Choosing a school is a major, major decision and one that many parents struggle with
16 June 2013| Last updated on 18 February 2019
We see questions for parents in Dubai every day on our forum...
What is the best school for my child? What is the best Dubai school to choose if we live here? And so on, so forth. So to help parents out, we've pulled together some advice for you from our expert base and hope this will help you in making the final decision.
With so many schools in Dubai to choose from, it can be a monumental task trying to decide which school to enrol your child in.
As public schools in the UAE are not available to most expats in Dubai unless they home school their children, expatriates have to go through the somewhat challenging and very stressful process of private school selection.
Here's the important things to consider when choosing a school for your child in Dubai...
Ranking and Accreditations
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is a Dubai government authority that licenses and oversees both private and public education in Dubai. Since 2008, the Dubai School Inspections Bureau (DSIB), an arm of the KHDA, has been providing a comprehensive review of the performance of each school in Dubai. As the KHDA inspection reports place schools into four categories (unsatisfactory, acceptable, good, and outstanding) based on a number of key indicators, they are a great place to start researching potential schools.
When meeting your selected school, ask to see any accreditation reports so you can better understand the quality of the school and its curriculum.
Since Dubai is a transient and not always the ultimate destination for some expatriates, the type of curriculum, style of teaching, and language of your home country (or the country of your next expat assignment) are generally important deciding factors for a school.
As many different types of educational curriculum are offered in Dubai, ranging from British, American, Canadian, Australian, Arabic, and Indian to the International Baccalaureate (IB) system, this may be one way of weeding out different schools.
Since a fair number of schools have waiting lists, your choice of schools may be limited to which schools have availability at the time of your child’s anticipated enrolment. At some schools, students may only enrol at certain grade levels while others may only have openings available if a current student leaves.
Start looking into schools as early as possible since you don’t want to be rushed into an important decision and so that you have time to discuss options with friends who have been through the school selection process.
There is a huge range of tuition fees in Dubai, starting from approximately AED 5,000 a year to almost a AED 100,000 per year for some schools. Some schools also charge a reservation fee to ensure your child’s placement in addition to application fees.
If your children’s school fees are not covered or subsidised by your employer or your spouse’s employer, determine your budget and research the available schools in that price range. We have a big list of Dubai School Fees for you to help you make that all important decision.
Facilities and Campus
Visit the school and spend several hours there to observe the physical space, from classrooms and libraries to playgrounds and gymnasiums to determine how safe and comfortable your child will be as she will be spending many hours of her day at school. Will your child be happy in this environment? Does the school have adequate safety and security measures in place?
Individual Needs and Extracurricular Activities
If your child is an athlete, is musically or academically talented, or has special needs, these will be critical to your assessment of the school. What types of extracurricular activities does the school offer and are there programmes for the gifted or those with special needs?
Most importantly, involve your child and seek his opinion about the type of school he would like to attend and whether he actually likes the prospective school during your tour of the campus. Allow him to ask questions of teachers and administrators during the school visit. Finally, do listen to any concerns, desires, and expectations that he may have.
School Management, Leadership, and Values
What is the leadership and management like at your child’s prospective school? Are the school’s mission, vision, and values aligned with the goal for your child?
What qualifications do the teachers possess and what is the criterion used for hiring teachers? What types of instruction and assessment methods are used? How will they accommodate students’ differing abilities, interests and learning styles?
What are the relationships like between teachers and students and between students? During your visit to the school, watch how the students, teachers, other staff members like the cafeteria lady and bus driver all interact with each other. Is this the type of environment that will be conducive to your child’s personal development? Will your child fit in with the students at this school?
Try to speak to at least five different set of parents with children at your child’s prospective school to learn about their experience with the school.
Some schools may require your child to write an entrance exam, go through an interview, and may request previous school records. Don't stress your child out about the entrance exam as while the scores are important, schools do take a holistic approach to assessing admission requirements.
There are rigorous requirements to even apply for schools so check the website of the school you are interested in to find out which documents you will require. Before leaving your home country, you should have copies of your child’s school records for at least the last two years and any transfer certificates.
School Records and Numbers
Find out the attendance rate of the school. If it is over 90%, this probably indicates that students are not skipping school due to unhappiness with the curriculum or teaching staff.
Are there disciplinary problems at the school? If there is a high rate of students being constantly disciplined, it might signal the teachers’ lack of ability to manage their students.
Does the school seem financially stable? The last thing you would want is to enrol your child in a school which has to cut costs on the quality of the facilities, food and teaching in order to stay afloat financially.
Location and Transportation
You may have found the perfect school for your child in all the critical areas, but then discover at the last minute that your child has to spend two hours each way to get to school. While Dubai is not a geographically large city, traffic jams during rush hour will certainly add time to the bus ride or driving time for you so make sure you find out the length of the commute before handing over the cheque.
Once you have decided on the schools that you are interested in, you can arrange to visit the school to have a look around, get a feel for it and find out a bit more. This will help you to decide if you and your child will be happy with your choice.
Before arranging a school or college visit:
- Ask the school for their school prospectus and read it.
- Write a list of questions that you would like to ask.
- When would you like to visit? (it is best to visit during school hours)
- Will you be taking your child?
- Do you want someone to go with you?
- Is the school easy to get to? (think about transport arrangements)
- Will you be able to meet staff who would be involved with your child?
- Will you be able to talk to other parents of children at the school?
- How many children will be in your child’s class?
- How will your child be supported outside lesson time?
- How does the school deal with difficult behaviour?
- How is bullying dealt with?
- How does the school help children mix and make friends?
- How does the school communicate with parents?
- When can you talk to your child’s teachers?
- Will your child be able to have extra visits to the school before transfer and what arrangements will be made to help them settle in?
The sorts of things you might like to ask when visiting a school
Questions to ask yourself or talk through with someone after the visit:
- Did you feel welcomed at the school?
- Do you think your child would be happy there?
- Will your child get the support they need?
- Did you find it easy to talk to the head teacher, teacher, form tutor?
- Did the children around the school seem to have a good relationship with staff?
- Do you think the staff will be comfortable and confident in managing your child’s behaviour and directing learning?
- Do you think the staff will encourage your child to be as independent as possible?
- Would you feel able to talk to staff about any concerns or issues?
- Will the work be presented in a way your child would understand?
- Did the school show you what they do to help children with a variety of needs?
- We would highly recommend asking advice on the various schools through our Information Board to get some real life experience and advice too.
Advice From Parents in Dubai
Here's some real advice from fellow parents living in Dubai from our information forum:
Janesul: “I think that I might be able to safely speak on behalf of lots of us and say that a lot of the time our school choice is decided for us by availability of places in each school. I know that personally, my children are where they are because it was the only school that had places for both of them when we arrived.”
BusyBee2: “I would get into a school first and then look for accommodation. There are a lot of people that have to commute and live off- island but their chosen school is on- island or vice versa and the traffic situation is critical so you are best to get a school place first and then accommodation afterwards.”
Ellene: “We were just very lucky that the new school had opened just in time for us coming over otherwise I'm not sure where my daughter would be now. I think find a school and then your accommodation!”
Faryn: “We all have different education budgets, different needs for our kids, live in different areas and will hopefully get the right school for them.”
Just remember you are not alone whilst making the choice of school- we are here to help - we have regular events where you can meet other parents or Dubai experts and ask them questions or you can interact online here on our forum.