PERSIAN GULF; innovation in expat children's education

Fergus Rose, Head of Marketing and Admissions at ACS International Schools

The rationale for opening a new school, ACS Doha, Qatar in September 2011.

As a family of international schools, ACS commits itself to providing an education that helps students to become responsible contributing citizens. With a globally recognised curricula and vision in place at the three existing ACS campuses in the UK, we could see that this educational vision also lends itself to a school overseas.

Once the decision to expand was made, location was the key initial consideration. For ACS International Schools the Gulf, and Qatar in particular, had much to offer.

Qatar has a strategic vision which seeks to diversify the economy and society beyond its hydrocarbon base. Qatar’s 2030 national vision places education and healthcare as primary sectors to develop. The country has the highest per capita income in the world, making it a financially sound location for expansion. Qatar also has a sizeable and growing expat population. We found the existing education network in Doha very supportive and helpful in providing insight about the educational needs in Qatar and how we might meet some of those needs.

Running parallel alongside the development of the physical stamp of the school was the curriculum development, the heart of what ACS International Schools is about. Making sure that the educational offering was consistent with our ethos about what constitutes excellence in teaching and learning was important, but we also had to remain flexible enough to accommodate the various requirements and circumstances in Doha. For example, while the overarching education philosophy remained, the school had to be flexible on some of the subject offerings to incorporate Arabic, Qatari history, and Islamic studies.

Staffing a new site is also a balance between your existing venture and your new expansion. At ACS Doha we were conscious to blend existing ACS staff to make sure that the new school was consistent in terms of the ACS vision, but it also recruited new staff from the region to give a deeper knowledge and understanding of the educational requirements within Qatar. With this in mind the school opened under the leadership of a former ACS Cobham head, with over twenty years’ experience working within an ACS school.

In its first year, ACS Doha grew rapidly from around 200 students, and is planning to enroll over 800 students in the next academic year. It has already established itself as one of the leading international schools in Qatar, and is a successful addition to the ACS family of schools.

There many lessons that have been learnt from our own overseas expansion. We learnt that expansion is an exciting journey but that no amount of planning can think of every eventuality, and as an organisation you need to be ready to deal with that. Expansion is of course a big step and it requires a dedicated resource, and any schools or organisations considering a similar opportunity shouldn’t go into it without really understanding the size and complexity of the project.