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18 December 2020
by Ferdinand Steinbeis


English Boarding Schools in Profile: DLD College London, the boarding school in the heart of London

Hello from Oxfordshire and Merry Christmas!
We’re really glad to be visiting schools again now that the UK’s second national lockdown is over. At the start of the month, we went to see DLD College in London, where we found a unique and exciting approach to boarding school life.
Before our visit, while we were still in lockdown, we turned our attention to podcasts — which luckily we can produce virtually — so we hope you also enjoy our new episode of Tea with the Head, featuring DLD College’s principal, Irfan Latif. Irfan was a wonderful speaker, and if the ideas in this profile pique your interest, we really recommend you have a listen.
No rolling hills and cricket fields here: DLD is in London!
The Setting
DLD College is very different from most of the schools we work with — its home is not a historic building in the countryside, but a modern high-rise in the heart of London. The school moved from its old site in Marylebone to a purpose-built building on Westminster Bridge Road in 2015, and is within spitting distance of the Houses of Parliament, Waterloo station, and London’s Southbank.
Unbelievable views over London from the 18th floor of the DLD building
The building itself really appealed to us — its 18 floors curve into a gentle U-shape, with rings of windows providing amazing views over central London. Inevitably, the modern design does give it a slightly corporate feel and means it is not particularly cosy, but because the building was purpose-built for DLD, all the classrooms have the latest technology and equipment, and the boarding rooms are some of the smartest we’ve seen in any school.
...The Houses of Parliament just across the bridge!
Being so central in London naturally entails a trade-off in the size of DLD’s campus. Instead of acres of lacrosse and cricket pitches, there’s a small garden and single sports pitch at the back of the school. But DLD’s location also means that the campus in some ways extends far beyond its actual building. Students regularly make use of nearby London sites like Archbishop’s Park (next to Lambeth Palace), and graduation takes place in the Houses of Parliament, followed by a party on the 18th floor roof terrace, where there are breathtaking views of London’s most iconic sights.
...Waterloo Station and The City within a stone's throw...!
We were also pleasantly surprised by how tranquil DLD feels on the inside. A full-height atrium gives a sense of space, and while some classrooms’ windows are just metres away from the trains pulling out of Waterloo station, you can’t hear a peep from the bustling metropolitan city outside.
Blurry Atrium
What (we think!) DLD College is all about
DLD College is a truly individual school — in fact, it’s the only central London college to offer on-site boarding for 14 to 19 year-olds.
In many ways, DLD is tearing up the rule book and setting its own vision for modern boarding. As Irfan Latif, the school’s principal, told us: “We want to be a bit like Amazon and disrupt the market.”
DLD isn’t disrupting the market just for the sake of being different. The school is doing so to provide its 500-odd pupils with support and teaching tailored to their specific needs. At the core of this is an open-minded ethos — DLD is approachable, non-judgemental, and allows individuals to be exactly that.
The Atrium, the school's heart
The school’s small size and modernity means it prides itself on being flexible and forward-thinking — mental health and wellbeing are at the forefront of pastoral care, there’s no uniform and students call teachers by their first names, and there’s a big emphasis on cutting-edge technology, ideas and innovation.
Of course, the school’s urban setting is also a core part of its identity. DLD is all about London, and makes great use of the city’s offerings, whether that’s visiting cultural hotspots or connecting students to London’s top employers for work experience. The school also reflects its host city in its multicultural student body of over 57 different nationalities.
Seen in the school's amazing arts department...
Clearly, we aren’t the only ones excited by DLD’s approach to modern boarding — it was named Boarding School of the Year in the Independent Schools Awards in 2020, and also won the Special Judges’ Award in 2020 too.
Maths is popular here
The Academics
As headmaster Irfan told us in our podcast interview, DLD is “never going to be that academic hothouse”, and he’d never want it to be. Instead, the school focuses on offering a wide range of subjects and making sure tuition is attentive and personalised. Classes are kept small, with rarely more than 10 students in each and often fewer. The teachers we met around College were all talkative and hugely passionate about their subject — many were in the middle of one-on-one lessons or extra sessions with pupils.
DLD offers 29 subjects at A Level, with additional vocational BTech qualifications available in subjects like music production and business. Maths, business and economics are some of the most popular subjects at A Level, and lots of students will also take an EPQ or the “DLD Diploma”.
Art and design are great here!
Irfan was keen to point out that academics at DLD extend beyond qualifications — students are also taught practical skills to prepare them for the future, such as financial education and what DLD calls “The Other Subject”, which encompasses everything from sex education to drugs.
DLD’s international community means the school is well-versed in English language qualifications; there are also one-year GCSE courses or pre-A Level courses available for overseas students.
In 2019, 28 per cent of students received 9/7 grades at GCSE, while 26 per cent of A levels were A or A and 54 per cent were A to B.
The school's own state-of-the-art recording studio
The Extracurriculars
While DLD’s traditional extracurriculars such as sport and physical activities are slightly constrained by its urban location, partnerships with London businesses, universities and cultural institutions give students unrivalled access to work experience opportunities and inspiration.
Shoaib Ali, the school’s head of partnerships, told us that the programme is not structured, but rather reactive to individual student’s interests and ideas. Previous students who showed an interest in media undertook work experience at the Financial Times, for example, while others regularly attend screenings and talks at the British Film Institute on the Southbank, or shadow doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital, just across the road.
Behind the stage - DLD has its own little theatre
There are also visits from nutrition experts, an academic studies and development programme with footballer Sol Campbell, and a previous head girl went on to do an internship at Goldman Sachs.
On site, there is only one small sports pitch, but Archbishop’s Park provides space for students to play netball, hockey and football. And what DLD lacks in sports facilities, it easily makes up for in its art, music and technology departments.
The school has a 100 per cent success rate at placing students on art foundation courses at the likes of Central St Martins and Goldsmiths, and it’s no wonder. The school and its governing body clearly hold the arts in high esteem — an enthusiastic art teacher told us how he had been involved in the architects’ planning meetings which decided the shape and layout of the classrooms.
DLD = a very creative school
Technology is also a key part of DLD’s artistic offering — multiple classrooms are filled with Apple Macs for students keen on music production, graphic design, communication, photography, and the like. In the basement, there’s an impressive live recording studio attached to one of the music tech rooms, and several smaller soundproof practice rooms that students who sing or play instruments can use at any time.
Other extracurriculars include fencing, DJ lessons, and boxing, but vary each year depending on teachers and students’ interests. In the basement, there is a sauna, swimming pool and gym that students are welcome to use at an additional cost.
Some of the nicest boarding accomodation we've ever seen!
The Boarding
The idea of boarding in London might fill many parents with a sense of dread, but DLD takes safeguarding very seriously. There is a 9.30pm curfew for the lower school; for the upper school, it’s 10.30pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends. The school and houseparents use an app called Reach to keep track of students whereabouts and check them in and out of the building safely.
Irfan says that rather than tell students no, DLD aims to educate them so they can be trusted themselves — an approach, he says, which produces mature adults less likely to go off the rails when they get to university. This attitude has been so successful that DLD has been approached by top London schools such as Westminster, just across the river, for tips on how to guide students around London life.
Just lovely!
Around 300 of DLD’s 500 students board, meaning the College is never empty on weekends, though boarders are welcome to spend evenings and weekends at day students’ homes. The boarding facilities, which are used by Year 10 upwards, are spread over 15 floors and divided into multi-floor “Huddles”, which act as traditional boarding houses. The rooms have different tiers — and prices — but all are premium, akin to modern university or hotel accommodation rather than that normally associated with boarding schools.
DLD’s metropolitan influence is even felt in the food it offers — the “Global Kitchen” thinks far beyond traditional provisions of meat and two veg, insteading offering menus featuring falafel wraps, tabbouleh and bulgar wheat salads.
One thing to note is that DLD’s community changes frequently; only 10 to 20 per cent of students stay from GCSE all the way to A Level.
View, view, view!
Our view on a student suited to DLD College
In Irfan’s own words, the “students who come to DLD (and the parents who send their children here) are open-minded”.
Its urban location means DLD is not for everybody — children who are sports mad or thrive from muddy knees and climbing up trees are going to feel frustrated and cooped-up in the city. But for those that are slight non-conformists (in the best sense of the word), DLD would be the perfect home. Bright, academic students would benefit from the tailored tuition and partnerships network, while those who are not thriving in mainstream education would receive the attention they need to re engage with their potential.
The school's library with views onto London
DLD would be ideal for any student craving something a little different, particularly those who are slightly more mature and would utilise the school’s connections to London businesses and arts institutions — making the most of what boarding in the capital has to offer.
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