Whatever the age of your child, it's important to enrol them in a private school or nursery as soon as possible as there are long waiting lists at the UAE's best schools.
In the UAE, government schools are restricted primarily to Arabic-speaking Emiratis, so you will need to enrol your child into a private school.
There is a wide choice of international curriculums at the UAE's primary and secondary schools, but you will find that many schools follow either the English (UK) National Curriculum, American Curriculum or International Baccalaureate Programme (IB). International schools are typically open to all nationalities, and so the choice is yours.
Get your child’s name on several school waiting lists as soon as possible as the demand for spaces at the more popular schools is high, and you can never apply too early. Also, find out if your company has a corporate agreement with a particular place, as that could move you up the waiting list. School fees vary considerably, so you will need to take that into account. Also, if you are a working parent you may want to check the availability of school transport.
To help you make a decision check the school's government ranking, if applicable. ADEC in Abu Dhabi and the KHDA in Dubai inspect and rate schools based on a wide range of criteria, from academic achievements in core subjects to the attitude of students.
Being an ADCB customer, you can pay fees for over 400 schools and colleges across all emirates through ADCB Personal Internet Banking, Mobile Banking (Mobile App) and our 24-hour Contact Centre.
There is a wide choice of international schools in the UAE, open to all nationalities, with many following either the English National Curriculum, American Curriculum or International Baccalaureate Programme (IB).
Finding the right programme
The English National Curriculum (commonly known as the British curriculum) is extensively used by international schools around the world. It’s a skill-based curriculum that covers a student’s entire education, aged three to 18, and fits into the English public examination system (GCSE and A Level), which is accepted by universities worldwide. The British Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS, Foundation Stages 1 and 2) for children aged three to five, is focused on developing the social and academic skills of young children through learning and play. Students then move on to the Key Stages 1 to 4, which covers core and foundation subjects; they complete their GCSEs, aged 16 and A Levels, aged 18.
The IB programme is compatible internationally and means your children should be able to fit into any school around the world. The programmes, aimed at students aged three to 19, focus on developing the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills of children.
Other curriculums include the CBSE/ICSE, an ideal option for Indian nationals who want to continue their child’s education internationally, but expect to settle back in India. It educates students to CBSE and ICSE level to the end of Year 12.
In Abu Dhabi, the Canadian International School Abu Dhabi offers an Alberta based curriculum; the Australian School of Abu Dhabi offers the Diploma (DP), the Middle Years (MYP) and the Primary Years (PYP); and the French School Abu Dhabi, or Lycee Louis Massignon, is one of several to offer the French curriculum.
Next door, in Dubai, the German International School Dubai is based on the curriculum of the German federal state of Thuringia, and the Lycee Francais International de Dubai teaches the French syllabus. There is also the Japanese School Dubai, the Russian International School Dubai and the Swedish School in Dubai.
School fees are a contentious issue for many. For a good school, you can expect to pay Dhs.25,000 plus per year during the primary years, Dhs.30,000 and up for the middle primary years, and as much as Dhs.60,000 per year for secondary school.
If you’re lucky, your company may include an education allowance for school fees as part of your employment package, so it’s worth trying to negotiate for this when accepting a job offer. Additionally, you will usually pay around Dhs.500 to put your child’s name on a waiting list, and a registration fee (around Dhs.2,000), which is deducted from your annual costs.
Local schools are restricted primarily to Arabic-speaking Emiratis, so you will need to enrol your child in a private school.
Having selected a school, you will need to register your child on the waiting list (there’s usually a Dhs.500 non-refundable fee). If places are available, your child will be assessed and then either offered a place or placed on a waiting list. Assessments are usually held at the child’s nursery or at the school, and tend to just ‘observe’ the child at play. It’s a stressful time for parents, especially as school’s registration procedures happen at different times of the year, but apply to three or four schools and you are more than likely to get a place. Your chances increase with siblings, who get priority. Most private schools here in the UAE insist on students wearing the official school uniform, and children are required to bring in a packed lunch. School hours tend to be 7.30am to 2.40pm, with an earlier finish on Thursdays, and many schools offer transport to help working parents.
Be prepared to accept that there are a lot of school holidays here in the UAE. The summer holidays stretch for 10 long weeks over the hottest months of July and August, when many kids return to their home countries for extended holidays, or attend summer camps. There are also holidays in April and December. Schools close for at least a week twice a year for Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha, and will most likely also open for reduced hours during the month of Ramadan. If one of you is a stay-at-home parent, then this poses few problems in terms of childcare; however, if both of you work, you will need to make sure that you have alternative arrangements for childcare during school holidays and random days off
There is a small selection of boarding schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with fees ranging from Dhs.65,000 to Dhs.160,000 for FS1 through to year nine. Alternatively, some parents opt to send their children abroad – usually back to their home country – for a boarding school education.