children to use correct grammar in both written and spoken form, to develop and use an extended vocabulary, to spell and to write, in books, in a neat cursive script. At times, I fear that these essential skills are being overlooked or even lost.”

Mr Atkins also shared how pupils will be taught mathematics at Durham School Dubai:

“Primary school pupils at Durham will be taught mathematics with the goal of ensuring that every child is fully confident and capable in number work. Our children will learn their number bonds and multiplication tables, they will be able to recall immediately that 6 x 7 is 42 and they will have the mental dexterity to work out, quickly and in their heads, for example, 20% of 150. We have calculators and yes, they are useful, but if we don’t have the foggiest idea of what the correct answer might be, how do we know we have entered the correct calculation?

Some would argue that the views of Mr Atkins are somewhat old-fashioned, however he shared that a significant number of Dubai parents have expressed relief upon hearing of Durham School Dubai’s approach, expressing feelings of disenchantment with more modern education styles. Focusing on the basic fundamentals, Mr Atkins remarked, is what works. 

Intrigued by the views of this charismatic education leader, we asked him if he was against the use of screens and technology in schools. While wary of the extent of their use, he informed us that no, Durham School Dubai was not anti-technology:

“We believe technology has a very important role to play in education but that we must be mindful that it is not the answer to all things and the standards in the basics must be maintained. Durham is a school that believes in teaching the basics well and providing a strong foundation upon which we can build.”

Durham School Dubai, the third international campus the original UK day and boarding school, is situated in Dubai Investment Park and is due to open in September 2022. For further information about Durham School Dubai, and for contact information, read our review

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