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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Golden memories as Abu Dhabi's first British school turns 50

British School Al Khubairat was set up after land was donated by Sheikh Zayed in 1968

Pupils at British School Al Khubairat are celebrating 50 years of learning. Victor Besa / The National
Pupils at British School Al Khubairat are celebrating 50 years of learning. Victor Besa / The National

An Abu Dhabi school set up with UAE royal approval and visited by a queen is celebrating its own golden jubilee.

The emirate's very first British school is celebrating plenty of golden memories as it marks its milestone 50th anniversary - and staff are looking forward to an even brighter future.

British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) started to shape young minds in 1968, after the UAE's founding father, Sheikh Zayed, donated a plot of land for it to be built on.

Known then as Al Kubairat Community School, the mission was to provide an education for the children of foreign engineers who were working on oil projects at the time.

On the school grounds are old photos of Sheikh Zayed with the first class of 1968, and of Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the school in 1979.

Fast forward 50 years, and the thriving school boasts 300 staff serving the needs of 1,900 pupils, of which 14 per cent are Emirati.

On Monday, the school kicked off a series of celebrations that will run all-year-long - bringing together the UK and UAE influences of previous decades.

Pupils from years three to six waved UAE and UK flags as the school band played renowned music pieces, such as the James Bond soundtrack.

The location and name of the school has changed since 1968, but the ethos remains the same.

Headteacher Mark Leppard addresses pupils as British School Al Khubairat starts a year-long party to mark its 50th anniversary. Victor Besa / The National
Headteacher Mark Leppard addresses pupils as British School Al Khubairat starts a year-long party to mark its 50th anniversary. Victor Besa / The National

"Certainly some things haven’t changed, like the importance of our community and the desire of the students and teachers to do their best," said headteacher Mark Leppard.

The school opening has proved a landmark moment for generations of teachers and pupils.

“Fifty years ago a spaceship called Apollo 8 went all around the moon and the original London bridge was sold to America, being broken down and shipped to Arizona where it was rebuilt.

“Also 50 years ago, Sheikh Zayed established a British school in Abu Dhabi, and that British school grew to become BSAK,” said Mr Leppard.

Among the boys sporting kanduras in an old photo adorning the walls is Fares Al Nazrari, whose own son has just started at the school.

Second generation pupils at BSAK are common, as the school continues to invest in building generations, as opposed to making profit.

“Sheikh Zayed’s vision was to create a school that was inclusive, so we are not for profit; every penny made here goes back into the school to develop it for the future,” said Mr Leppard.

“We have a wonderful future program, and we just received accreditation from the Future Academy.”

The British ambassador to the UAE, Patrick Moody, who attended the celebrations and cut the jubilee ribbon, said the school is a good example of the UAE and UK’s collaboration in “education, sharing the skills and working to build the kind of future we would like for our children together.”

British Ambassador, Patrick Moody, chats with a student during the anniversary event. Victor Besa / The National
British Ambassador, Patrick Moody, chats with a student during the anniversary event. Victor Besa / The National

“We can look back at the past 50 years as a foundation, and look forward for the next 50 years,” he said.

“We have watched the Emirates grow from a small country to a very successful global hub by investing in education, especially with British academic institutes.”

Mr Moody said there are more British educational campuses across the UAE, than from any other country.

The ambassador also inaugurated a branch of the University of South Wales this week.

“This is another example of sharing education and skills.”

BSAK’s year-long celebrations include a school production of Billy Elliot in December, a launch of a book about the school’s history at the British Embassy in January, a music gala at NYUAD in May, and the Dubai 7s Golden Oldies – a rugby match that will be played by former pupils at the school.

The celebrations will be preserved for pupils in 2043 to enjoy, too.

A time capsule will be sealed at the school, on order to be opened 25 years from now.

The previous effort to pay homage to history got lost in time, as a 1993 capsule went missing when the school underwent major construction works.

The 2018 treasure will be locked safely away - and many more happy memories will be stored over the next year.

The links between the UK and the UAE are being marked during a year-long celebration at British School Al Khubairat. Victor Besa / The National 
The links between the UK and the UAE are being marked during a year-long celebration at British School Al Khubairat. Victor Besa / The National 

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