Getting a School Place in the UAE

Seeking admission to school is one of the most stressful experiences many parents go through. Our Guide to Getting Mentally Prepared to Choose a School already provides you with information as to how you might go about choosing a school, but often this is just the starting point...
Getting a School Place in the UAE
By Lyn Soppelsa
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LET'S GO

If you are fortunate enough to enrol your child and keep him or her at the same school throughout his/her education in the UAE, you are one of the lucky ones. Many parents have to transfer their children between schools of the same curriculum, to schools of a different curriculum or to a different emirate – and all of these changes have implications in terms of the regulatory process.

Finding your way through the process from overseas can be even more stressful.

Residents and newcomers to the UAE might reasonably assume that a common set of rules and regulations would apply across all seven emirates. However, in common with other areas of legislation, the UAE is still a relatively new country, and there are important variations between the emirates as a result.

Unlike many countries where expatriates are able to send their children to public/state schools funded by government, in the UAE, it is the norm for expatriate children to attend private schools. Overall responsibility for Education in the UAE belongs to the Ministry of Education, which has complete responsibility for Public Schools (open essentially only to Emirati students) and direct responsibility for Private Schools in some, but not all, emirates.

As the capital of the UAE, and its largest emirate, the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department (reporting to the Ministry of Education) is responsible for the management and regulation of both Public and Private Schools. In Sharjah and the Northern Emirates (Ajman, Fujeirah, Umm al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah) the relevant Education Zone (again under the Ministry of Education) regulates both Public and Private Schools.

In Dubai, whilst regulation of the Public School sector lies with the Ministry of Education, regulation of Private Schools lies with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). When first established in 2006, the KHDA, was able to take a more autonomous approach to the regulation of private schools in Dubai and this is still reflected in certain policies, despite recent steps to create a unified approach across all emirates. Increasing cooperation can be seen, particularly in relation to a unified School Inspection process, to ensure that all private schools meet the same quality standards based on the same set of criteria.

The UAE offers schools with a wide range of curricula. The vast majority follow a September to June academic year. The exceptions to this are the Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, whose school year starts in April and ends in March. Whilst the application process is essentially the same, deadlines for applications to schools and for registration with the Education regulator in each emirate vary as a result. This is particularly relevant in relation to curriculum transfer or to families relocating to the UAE during the academic year.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has reached out to Registrars and Admissions staff throughout the UAE, obtained copies of the rules and regulations that apply (and information about the variations applied from emirate to emirate), with the aim of providing you with a Definitive Guide to Admissions (at least under the current rules). 

We would like to thank the Admissions and Enrolment teams at GEMS Education, Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi and the Australian International School in Sharjah for their input, which has been invaluable.

This introductory section will provide you with an overview of the Admissions process and cover those topics that are common to all 7 emirates. Individual guides for Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates (the collective term for Ajman, Fujeirah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain) will provide you with the detailed variations.

The two main areas that are common across all emirates relate to the age at which children are permitted or required to attend school (with the exception of the UK curriculum FS1, which we cover for each emirate in the relevant emirate guide), and the documents required for entry to school and attestation requirements. These are among the most frequently asked questions by parents starting the process of Admission.

 

What is the appropriate grade/year group for my child?

Children are required to start school in the UAE during the year in which they turn 6 years of age and to remain in school until the year in which they turn 18 years. The UAE Government places great emphasis on the need for all children to complete a High School education.
The Ministry of Education has imposed age ranges by year group/grade which broadly fall in line with the international curricula offered by UAE Private Schools. These age ranges include dates by which children must have reached the specific age – cut-off dates – to enter school in the appropriate year group/grade. There is very little, if any flexibility in terms of the application of these cut-off dates in all emirates.

The majority of international schools follow a Kindergarten (KG) – grade 12 system. Schools falling under International curricula include all those whose academic year runs from September to June, including US curriculum, Australian, Philippine, Iranian, French and German curriculum among others. Most International Baccalaureate curriculum schools in the UAE also follow the KG- grade 12 system. Indian, Pakistani and Japanese schools follow an April to March academic year. This impacts application periods and the cut-off dates for children joining these curricula.

As a general rule, children must be a minimum of (i.e. not younger than) 3 years and 8 months old to start school in the UAE, with the exception of the UK curriculum.
The UK system follows a Foundation Stage (FS) 1 to year 13 structure where children generally start school one year earlier. Increasingly, UK curriculum schools are offering the IB Diploma or Career-related programme for pre-university years 12 and 13 and, in this case, students will follow the UK system.

The below chart shows the equivalent year group/grade structure and the appropriate age range per year group/grade together with the cut-off dates by which children must have reached the appropriate age.

UK curriculum Year* Minimum age at 31st August /31st  December International curricula Grade Minimum age at 31st August /31st December Japanese, Indian, Pakistani Grade Minimum age at 31st March  /31st July
FS1** 3 3y 4m        
FS2 3y 8m 4 KG1/EY1 3y 8m 4 KG1 3y 8m 4
Year 1 4y 8m 5 KG2/EY2 4y 8m 5 KG2 4y 8m 5
Year 2 5y 8m 6 Grade 1 5y 8m 6 Grade 1 5y 8m 6
Year 3 6y 8m 7 Grade 2 6y 8m 7 Grade 2 6y 8m 7
Year 4 7y 8m 8 Grade 3 7y 8m 8 Grade 3 7y 8m 8
Year 5 8y 8m 9 Grade 4 8y 8m 9 Grade 4 8y 8m 9
Year 6 9y 8m 10 Grade 5 9y 8m 10 Grade 5 9y 8m 10
Year 7 10y8m 11 Grade 6 10y8m 11 Grade 6 10y8m 11
Year 8 11y8m 12 Grade 7 11y8m 12 Grade 7 11y8m 12
Year 9 12y8m 13 Grade 8 12y8m 13 Grade 8 12y8m 13
Year 10 13y8m 14 Grade 9 13y8m 14 Grade 9 13y8m 14
Year 11 14y8m 15 Grade 10 14y8m 15 Grade 10 14y8m 15
Year 12 15y8m 16 Grade 11 15y8m 16 Grade 11 15y8m 16
Year 13 16y8m 17 Grade 12 16y8m 17 Grade 12 16y8m 17


* ADEK intends that all schools follow the KG to grade 12 structure for all curricula. UK curriculum schools may therefore follow this structure in due course.

**Most UK curriculum schools admit children to FS1 if they are aged 3 on 31st August; these children are not registered with ADEK or any of the Education Zones (other than in Dubai) until they join FS2, since the Ministry of Education is not responsible for regulation of education until FS2/KG1.

The KHDA in Dubai has historically been responsible for children in FS1 and has recently amended the cut-off date for FS1 to 3 years at 31st December, meaning that children may join FS1 at 2 years and 8 months. This change was made in order to bring the cut-off dates into line from FS1 to year 13. See our "Transferring to or between Schools in Dubai" for details. 

Note: for families relocating from overseas – irrespective of whether the child has already attended school and completed FS1, FS2 or pre-KG or KG1, admission is based strictly on the age criteria and children may be required to repeat a year group/grade if they are deemed too young.

 

What documents do I need to register my child in school?

All expatriate families must have completed their residency application and have received their residence visas and Emirates ID cards, in order for children to be able to start school.

Private schools are required to obtain copies of the following documents:
1. Birth Certificate (Attested where required)
2. Emirates ID (or copy of Emirates ID Application if in progress*)
3. Passport and Residency visa copies (usually both parents and the child).
4. Recent passport size photograph of the student (Coloured with white background)
5. Vaccination Cards for FS2/KG- Year3/Grade 2 students.
6. School reports for the previous 2 – 3 years if the child is already attending school.
7. Transcript/transfer certificate or evidence of attending school, specifying the curriculum, from the previous academic year, if the child is already attending school. (Attested where required).

* Whilst some schools will permit children to start without all documents being available, provided the sponsor’s documents (usually the father) are complete, the majority require the child’s documents to be in place. It is vital that families relocating from overseas take into account the time required for the residency process to be completed in order to ensure that their child is able to start school as soon as possible after arrival.

Delays in providing the correct documents can have a negative impact on the child. The regulators stipulate specific dates – Registration deadlines – by which children must be registered with the Education Authority in each emirate. This is designed to ensure that children complete the full academic year. Failure to register a child for the deadline risks the child being forced to repeat the year group/grade.

 

What is attestation?

Attestation is the process by which documents are certified to be genuine by both authorities in the home country and UAE authorities. For school registrations, attestation is usually required for families providing documents that are not in either Arabic or English or from countries whose curricula are not recognised internationally.

 

What is a Transfer Certificate?

A Transfer Certificate is a document issued by your child’s existing school which confirms his or her personal details and educational experience. It specifically includes the date when your child joined the school, the year group/grade at which s/he entered the school, together with the date of leaving the school and the most recently completed academic year and year group/grade. Schools will usually provide a template for the Transfer Certificate when offering a place.

Depending on the origin school of the child (within the UAE or overseas) a transfer certificate is required for all children joining a school from either Year 3/grade 2 (for transfers between emirates) or from Year 1/KG2 (from overseas) at the beginning of the academic year and for all year groups/grades if joining after the registration deadline.

 

What are the Transfer Certificate requirements?

The following chart shows the transfer certificate requirements including attestation.

Location they are transferring from Transfer Certificate - Signature, stamp and attestation requirements
Another school in the same emirate A transfer certificate is not required as the transfer is done online via an on-line system.
Another emirate of the UAE School principal’s signature and school stamp. Attestation by the Education Authority in the current emirate.
North America (except Quebec), Western Europe and Australia School principal’s signature and school stamp.
Middle East (excluding the UAE), South and Central America, Asia (including India and Pakistan and South East Asian countries), Russia and former Russian States, Eastern Europe, Africa and New Zealand School principal’s signature and school stamp. Attestation by the Ministry of Education in the origin school location, (this can sometimes be done by the country’s Embassy in the UAE, if applicable). Attestation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the UAE

 

To find out more about the Admissions process by emirate, please click on the following links:

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