International Sharing School and Dukes Education – a partnership for the future

 In Education, International schools, News, Schools

International Sharing School (ISS), a family based school in Oeiras near the Portuguese capital Lisbon that was created by families to serve families all around the world, has partnered with the UK-based Dukes Education to consolidate and enhance the educational and facilities offer it provides for its 700 pupils.

The partnership with the private education group, whose exact investment and share have not been disclosed, is to support and enhance ISS plans to pursue the second phase of its business and education plan in which the school will consolidate its existing structure and focus on its academic programmes, the restructuring of its facilities and getting more resources to better deliver the experiences that it provides for students and families.

“When we created the school four years ago we never did so with the intention to partner with another group. We very quickly identified a space within the international schools sector to do something different, and we were quite creative and redesigned the facilities that we had which started off as a microchip factory, and transformed it into a state-of-the art education and learning centre. We have grown very fast and successfully achieved what we set out to do” for the first phase of development, explains ISS CEO, Miguel Ladeira Santos.

Preserving values

It was from this precept that ISS began talking to different international educational groups that were looking into investing in international schools or were already in Portugal, and examined the potential value added of working and partnering with one of these private education groups.

“Our main concern as a family school is to preserve our set of values — caring, sharing, multiculturalism, and hospitality — not just as educators, but as people who are very important to us, values that came from our parents and are practised by all of the team. Everyone at the ISS Sharing schools (the family has two schools; one in Madeira and the Oeiras site) — the management, teachers and students share the same values and vision”, continues Miguel Santos.

“We saw in Dukes Education a reputable group with state-of-the-art schools which is a reference at what they do, whether in the creative, academic or special needs spheres, and they are the best at what they do, and we are the best at what we do, so it makes sense to partner with this group,” explains the ISS CEO.

Santos insists that the International Sharing School will be more international going forward, and stressed that Dukes was partnering and not taking over the school; there would be no big structure changes to the curriculum, staff or management that had not already been planned — including the hiring of a new principal — rather quite the opposite, the partnership will allow for existing plans to be enhanced so that they can be achieved in a shorter space of time.


Miguel Santos says that partnering with Dukes Education will bring many opportunities and synergies for ISS, ranging from summer schools to career counselling. “At the end of the day joining Dukes still preserves the ethos of a family school; it’s just that we are now part of a bigger family”.

It was a proposal that was welcomed by many of the parents who gathered at the Tagus Park Central Hub last week in Oeiras to learn about the new partnership and ask questions or voice concerns at how it would change the current management setup, the curriculum, facilities, the activities on offer or the fees setup. One parent congratulated the management of ISS for “being different, having a “different approach”, and for “being brave enough” to abdicate “full control” while not being “afraid to be accountable” or “move ahead on a new path to achieve its set objectives” as well as having the “courage to move out of (its) comfort zone”.

Aatif Hassan – a remarkable story

Aatif Hassan, the founder of Dukes Education, has a rather interesting and unlikely background for an educator to say the least on first examination.

“I’m not an educator at all” he admits. His own educational accolade was being born slightly disabled, going through a traumatic early life, losing his mother when he was six, and being homeless for two years.

At school he was severely dyslexic and suffered from ADHD – often undiagnosed at that time, his disruptive behaviour in class put down to being a naughty boy. And the Dukes founder admits his only educational achievement was “being thrown out of my school in London at the age of 12”.

“I understand better than many people the value of an education. When I was 12 my father spent everything he had by investing his wealth in then sending me to an independent school where I was nurtured, supported and my energies were channelled so that when I left, I did so with educational qualifications,” he says.

Aatif Hassan, aged 44, went on to play national rugby for England, joined the British armed forces for which he served in two elite regiments in some “complicated situations”. Finally, he went to university and graduated with a 1st class degree in mathematics before worked in the city of London as a markets trader, and at the age of 35 after a very traumatic triple car accident he decided to retire from the city and focus on education.

Having a purpose

“I am one of those crazy people who wake up in the morning and know I’ve found my purpose. I love working with young people and see no better role than in serving children. I do that not as a teacher — although I do teach politics, economics and mathematics — but by serving the boards that I support,” says the Dukes founder.

Aatif reveals that Dukes was founded to be “anti-establishment” because his feeling was that the other education groups had become “too corporate and large and had lost the essence of the child”. “What keeps me humble is going into the classroom visiting the teachers and children and interacting”.

And continued: “Children have this amazing and unique innocence and an ability to change the world, and my belief is that if we can nurture their time and energies in the most diverse way, we can really transform the world.”

Attentive to special needs

Dukes is also attentive to catering for children who are on the autism/Asperger’s/ADHD spectrum. We know that everyone is on the spectrum, it’s just a case of where you are on that spectrum. We also know that 25% of CEOs have some form of ADHD or are dyslexic, and 44% of millionaires in the US, according to data, while 25% of young people in prison who have been sentenced for minor crimes are also ADHD, so education is really important in defining the direction of children who have these challenges, and can either define a life of success or crime,” said Aatif Hassan adding “we are proud to admit children who are different”.

And Dukes has developed a great track record over the past nine years since It was founded by Aatif Hassan who points that since 2015 not one board member, head teacher or principal had resigned in an industry where the churn rate can be as high as 20% yet at Dukes it is only 3.8%.

Dukes is all about supporting schools in becoming world class in their own domain. He gives the example of Cardiff Sixth Form College which for the last 10 years has been the best school in the world based on ‘A’ level results.

Talking about the early days when he founded Dukes Education, Aatif Hassan recalls developing the project in his mind and approaching a bank and borrowing a “few million pounds” against some freehold assets. He then brought some friends in, as well as some family offices. Today Dukes Education has Oxford and Cambridge funding lines. “It’s an evergreen, they’ve never sold an investment, I have full control in this hybrid (funding) structure” he said.

Serving children

Asked about his long-term ambition for Dukes, the entrepreneur is clear: “to serve children”. “The more children we can serve, the more successful and happier they will be and I will have served my purpose,” he said adding that the family of 29 schools and nurseries and educators did not, for now, have plans to expand beyond Europe.

“We’re not planning to exit. We believe in building a legacy, and all the really great organisations have been built over many generations. It is amazing what the Santos family have done here in just four years and I am very blown away and humbled at what Dukes has achieved over the past nine years, but our plans are long term, for the next 20-30 years. It’s not a race, we have to build the right foundations, keep the right structures, grow sustainably and make sure we are surrounded by the right people”, Aatif Hassan explained.

An impressive portfolio

As to Dukes Education’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators a way for businesses, organisations or individuals to measure progress over time and whether they are on track to reach their goals) Aatif Hassan remarked that the Santos family was “incredibly mature and self-aware” to engage in all of the indicators identified.

The first is to recognise that ISS is a school that is growing incredibly fast and needs to catch up with itself and consolidate. “We are predicting a lower growth rate going forwards; this is not being negative or pessimistic, it’s recognition of the need to cement what has been achieved so far. We’re not going to grow for now but we will enhance the existing school,” he stressed.

“We know that after the kids, the most important assets are the teachers, and there is nothing better than the quality of the product when children go home inspired by amazing things they have done at school, so it is important that we bring in, pay well and retain teaching staff.”

Dukes Education has a impressive portfolio of private schools. It has Hampstead Fine Arts College, widely regarded as the top college in London for fine, visual and performing arts.

There is also the Copperfield International School Verbier – the worlds first ski in, ski out school offering three of the world’s best academic programmes for international schools including the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and the Cambridge IGCSE. “We have national skiing champions at the school who as well as getting an IB education are on the slopes morning and afternoon.

Creating a legacy

Aatif Hassan say Duke’s real ambition is to create a legacy, to create a brand and support International Sharing School and all other brands in its portfolio to be the very best version of themselves by bringing these schools together in a collaborative way, with the best in-house teacher training programmes so that teachers can share and access almost 300 different programmes in a project that is totally unique”, he revealed.

Aatif Hassan emphasised that the reason that Dukes had partnered with ISS was that the school shares the same ideals. “When I walked in I immediately saw happy children. Smiling children is the biggest acid test for a school, and I saw the high level of staff engagement. With the way the spaces were defined, with the design of the teaching areas and visual features such as caves and trees, I thought ISS is really challenging how education can be delivered,” he remarked.

“You could really see and perceive the values; this was’t just marketing, this was truly a school with a staff and management who have set out to embrace global citizenship. Then there is the value of care. Good education leading to meaningful careers is a given, but If we can find holistic, upstanding members of society, that is something we feel strongly about. Finally, there is hospitality. It is very rare to see that value in a school. Hotels and restaurants, yes; schools not so often,” he added.

And continued: “When we looked at their values and ours we saw a perfect alignment, and understood that we could work with ISS because they are in it for the long term.”

The partnership

The partnership involves supporting the current family’s set up without changing the name, the staff, education model or business plan. However, Dukes will challenge the team to develop and be the very best that the can.

“We will act as a critical friend and someone behind the scenes. It is still ISS but with a new member of the ‘family’, both partners committed to the children and in delivering the very best education while developing and building the ISS brand”, Aatif Hassan reassures.

Miguel Santos explains that as a partnership Dukes have become co-owners with ISS with all the medium to long term benefits of a better structure and enhanced resources; more efficient and capable, and with more teachers. “We are in a better condition to attract the best teachers and being part of a network of schools like Dukes will be another added value for attracting teachers as well as the financial packages.”

As to the shareholding of the partnership, or the amount of investment provided, how and over how long, this was not divulged. Although it was revealed that while the current ISS management retains control, the major shareholder is now Dukes Education.

“The reason why we chose to partner with Dukes Education rather than any other group is because our family is here for the long term and to develop the school and its structure we want to partner with the right people and with Dukes Education we believe we have succeeded,” concluded the CEO of the International Sharing School, Miguel Ladeira Santos.