Happiness, Exam Results Drive School Choice

What do parents look for when choosing a school? Facilities, teaching staff, results in external examinations? Check, check and check. However a happy school is the most important criteria, parents say...
Happiness, Exam Results Drive School Choice
By David Westley
Do your children attend a UAE school? Take our survey and help other parents.
WhichSchoolAdvisor's annual school survey.

The single biggest reason a parent will choose one particular school over another is how happy it is, according to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey of UAE parents. 

'A happy school' has remained the single largest reason parent's give for choosing a school since our survey began in 2015, chosen this year by 32% of respondents, up from 31% last year and 25% in the first year of the survey. Given the increasing evidence that creativity, rather than rote learning or the ability to pass exams, will be the key to career success in the future, the one-third of parents making their decision based on this criteria appear bang on the money.

Of course, as you would expect there is a shift in the criteria parents use to choose their child's school depending on the phase of the school. 

Schools still using happiness as the key selling point of their school when promoting post-16 education, for example, are likely to get bewildered looks from parents and students fixated, usually, on very specific end goals - passing exams, getting into university, work or apprenticeships. 'Results in external examinations' is the single largest choice for parents at this stage of schooling - in 2018 chosen by over 1 in 2 survey respondents.

However, even here it is worth checking individual school survey results to assess whether you share the same outlook as the majority of its parents. Check out the differences between Dubai College, Jumeirah College and Dubai English Speaking College for example. The three schools are all pure secondaries, but while DC and JC have profiles that are largely aligned, DESC seems to attract a different type of parent that wants their children to do well academically but are equally concerned about the school 'feel'. It is worth noting that DESC is the most actively non-selective school of the three.

The high percentage, overall, of parents citing "A Happy School" as the most important consideration in their choice of school is largely a reflection of the demographic bulge of where UAE students sit - in lower phases of UAE schools. While there is no official UAE wide stats for this, we know from schools that lower year groups are the fullest - with more classes operating at higher capacities. Older students coming to the UAE have a much easier time getting a school place, even at some of Dubai's most popular schools.

As well as changes at phases of schools, what parents look for also changes depending upon the curricula of the school. 

Parents seeking IB or UK based schools tend to be of the same type, at least in terms of stated preferences. The key for both types of school is primarily a happy environment, and in second place (by some distance) the quality of teachers. Parents of children in US schools are particularly concerned about the quality of teaching staff - above the atmosphere of the school. Indian parents are highly focused on the facilities on offer at a school. It is their single most important consideration when choosing a school, perhaps partly due to Indian schools being in general older, and more cramped for space. 

Parents of children in Indian schools are also more concerned than their peers regarding guidelines and enforced policies. We would attribute that to the much larger class sizes and schools. With less individual attention, transparent policies and systems become increasingly important. Indian parents are also the most concerned about bullying in UAE schools.

Note: To see how your child's school, or the school you are researching, is doing, simply click on the Parent Opinion tab on your school's review. If it is not there, it is because it has yet to receive a sufficient number of completed surveys.

Survey Index
UK Schools Beat US, IB, Indian Schools for Value
Don't Blame Schools for Tighter Family Budgets
Bullying Most Prevalent in Indian, US Schools
UAE Schools: A for Academic Performance
3 in 4 Parents Would Recommend Child's School
Student Churn Tied to Quality, Not Fees, Choice
Happiness, Exam Results Drive School Choice
UAE Schools Better than in Home Country
Over 4/5 UAE Students Look Forward to School
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