Best Schools in Abu Dhabi, and Why?

Looking at inspection reports, exam results and, increasingly, parent opinion, which schools topped the rankings this year? Plus: the highest performing curriculum in Abu Dhabi and how much can you expect to pay?
Best Schools in Abu Dhabi, and Why?
By David Westley
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LET'S GO

Defining the ‘best schools’ is always going to be a challenge, and as the needs of parents and their children will inevitably vary based on their own personal views, experience and requirements, there is certain to be a good deal of subjectivity in any evaluation.

At WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, we try to support that evaluation with objective information gleaned from a number of sources.

Probably the most obvious one is the rating awarded to each school, based on the biennial inspection process carried out on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Schools’ Regulator, ADEK – the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge. Schools are rated on six key performance standards, following a common process which is used increasingly throughout most emirates of the UAE.

However, any inspection process will prioritise those issues that are of greatest interest and concern to the inspection teams. And these may not be the same as those of parents. For example, the mandatory study of Arabic for non-Arabic speakers may not be as great a priority to some families as it is for the education authorities.

So what other objective information may parents be able to rely on?

Whilst historically, it has been difficult to find objective information about school performance in the UAE, and a result, we have leaned heavily on the ADEK inspection reports, for a number of years WhichSchoolAdvisor has strongly advocated the publication of exam results.

Whilst students at selective schools will inevitably achieve ‘better’ results than non-selective schools, provided that parents are aware of the admissions’ policies of schools in this context, comparisons can be made. As importantly, schools are beginning to talk about the value add they are enabling students to achieve – that is the improvement in grades achieved by students compared with those they were predicted to achieve when joining the school.

Finally, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is increasingly seeking opinions from parents, students and teachers, enabling the members of the school community to have a voice and to share their experience. The results of our surveys are published with our school reviews and we strongly encourage participation.

In this context, we are also very encouraged to see that ADEK is now publishing the Parent Surveys which form part of the school inspection process. We will increasingly be adding data from these surveys (only recently added to the TAMM website) to our reviews, along with the inspection reports that we already feature.

The education landscape in Abu Dhabi emirate

As we write in September 2020, there are 235 private schools in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. In 2019, there were some 241,112 students attending these schools (note, this number includes UAE nationals as well as expatriate residents). Private schools offer a range of 14 international curricula – the most common being UK, US, and Indian, with a small but growing number of IB curriculum schools, as well as Bangladeshi, Canadian, French, German, Iranian, Japanese and Philippine among others. There are also currently 48 private schools (one in five private schools) which offer the UAE National Curriculum.

According to the ADEK website “In order to achieve the objectives of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 to transform the Emirate's economy into a knowledge-based one, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge in Abu Dhabi is building a world-class education system that encourages innovation and excellence while contributing to the preparation of students for future challenges. It seeks to achieve this through dedicated programs, new initiatives and a set of regulations that will promote the educational process from kindergarten till high school.”

What the inspectors say?

The Covid 19 pandemic has meant that only a very small number of inspections took place in the 2019-20 academic year, and given that Abu Dhabi schools are only inspected every two years, this has meant a limited number of changes from 2018-19.

Currently nine schools are rated Outstanding, 22 rated Very Good, and 70 rated Good - a growth of 24 compared with 2017-18.

But what do the ratings mean?

In 2015 ADEK introduced the new unified inspection framework (intended to be rolled out across the UAE) for school inspections. In addition to offering more insight, the big change was the move away from the 'old' alpha/numeric inspection grades of A1-C7 to a new 'simplified' ranking of Outstanding through to Very Weak.

The ratings are defined below:

  • Outstanding: Quality of performance substantially exceeds the expectation of the UAE
  • Very Good: Quality of performance exceeds the expectation of the UAE
  • Good: Quality of performance meets the expectation of the UAE (This is the expected level for every school in the UAE)
  • Acceptable: Quality of performance meets the minimum level of quality required in the UAE (This is the minimum level for every school in the UAE)
  • Weak: Quality of performance is below the expectation of the UAE
  • Very Weak: Quality of performance is significantly below the expectation of the UAE

The inspection framework is designed to look at six key performance standards aimed at ensuring that all aspects of a school’s provision are addressed.

These standards, which are graded using the same ratings as the overall performance ratings are:

  • Student Achievement – based on the core subjects of English (or native language), Maths and Science, Arabic (as a first and second language) and Islamic Studies, and ‘other subjects’ (including languages, arts and physical education). 
  • Students’ Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills;
  • Teaching and Assessment – focused on two key measures of Teaching for Effective Learning, and Assessment;
  • Curriculum – divided into Curriculum design and implementation, and Curriculum adaptation;
  • Protection, care, guidance and support – separated between Health and Safety (including child protection), and Care and support;
  • Leadership and Management – broken down into 5 subsections, including the effectiveness of Leadership, Partnerships with Parents and the Community, and Governance.

As ADEK works on a two-year inspection cycle, all established Abu Dhabi schools now have at least two inspection reports issued using the revised grading system.

In addition, ADEK inspectors can and do visit schools during their first year of operation. Depending on scheduling this can fall after just a few short months of operating, a tough time for any new school!

The latest ratings

The 2018-19 inspection process saw three new schools rated Outstanding, including Brighton College Abu Dhabi, the British School Al Khubairat and Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi. In the 2019-20 inspection round (which ceased at the end of February with the arrival of Covid 19), Aldar Academies’ Al Yasmina and The Pearl were the only schools to be added to the Outstanding list bringing the total to 9.

Table of Outstanding schools

School Name ADEK overall rating 2017-20 Previous Rating School Fees Minimum (AED) School Fees Maximum (AED)
Al Muna  Academy Outstanding Outstanding 41580 41580
Al Yasmina Academy Outstanding* Very Good 42,900 61,150
Bloom Academy (Brighton College) Al Ain Outstanding Outstanding 49,900 79,000
Brighton College, Abu Dhabi Outstanding Very Good 48,900 77,720
British School of Khubairat Outstanding Very Good 43,160 70,630
Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi  Outstanding Very Good 65,000 96,333
Merryland International School Outstanding Very Good 23,500 41,400
Raha International School Outstanding Outstanding 36,100 56,900
The Pearl Academy Outstanding* Very Good 41,700 43,150

Schools marked with an * were inspected in 2019-20.

In terms of the other schools inspected in 2019-20, Aldar Academies’ Al Bateen achieved a Very Good rating. Previously rated Outstanding, Al Bateen was downgraded to Good at its last inspection following the closure of Al Mushrif Primary School which had been co-located with the Secondary school. The return to Very Good will have therefore been a very welcome one. Al Bateen has also opened a Primary section in 2019 and is in the process of becoming one of the small number of International Baccalaureate schools in the emirate. It was the only school to improve from Good to Very Good in the curtailed 2019-20 inspection round.

Other schools to achieve the Very Good rating in 2018-19 included both branches of Abu Dhabi International Private School, Al Basma British School, Emirates National Private School Al Ain, Horizon Private School (branch) and Private International English School (Bhavans). Repton (Junior & Senior) School Abu Dhabi also achieved a Very Good rating on its first inspection. Together these schools bring the total rated Very Good to 22.

Table of Very Good schools

School Name ADEK overall rating 2017-20 Previous Rating School Fees Minimum (AED) School Fees Maximum (AED)
Abu Dhabi International School Very Good Good 13,660 29,280
Abu Dhabi International School, Branch Very Good Good 30,800 46,400
Al Ain Academy Very Good  Very Good 39600 57330
Al Ain American School Very Good  Good 16800 29400
Al Basma British School  Very Good  Good 22,040 40560
Al Bateen Academy Very Good* Good 56100 65900
American Community School of Abu Dhabi Very Good Very Good 47,220 85,490
Emirates National School, Al Ain Very Good Good 21,345 55,637
Emirates National School MBZ Very Good Good 23330 59920
GEMS American Academy Very Good  Very Good 50300 70100
GEMS World Academy Very Good Very Good 39950 58400
German International School Very Good Very Good 31,800 47,900
Horizon Private School Branch Very Good Good 23,490 44,080
Japanese School Of Abu Dhabi Very Good Very Good 15200 33000
Lycee Louis Massignon School  Very Good Very Good 27,000 46,820
Private International English School (Bhavans)  Very Good  Good 10,200 19,300
Repton Foundation School Very Good Very Good 55000 61000
Repton School Abu Dhabi Very Good  n/a 65,000 74,000
Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys Very Good Good 47900 58200
Sheikh Zayed Academy for Girls Very Good Very Good 29000 66900
The American International School Abu Dhabi Very Good Very Good 30500 55500
The British International School of Abu Dhabi Very Good Very Good 50300 66400

There are now 70 schools that have achieved a Good rating (the rating to which all schools are expected to aspire, with Acceptable being the minimum requirement).

The original Abu Indian School joined its branch (rated Good in 2018-19) in achieving a Good rating in 2019-20. Long-established Al Ain English Speaking School, Al Ruwais International, Beit Al Maqdes, Emirates Falcon, Emirates National School Al Manaseer, Indian Private School Al Ain, International Community School Abu Dhabi and the International School of Choueifat Abu Dhabi also all improved to a Good rating in 2019-20.

In 2018-19, both Ajyal International School and its US curriculum sister school at Al Falah, Aspen Heights British School, Dunes International (previously Ryan Private School), Garden City British School and SABIS Yas Island achieved a Good rating for the first time. Al Khalil International School, Al Manara, Al Mashail (National Torches), Belvedere British School, Global Indian International School, Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan Generations School, Summit International and the United Schools of Al Yahar and Baniyas all improved to Good.

Table of Good schools

School Name ADEK overall rating 2017-20 Previous Rating School Fees Minimum (AED) School Fees Maximum (AED)
Abu Dhabi Grammar School Canada Good Acceptable 21000 45100
Abu Dhabi Indian Private School Good* Acceptable 7150 14414
Abu Dhabi Indian School Branch 1 Good Acceptable 9,360 20,000
Adnoc School, Sas Al Nakl Good Good 27,210 51,590
Ajyal International School  Good Acceptable 27,270 48,870
Ajyal International School - Al Falah Good Good 20,580 41,160
Al Adhwa Private School Good Acceptable 7200 26708
Al Ain English Speaking School Good* Acceptable 21,200 43,280
Al Andalus Private Academy Good Good 5600 13700
Al Bahiya Private School Good Acceptable 16100 17300
Al Bashair Private School Good Good 12900 27200
Al Bateen Scientific School Good Good 15,430 25,310
Al Dhabiania Private School Good Good 9,050 16,460
Al Dhafra Private School AD Good Good 25,520 43,930
Al Dhafra Private School Al Ain Good Good 12,240 22,940
Al Ittihad National Private School AD Good Good 19200 39300
Al Ittihad National Private School Al Ain Good Acceptable 16,600 30,800
Al Khalil International School  Good Acceptable 5,600 14,200
Al Mamoura Academy Good Good 44,800 72,430
Al Manara Private School Good Acceptable 13000 17300
Al Mashail (National Torches) Private School Good Acceptable 8,500 20,000
Al Nahda National School for boys Good Good 17500 26000
Al Najah Private School Good* Good 13500 35000
Al Nash'e Assaleh Private School Good Good 7000 23000
Al Rabeeh Academy Good Good 38,900 46,000
Al Rawafed Private School Good Good 18000 41800
Al Ruwais International Private School Good* Acceptable 17900 25000
Al Sanawbar Private School Good Good 12500 26600
Al Yasat Private School Good Good 32,410 49,700
Amity International School Good Good 42000 52000
Asian International Private School Br. 1 Good Weak 3,370 11,860
Aspen Heights British School Good n/a 35,000 60,000
Beit Al Maqdes International Private School Good* Acceptable 5100 9100
Belvedere British School Good Acceptable 23,600 31,590
Bright Riders School  Good Good 9,470 19,650
Canadian International School Good Good 35075 46494
Creative British School Good Acceptable 7000 18000
Diyafah International School  Good Good 25,900 42,600
Dunes International (formerly Ryan Private) School Good Good 12,000 23500
Emirates Falcon International Private School Good* Acceptable 20000 27500
Emirates National School Manaseer Good* Acceptable 23330 32260
Emirates Private School AD Good  Good 9100 21600
Future International Academy Good Good 12,350 30,350
Garden City British School AA Good n/a 23,100 27,500
GEMS Cambridge International School Good Good 20500 34900
GEMS United Indian School Good Good 9570 11,420
GEMS Winchester School, Abu Dhabi Good Good 15,200 29,010
Global Indian International School Good Acceptable 10,600 12,550
Horizon Private School  Good Acceptable 6,070 19,340
Indian Private School Al Ain Good* Good 4200 9200
International Community School Good* Acceptable 21750 50831
International Community School Branch 1 Good Good 12,200 26,600
International Indian School Good Good 11,600 21,100
International Jubilee Private School Good Acceptable 12200 26600
Liwa International Private School Good Good 16200 29300
Liwa International School for Girls Good Good 32,500 41,850
Mayoor Private School  Good Good 17,500 25,000
Mohammed Bin Khalid Al Nahyan Generations School Good Acceptable 12,100 17,200
Our Own English High School AA Good Good 5,800 11,480
Rosary Private School  Good Good 7,610 16,670
SABIS Yas Island Good n/a 39,500 62,200
Saint Joseph's School Good Good 5800 10000
Summit International School  Good Acceptable 19,240 26,030
Sunrise English Private School Good Good 6800 10700
The Cambridge High School Good Good 14500 30700
The Gulf International Private Academy  Good Good 11,800 25,500
The International School of Choueifat Abu Dhabi Good* Acceptable 19600 34600
The International School of Choueifat Khalifa A Good Good 20000 35300
United Private School Al Yahar Good Acceptable 14,920 29,220
West Yas Academy Good Good 52,470 63,280

**schools without a link to a review are UAE National Curriculum private schools.

In addition, in 2019-20, ADEK introduced the Charter Schools project, whereby 13 schools have been established under private-public ownership. These schools are not included in the inspection programme as yet and offer places only to Arabic speakers (the vast majority of students are Emirati).

What is the top curriculum in Abu Dhabi?

The highest performing curriculum in Abu Dhabi is the British curriculum with all but one Outstanding-rated school utilising this curriculum. The exception to this rule is Raha International, one of the few full IB curriculum schools in the emirate.

The British curriculum also outperformed the others across Very Good rated schools too, with a total of twelve of the 22 schools following the English National Curriculum. The US curriculum is the second most popular choice in the Very Good school category, accounting for a further six schools.

Interestingly, across the Good ratings curriculum popularity differs, with the 22 schools in this category using the US curriculum, whilst 12 offer the UK curriculum and 10 the Indian (CBSE) curriculum.

However, although it should be noted that curriculum alone does not determine the quality of a school, there are three schools of differing curricula rated Weak by ADEK, although there are no longer any schools rated Very Weak.

It’s not all about ADEK inspections...

As well as inspections by ADEK, British schools can opt into British Schools Overseas (BSO) accreditation and inspection. These inspections usually take place every three to five years and involves a team of OFSTED inspectors visiting from the UK. The BSO inspection aims to measure the school’s performance based on the standards used in England, and schools that participate do so with the clear intention of showing their commitment to a genuine ‘British’ education.

Abu Dhabi has several British Schools which have opted for these additional inspections, visit here to find out which they are and how they did.

All French schools must apply to become affiliated with the French Ministry of Education. The process involves a thorough audit on application, and once licensed they are inspected annually by the French government. This process is NOT optional, however given all the French schools' ADEK ratings (mainly Very Good), this would certainly appear to be no bad thing.

Schools that participate in a further external assessment such as BSO, the French Ministry, and German schools and Japanese schools (who also go through an independent accreditation process from their home countries) are also not necessarily inspected on the usual two-yearly ADEK cycle.

In recent years, US curriculum schools were requested by the ADEK to seek affiliation with an approved US accreditation body – there are total of four including Cognia, The New England Association of Schools and Colleges, The Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges or The Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Further details can be found here.

What about academic achievement?

Having considered the results from the inspectors, there's no doubt parents also want to know how well the school performs in terms of international tests and external exams.

Although ADEK inspectors review school success in this context, and also in respect of participation in global bench-marking tests such as TIMMS and PISA, detailed information is not available within the reports.

As a whole, the UAE has some way to go on international benchmarks like the PISA test. The UAE Government publishes PISA results which show slow but steady improvement over the past 10 years. The most recent tests were conducted among almost 600,000 15 year old students in 79 countries on reading, science and mathematics in 2019. 

The focus of the 2019 round of tests was reading and the UAE went up two places from 48th to 46th place since the tests were last conducted in 2015. The country also went up two places in mathematics from 47th to 45th. Once again the UAE was the leading country on PISA assessment in the Arab world.

Although private schools in the UAE have taken part in PISA since 2009 the UAE didn't start to take part in the full assessment until 2012, so this was the third round of testing in which both public and private schools have participated.

There is no doubt that the best Abu Dhabi schools are very good, with the likes of British School Al Khubeirat, Brighton College Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, Al Yasmina Academy and Raha International School comparing favourably with some of the best private schools in the UK - at least in terms of academic results.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com acknowledges that increasing numbers of schools in Abu Dhabi are now choosing to publish their GCSE/A Level and IB Diploma results. Indian curriculum schools do not appear to be as open with providing details of their students’ successes.

In 2019 and 2020, Abu Dhabi's schools did really rather well, with some of the UAE's top scores coming from the emirate's schools. However, with the widespread cancellation of public examinations in 2020 as a result of Covid 19, and the move to various assessment processes for UK, Indian and IB curricula, results are not, perhaps, as comparable as in previous years. Accordingly, we include links to the 2019 and 2020 results below.

Read more: (I)GCSE results 2020 

Read more: A Level results 2020 

Read more: IB Diploma results 2020 

Read more: CBSE results 2020 

Parent Opinion

What do parents of children actually going to schools in Abu Dhabi think..? We have the answer for that too.

If you go to any school review page you will find a tab for Parent Opinion. Click on it to see how a school does for a range of metrics - discipline, academics, how much children look forward to going to school, the quality of feedback - and so on.

To give context, each metric is compared against a UAE average....Check out the views of parents of the 30 best schools in Abu Dhabi 

And as we mentioned earlier, ADEK is now beginning to publish its own parent surveys on the TAMM website. Although most reports appear to date back to 2017-18 and some cannot be downloaded for technical reasons, a large number are available.

Parents are asked to evaluate the school on a mark out of 5 for each of the following criteria: Parent's Overall Impression, Academic Achievement, Quality of Learning, Parental Engagement, School Safety, School Health, School Code of Conduct, and School Leadership. ADEK compares the marks allocated to these ratings across schools that have achieved an overall inspection rating of the same level and provides a detailed breakdown of parents’ responses to a range of questions under each criterion.

A sample report can be found here.

Of course, as with any survey, the size of the sample – that is the number of parents who respond – is key to the reliability of the data, and this varies widely between schools. However, as a further objective set of data, it is a useful resource for parents looking at specific schools.

Just how expensive are Abu Dhabi's Top Schools?

Well, first the good news, Abu Dhabi's top schools ARE significantly cheaper than their counterparts in Dubai; however, fees can still be significant, depending on the school you choose.

The average early years fees for an Outstanding school is AED 43,637 rising to AED 68,980 for later years.

The most affordable Outstanding option is Merryland International School with fees between AED 23,500 and AED 41,400.

In the Very Good rated schools the average cost of Early Years is AED 33,933 while the senior years cost an average of AED 53,250.

There are bargains to be had however, the Al Ain American School charges only AED 29,400 per senior year, while Private International English School (Bhavans) is even more affordable at AED 19,300.

The schools rated Good vary greatly in price. With the Indian schools often charging less than AED 10,000 per year through to the premium offering such as the US curriculum West Yas Academy asking over AED 63,000 per year.

Our advice to parents seeking information about the Best Schools in Abu Dhabi is that you use the School Finder application on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com to search by location, curriculum and fees, create a short-list of schools.

Read the reviews and parent feedback to narrow your choice to the Best School in Abu Dhabi that suits you and your child's individual needs.

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