What struck me during my tour of DLD College London, an independent 14–19 co-ed boarding and day school (the only London independent to offer boarding on site), was its focus on pupil safety and independence in equal measure.
There is a plethora of security features in place. For example, pupils digitally tap in and out of the boarding accommodation and similarly when they enter and leave the school, while regular talks from the police about keeping safe in London and hotspots to avoid keep pupils aware. However, they are trusted to grow, explore and make the most of the opportunities around them.
“We had our recent ISI [Independent Schools Inspectorate] inspection in October 2019 and they were stumped,” principal Irfan Latif tells me. “They just could not believe how we operate a boarding school in the centre of London.
“One of the inspectors was a head of boarding at a provincial countryside school and he said, ‘We’re conscious about sending our kids down to the post office.’ It’s about building trust. It’s about making sure that they know they’re safe.”
They just could not believe how we operate a boarding school in the centre of London
Of course, the school’s central location on Westminster Bridge Road, with the Houses of Parliament and London Eye minutes away, means there are many benefits for students.
“Everything is on our doorstep,” says Irfan. When the school recently held its Remembrance assembly, pupils were taken to the Imperial War Museum.
Irfan says: “It’s a five-minute walk. They had a look around, understood what the context of Remembrance was and came back. If we were in the countryside that would be an issue and two to three days in the planning.”
Founding year: 1931
Number of pupils: 420 (75% international, 25% British)
Number of staff: 112 plus catering
Tuition fees per annum: £23,500 domestic and £29,950 international
Boarding fees per annum: Between £18,000 and £28,000
Due to the location, it would be fair to assume that DLD would be unable to house pupils, but that’s where the school has clearly carved out a niche. Not only is the college both a boarding and day school, but the accommodation is stylish and modern (built in 2015) with a university ‘halls’ feel.
There are 250 boarders spread across 15 floors, which are on top of the teaching floors, with six ‘huddles’ each led by a different houseparent. The rooms are categorised as bronze, silver, gold or platinum in terms of their size, although all of them have extraordinary views over Westminster. Houseparents carry out daily room visits to ask pupils about their week and make sure they are coping, looking out for signs such as unwashed bedding.
DLD’s boarding set up is so different from what most people would think of when asked to describe a boarding school. Irfan explains: “We’re not blessed with expanses of green fields that you’d have in traditional country boarding schools.
“We are urban boarding and that’s a concept and philosophy that we have adopted. We use Archbishop’s Park for our football and netball matches, and we go to other schools in the area such as St Paul’s, Godolphin and Latymer, and Whitgift for sport too.”
It’s worth mentioning another special feature of DLD – a top-floor function room with stunning views. The staff went up to the 18th floor to celebrate after their latest ISI inspection – where the organisation said the quality of pupils’ development was ‘excellent’ – but the room is also used for training, workshops and other school events.
DLD has undergone many exciting changes recently and is looking at further expansion. The school has managed to increase its kitchen revenue by 20% with the introduction of its new dining area, the Global Kitchen. “Students now want to come in here,” Irfan says.
The new chef, from CH&CO, has produced an international menu that challenges the palates of students and staff. It always features a street-food option as well as dishes for non-meat eaters. It’s kitted out with an ethical coffee bar, table football and outdoor area for summer barbecues.
In terms of further expansion, Irfan hopes to expand pupil numbers from 420 to 550 in the near future. The school is also being recognised more and more in the sector with award nominations coming in thick and fast – they have been shortlisted for Boarding School of the Year 2020 by TES.
1. DLD moved to its purpose-built building in the summer of 2015
2. A Monopoly activity when students arrive involves taking pictures at different stations to get them used to using the tube
3. DLD is developing a course on their IFP (International Foundation Programme) in fintech
4. DLD is part of the Alpha Plus Group
5. DLD offers 100% scholarships to local youngsters and will launch an additional 90% scholarship scheme in 2021
Being across the road from the Houses of Parliament, it is no surprise that many of the students at DLD are passionate about politics.
Irfan says: “We’ve had a couple of politicians come in to speak to the students and the fact that we are literally based across the road from there means we have had loads of trips over to Westminster; our speech day happens there every year.
“I’m proud of the relationship we’ve cultivated there and the opportunities that we’re now providing our students, who can go visit, sit in the House of Commons and hear the debates.”
He continues: “There’s a lot of political turmoil at the moment and if Labour come in with their stance on independent schools, there are concerns over how that is going to affect us. Brexit looms but we soldier on and we will continue, whatever happens, to provide the best possible education that we can for our students, and the best pastoral care. I think we’ve just got to get on with it and be confident in what we can provide our staff and students.”
A big part of what DLD provides is high-quality pastoral care.
Irfan says about wellbeing: “I’ve read various articles on how schools now are becoming more and more tapped into the wellbeing agenda and I don’t think it’s a bandwagon that people are just jumping on. I think this is part and parcel of what schools should be doing now.”
Its wellbeing centre, which includes counsellors, a nurse, a head of wellbeing, a life coach and a school attendance officer, has won an award for its work. They’ve trained six in 10 teaching and support staff in mental health first aid so far, with a goal of training every single staff member.
“We have seen a massive decrease in pastoral issues over the past two years,” Irfan adds.
It’s no surprise that DLD College London is increasingly becoming recognised by outside organisations for its work and unique set up, and I expect to hear the name DLD more and more in 2020.
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