All Roads Lead To Durham

Issue 80

I am writing this month's column from the exotic location of Nairobi airport. I am currently engaged in a ''world tour'' of the various different institutions which make up the family of Durham International Schools.

Over the last three years we have opened two schools overseas – a 3-18 girls school in Qatar and a coeducational EYFS and primary school in Kenya – and are scheduled to open a third coed school in September of this year in Dubai. It is, even if I say so myself, a remarkable achievement for a school without the ”international brand awareness” of schools like Harrow or Westminster.

It has been a long journey to where we are now and one which has had some bumps in the road. It was almost ten years ago when the governors of the school, together with the then headmaster, made the decision to explore options for opening sister schools overseas. There were those at the time who were sceptical of success and some who felt that it provided an unwelcome distraction during challenging times for the sector.

So why did they do it? Of course there are financial benefits, of which more later, but that was not the only reason that the governors were keen to move forward. At the heart of the venture was a sense of ambition and pride in Durham School. They, as are their successors, were rightly proud of the education that we offered at the school. Academic ambition and first-rate pastoral care are combined with a pursuit of co-curricular excellence and they rightly felt that this was a exile for success across the world.

From that pride there quickly followed a sense of ambition: governors felt a real sense of mission in providing a Durham experience to youngsters across the world. We were also part of a broader movement across independent schools to expand overseas. Durham School embodies what many people from outside the UK education system value in it. Whilst our system is far from perfect, in many countries a British education is seen as the gold standard with international currency for entry to the most prestigious universities across the world. There have been many conversations held with potential investors over the last decade. However, during any first discussions it has been of vital importance to stress that any school carrying the name of Durham had to have at its heart the values of the school here in the UK. We can honestly say that the schools in our family wholeheartedly subscribe to our MARK value system of moral integrity, ambition, responsibility and kindness. Furthermore, there is a genuine sense of collaboration across the schools. This is not a franchise model where a name is sold and traded across the world just for a fee. Staff at the schools communicate frequently and learn from each other, something warmly welcomed during the Covid pandemic.

Returning to the financial aspect of the school partnerships, the revenue we receive is all invested back into the school in Durham. In particular, the funds raised go towards providing bursary support to those families who would not, in other circumstances, be able to afford the fees. Again, this goes to the heart of the school’s charitable purpose. We want to be able to provide the best opportunities for all pupils to benefit from a Durham education, irrespective of their ability to pay. Whilst we are a long way from this target, international revenue forms an important part of this strategy.

So, we have come a long way. By the end of the decade, there will be more than four thousand children in the world attending Durham schools. We are delighted that so many youngsters will enjoy the benefit of a world-class education.

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