A Foreign Expatriate’s Guide to Choosing a Private School in Dubai

Foreign expatriate students living in Dubai usually go to private schools. Public school education isn’t free to non-UAE nationals. Arabic is also the medium of instruction in such public schools, and this is probably the more significant impediment for non-Arabic speaking foreign expat students.

It can be challenging to choose one of the 215 private schools in Dubai, however, so why don’t you use the following criteria to limit your options?

1.  Location

First, restrict your search to your neighbourhood. If you live in Al Barsha, particularly Al Barsha South, GEMS National School Al Barsha and other schools in Al Barsha should be at the top of your list.

As a parent, you naturally want a school close to where you live so it will be highly accessible to your children. Preferably, the school is close enough to walk or cycle to, but if that’s not possible, it should at least be just a few minutes’ drive away.

2.  Curriculum

One of the most effective ways to narrow down your options is to filter your choices according to their curriculum. Deciding on a particular curriculum should immediately halve your options (at least for schools within or close to your neighbourhood).

Many curriculums are available in the UAE and, in Dubai, the four most popular curriculums are:

  • The national curriculum for England (commonly known as the United Kingdom or the British curriculum): 35% share of private school enrolment
  • Indian curriculum (this can be the Central Board of Secondary Education or CBSE, or the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education or ICSE): 26% share of private school enrolment
  • The United States curriculum (based on the U.S. Common Core State Standards): 16% share of private school enrolment
  • International Baccalaureate or IB (some schools are exclusively on IB, while some are a mix of this and another curriculum): 11% share of private school enrolment

Which of these curriculums is best? No one curriculum is better than the rest, and a curriculum’s suitability depends on your learning objectives and preferences.

As a case in point, suppose you are a British national in Dubai for work, and you plan to send your children back to the United Kingdom for their university studies. In this case, the logical thing to do is to enrol your children in a British-curriculum school.

That being said, even if you plan to send them to the United Kingdom for higher education, it doesn’t mean you cannot enrol your children in an American, Indian or IB curriculum school in Dubai. That should be alright, too, as U.K. universities have student evaluation metrics in place for assessing admission applicants who did not graduate from a British-curriculum school.

3.  Academic Results

After deciding on a particular curriculum, you must evaluate your shortlisted private schools according to their academic performance.

You can use many factors to assess a school’s academic performance. This can be easy to do for a British-curriculum school because of the regular national assessments that help schools and parents track student progress.

For instance, British curriculum school students in the United Arab Emirates typically undergo the following national assessments:

  • National tests in English reading, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and maths in year two
  • National tests in English and maths in year six
  • The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) subject exams (or the International GCSE) or the Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) Firsts in years 10 and 11
  • The Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level subject exams in Year 12
  • The Advanced (A) Levels or the BTEC Nationals in Year 13

You can ask your target school about their students’ performances in these and other national assessments to evaluate the school’s quality of instruction. Their students’ academic results in years 10 and 11 (their GCSEs/IGCSEs/BTEC Firsts) and years 11 and 12 (their AS/A Levels and BTEC Nationals) are of particular importance.

Note: BTEC qualifications are designed for those who plan to enrol in a vocational college program instead of pursuing a degree program in university after secondary school. However, note that those with BTEC qualifications may still apply for university admission if they decide on a non-vocational educational pathway later on.

Related reading: When You Should Get Involved with Your Child’s College Education

4.  Accreditations

You should check the school’s accreditations. Accreditations ensure that a school has the requisite approval to offer courses that lead to qualifications.

Accrediting organisations have strict accreditation conditions and high standards. Therefore, a school’s accreditations are your assurance that a school satisfies the requirements and holds itself to the standards of the accrediting organisations.

If you’re looking for a British-curriculum school in Dubai, check that your options have accreditations from the following bodies:

Pearson Edexcel

This organisation awards academic, vocational and work-based learning qualifications, including BTEC Firsts and Nationals. This accreditation means the school can deliver courses that lead to qualifications from Pearson Edexcel.

Oxford AQA International Examinations

This organisation is the result of a partnership between the Oxford University Press (by the University of Oxford) and the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance. It is responsible for administering Oxford AQA International GCSEs and International AS/A Levels.

A school with approval from this organisation can deliver Oxford AQA courses that lead to International GCSE and International AS/A level qualifications.

University of Cambridge International Examinations

A school accredited by the University of Cambridge International Examinations offers University of Cambridge-approved and -constructed courses that can lead to Cambridge International GCSEs and International AS and A Levels.

Criteria for Deciding on a Private School in Dubai

Foreign expatriates must send their children to a private school in Dubai, but since Dubai has hundreds of private schools, choosing a school can be overwhelming. Therefore, you need a system for narrowing down your options.

First, you can filter private schools according to their location and curriculum. Next, you can assess their academic results and accreditations. In the end, you should be left with a few or a handful of schools that are within or close to your neighbourhood, offer the curriculum you prefer, and provide high-quality education as manifested by their academic results and accreditations.

Actual registration should be the easy part because of online enrolment. GEMS Al Barsha National School, for instance, has a convenient admission process. It begins with a parent filling out an online form, and the school takes it from there.


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