School spotlight: Doha College

High demand for places at Doha College meant expansion was a must. Next year, the British curriculum school will unveil a new campus fit for 21st-century education, writes Jo Golding

Five numbers

Founding year: 1980

Pupils: 2,200 (51% international, 49% British)

Nationalities: 74

Staff: 400, including 294 teachers

Average fees per year: 50,000 Qatari Riyal (around £10,000)

It was at the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) conference this year that I met some of the teaching team at Doha College, Qatar. The school is a prominent member of COBIS, with principal Dr Steffen Sommer the organisation’s vice-chairman. 

Having heard a little about the school at the event – like how it has become one of COBIS’ first training schools, showing its commitment to growing the global teacher workforce – I had to find out more about what turned out to be a very high-achieving school, with British education at its heart.

Sponsored by the British Embassy, Doha College started in 1980 catering for British diplomats and businesses, and then became a British international school in the early ’90s because of an increased demand for British education internationally.

I asked Sommer why there is such a high demand for British education overseas: “It is the standards. While both British and American education is popular because of their similar philosophies, the biggest difference is that the academic standards in British schools tend to be higher.”

Sommer describes Doha College’s academic results as “phenomenal”. He continues: “If you compare our academic results to the league tables in the UK – if that’s what you believe in, I don’t particularly but that’s what parents want to hear – out of the almost 550 British schools which are COBIS members, we are consistently in the top 10. In the last three years, our results would put us in the premier league of UK independent schools. We have just under 70% achieve A* and A at A-level.”

Doha College follows a British curriculum of GCSEs and A-levels, although Sommer does point out: “We are very much a British school but having a British passport is not an entry requirement.” Fifty-one per cent of pupils are international, 49% are British and there are 74 different nationalities present at the school.

He continues: “We don’t do entrance tests, but we have a rigorous procedure which is based on psychometric tests made for children because we’ve got a very long waiting list. One of the founding principles of the school is that students that go through the education system here are directly transferable at any stage, in any year group, into the system back in the UK, in a state or independent school.”

For the next 40 years

The high demand for places prompted the school to think about its future. Sommer explains: “We have such long waiting lists that we wanted to be bigger. I discussed this with the ministry of education three years ago and they agreed to it, so we’re currently in the process of building a new campus. We are more than halfway done and opening, hopefully, for September 2020. This means that every pupil who attends Doha College primary will get a place in secondary.”

The new 90,000m² campus in Al Wajba will open in the school’s 40th year, offering a six-form primary school and a 10-form secondary school. The school will retain its four-form primary school in West Bay.

The theme of 2020 for the school – with its anniversary and new campus opening – is ‘for the next 40 years of Doha College’. The new campus will be modern, fresh and adapted to the needs of 21st-century education, Sommer tells me, as the old campus was small and difficult to maintain.

We are very much a British school but having a British passport is not an entry requirement 

Community spirit

So what makes the school stand out? Sommer says: “What really sets Doha College apart is the relationships amongst the students, and between the students and the staff. Also, the relationships between parents with students and staff. It’s a very tightly knit community. Parents are involved in activities such as annual fairs, sporting events and help out in the classroom as helpers or teaching assistants.”

Another reason for its success lies in its learning approach. “We were the first High Performance Learning school in the world. All students at Doha College, without exception, will do very well, which means they will get one of the top three grades. If they don’t, we know why and we know why early enough to address it. Most of the time we succeed in putting this right,” Sommer says.

Doha College partners with four academies to support its extra-curricular programme – the largest extra-curricular programme in the Middle East. The academies specialise in subjects such as sport, music and drama. 

The children from Doha College get to mix with students who are not at the school in activities such as basketball, tennis, choir and jazz bands.

What could also set it apart from UK independent schools is the importance it places on languages. 

Sommer says: “I’m a linguist myself and I think it’s very important that all students at Doha College leave with a proportionate level of Arabic. If they’ve been here for a year, they should have some knowledge of it, but after five years at the school they should have a good understanding. It’s not so easy to pick this up when you’re going to school in England, so we place a lot of importance on that.”

I ask Sommer about modern education and what’s important today. He says: “Recent research in cognitive science on soft skills that go beyond science and maths show that they are now more important than anything else. Parents now know what you learn in academic subjects only has a lifespan of a few years. I learnt a different solar system from what the kids learn now, because it’s changed. 

“Communication, teamwork and problem-solving are important in order to be sustainable in future jobs and universities. When you get a university degree nowadays, the lifespan of the degree is no longer than three years. Therefore, what you must know is how to capitalise on what you’ve learnt and how you’ve learnt it. Parents know that and we do that best.

“As I like to say, yesterday’s soft skills are tomorrow’s core skills.”

Doha College is a prime example of a school combining the strengths of international and British education to deliver a truly rounded educational experience for students. Impressive academic results that place it amongst some of the leading UK independent schools, as well as a diverse range of nationalities and clear vision, make this international school one to watch. 

Five facts

1. Doha College has the largest extra-curricular programme in the Middle East

2. The school day starts early and ends at 2pm due to the heat

3. In 2020 Doha College will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a new campus

4. There is no boarding at Doha College

5. Principal Dr Steffen Sommer is also vice-chairman of COBIS

You might also like: Doha College becomes international training school

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