The History, Nature And Changing Identity Of BISJ
In the latter part of the 1970s, there existed in Jeddah an American school and a British preparatory school. The prep school only admitted holders of British or Dutch passports, and it had been founded under the auspices of those two embassies, which were located in Jeddah at that time.
The era in question was one of great expansion in the expatriate population, including the Western population, with many Europeans swelling the workforce. There was a sector of the community that sought an education through the medium of the English language, and of a British style, but whose children did not attend the prep school – because of choice or appropriate passport or simply oversubscription.
A group of these families decided to take the initiative and to start their own school with the support of the British and Belgian Embassies. The school was named the Continental School as it was expected to have the flavour of Continental Europe. The school was inaugurated on 1 October 1977 as a “villa school”, with the declared aim of providing a high-quality education for the expatriate community in Jeddah. Soon it acquired a more global vision, and its logo, designed by students, reflected the continents of the world and the school’s international approach.
As time went by, and the school began to flourish, it became apparent that it needed a specially recruited Headteacher, and so in 1979 Mr Trevor Williams, who had recently left Iran, came to Jeddah. Premises changed, the numbers of overseas staff recruited to work at the school increased, visas were obtained for them by the British Embassy, and the Saudi educational authorities began to evolve and to develop systems and structures for overseeing the school and others like it. Since Mr Williams retired from the school in August 1986, Mr Chris Spedding (September 1987 to August 1992), Mr Russ Law (September 1992 to August 2005) and Mr Bruce Gamwell (September 2005 to August 2015). Mr Ian Williams our new Director who previously worked in the Upper School as a Mathematics Teacher commenced in August 2015.
1979 - 1986
1987 - 1992
1992 - 2005
2005 - 2015
2015 - Present
The early European emphasis was superseded by a more global ethos, and increasing numbers of Muslim students from all over the world, including the UK, began to enrol at the school. The school became so popular, and its international ethos so desirable, that more British students applied to attend it than any other school in Jeddah. For this reason, in 1996, the name of the school was changed by order of the Ministry of Education to the British International School of Jeddah. Unofficially, the ‘Conti’ continues to be the preferred name used by many in the community, reflecting the schools’ genuinely international nature and ethos.
The school is a non-profit educational establishment, licensed to operate by the Directorate of Foreign Education (formally the Saudi Arabian International School’s Office – SAIS) of the Ministry of Education. The school has a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees. It is patronised by some diplomatic missions, notably the British, but it should be emphasised that the school does not have any form of diplomatic status.
In its original form as ‘The Continental School, it was accredited by the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) in 1990, the first British-style school worldwide to achieve this status. It gained re-accreditation by the Council of International Schools (CIS) as ‘The British International School of Jeddah’ in 2002 and again in 2012. It is also accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and is an accredited member of British Schools in the Middle East (BSME).
In 2015 the school is very different from the original villa school of October 1977. The evolution of the school over its 38 years of existence has, in no small part, been due to the changing nature of the expatriate community in Jeddah and the Ministry decision to allow Saudi students, with special permission, to attend. It is also due to the high demand from both local and expatriate parents for what is perceived to be high-quality education. It is also true to say that some of the changes are due to the changing regulatory framework in which the school operates. Now on a purpose built site, with over 1500 students from over sixty countries and with a staff in excess of 240 from more than 20 countries, what has not changed is the vision to be truly international in its focus.
The perceived high quality of the school has resulted in significant enrollment problems with many year groups now being heavily oversubscribed. The popularity of the school with Saudi families adds an additional dynamic.
Reflecting the international nature of the school, today our primary curriculum is based around the International Primary Curriculum and in Upper School, we follow a programme leading to the International General Certificate of Secondary Education in Year 11 and the International Baccalaureate Diploma in Year 13.