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How to Find, Shortlist & Choose a Dubai School

In the WSA School Survey we ask parents across the UAE whether they think education provision (i.e. getting a place at a school they believe is right for their child) is improving, worsening or staying the same. It's a question designed to get the perception of parents as to what is happening in the UAE.

On the other side of the coin, is what actually is happening in raw statistical terms. You would hope the two would reflect each other, and they do to a large part, although how much so is muddied in that the answer to whether there is school availability is not a binary yes or no. 

In fascinating stats released by the KHDA, Dubai's education regulator, we now have numbers for both growth in student numbers, and actual school availability in percentage terms. The good news: Despite the ever growing number of students, there are empty seats in schools in Dubai - for every 10 places a school has the capacity for, more than one is currently going begging. Dubai schools have, on average, a current availability of almost 11%.

Put another way, there are some 26,000 spaces available to parents in the UAE currently not being utilized...

 

So how do you get one of them?

That may not ring true of course to the parent who has just spent a day on the phone to schools in Dubai, desperately seeking a place for their child. It is more than statistically possible that school after school will not have a single one of those 26,000 places. Why? Simply because availability is not evenly spread, and parents are likely to have been calling all of the same schools as each other...

Affecting that spread is the following:

1. KHDA Ranking - a school is not necessarily popular because it is ranked Outstanding, it is popular because it is outstanding. (That said the KHDA badge is unlikely to harm a school's popularity.)
2. Age of School - this affects the perception, and knowledge of a school. A well established school will simply have more channels funneling students towards it, with word of mouth probably being the most important.
3. Curriculum of school - this is a balance of supply and demand for that curriculum
4. Age group - at the brunt of demand are early years education. Schools have time to gear up to the growth at the front end of the education cycle.
5. Price of school - is is too simplistic to say the cheaper the school the more popular it will be. Price plays a role, but will be a secondary not defining element of a Which School equation.

 

KHDA Ranking

It is a total non-surprise that the higher the performing a school, the less likely it will be to have availability.

Availability:
Outstanding: 3.7%
Good: 9.1%
Acceptable: 10.5%
Unsatisfactory: 15%

At first glance, this does not help much. As a parent you are unlikely to want to target a school deemed Unsatisfactory just because it is likely to have more places.

It is however helpful in understanding where to invest your time. A Dubai College (DC) cannot be your sole focus, and your only bet, simply because your chances of getting into the school are statistically eye of the needle. What does make more sense is targeting a Good school, with the potential to become an Outstanding school.

Parents who sent their children to Horizon school when it was a Good school, which then made the KHDA's Outstanding list, will no doubt be patting themselves on the back for a choice well made. (The school has since slipped to a still very credible Very Good).

This does not mean giving up on a JESS and DC, but it does mean you are asking for disappointment if this is all you will accept. Note: This is much less the case than it used to be - if you are targeting UK/IB premium schools, as these are. While DC is still not going to have a lot of places, it is undoubtedly the case that for the first time in its history it competes with other schools for the UAE's best and brightest. Put another way, you have more chance than ever before to get into this type of school.

Note, this will still not be the case for non UK/IB schools. Getting into a high performing Indian (CBSE, ICSE) school will be as hard as ever.

 

Age of school

So, you're wisely expanding the range of schools to Good, Very Good and Outstanding. This is still not going to be easy. However statistically, you will be giving yourself more chance if you target newer schools.

Established schools have 8% availability while the similar rate for those schools that have opened over the past six years is 22%.

What's more - and great news - is that schools that have recently opened and been given a Good quality rating by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau also have a relatively high availability (21% of capacity is available).

Note: schools too new to have a KHDA ranking have a 45% availability...

As human beings we all go for the obvious - partly because we are all naturally a little lazy and research is painful, but also because, understandably, we only want the very best for our children. However, as a parent with a very specific need of getting your child into a good school, you have to research the non-obvious. The good news is that there are an increasing number of Good schools in the UAE, and even better news, the number is growing exponentially year on year. Some 30 schools opened in Dubai in the last academic year.

So, WSA top tip #2 to getting a place in a great school: To help avoid frustration, don't follow the herd - start your research by investigating recently opened schools (in the last 5-6 years) less likely to have been passed onto you by word of mouth, that are nevertheless doing very well indeed...

 

Curriculum of school

You are more likely to be constrained here by the knowledge you may be heading home one day and your child will need to reenter the school system of their home country, but one of the most interesting things about the UAE is undoubtedly the range of curricula on offer.

It is statistically unlikely if you are from the UK you will be too interested in the Indian CBSE curriculum, although Indian families do consider the England and Wales based curriculum offered in many schools. Just to underline this UK based schools are clearly not for UK students: UK nationality students currently account for only 4.9% of the total student population. UK curriculum schools however account for 31.5% of all schools in the UAE. Many IGCSE and A' Level curriculum schools have sub-continent students as their single largest demographic.

Note: Some US, UK, and European (particularly Eastern European) parents are choosing the CBSE curriculum up to Year group 8 - i.e. just before the first year of the GCSE syllabus. Parents do so because a) up to this point the curriculum is not too different from a European one (CBSE is based on the UK system) and b) Indian schools are considerably cheaper than UK, US... equivalents.

UK families also consider the growing number of IB schools, and perhaps U.S. or Australian curricula schools which share many similarities to UK in their teaching methodologies and the qualifications that they offer.

US, Australian, South African families likewise are able to consider, UK, IB, American, and some CBSE schools.

There are more UK curricula schools in the UAE than any other (53), followed by US (35), Indian (24), and then IB (7). Note - Indian schools are much larger in terms of capacity and therefore, in terms of raw student numbers come just behind UK schools.

The biggest growth in enrollment (by percentage) however is for IB based schools. This is moreover less a UAE phenomena, but a global one.

Related
IB versus A' Level
The different curricula offered in the UAE

According to the WSA School Survey for many the curricula offered is the single most important decision in choosing a school, so clearly for some there is little flexibility on offer here. However, for others that do see flexibility, opening up your choices just logically opens up the range of school choice on offer to your children in the emirate. There are advantages to every curriculum, and it is entirely possible for the first time you may have access to a better curriculum for your child.

 

Price of school

It is almost pointless to look at the price of school without looking at the curriculum and its target market. Put simply, like everything else in the UAE, there are markets within markets, and schools will offer different price points to allow access points for each of them.

In general IB schools are the most expensive schools in the UAE, followed by British and American schools, followed by Indian schools - but this is not an exact science and there are always exceptions to prove the rule.

As important as curricula when it comes to price will be where the school is located, with new Dubai schools tending to cost more than 'old' Dubai schools.

Interestingly the one thing price is not is a proxy for is quality, although it can be an indicator - schools that charge have theoretically more to invest in teachers and facilities. The most expensive school in Dubai however is not a KHDA ranked Outstanding school, although it is a Good school, and has a rather swanky brand. Equally, there are many less expensive schools in the UAE which are ranked Good, and a couple ranked Outstanding - both Indian curriculum schools.

Fees in Dubai range from AED 1,725 per year to over 120,000 AED per year depending on the school and age range. Nearly half (45%) of the students at private schools in Dubai pay less than 10,000 AED per year in tuition fees, while some 16% pay more than 35,000 AED dirhams. In most schools, tuition fees tend to increase by grade level. While 53% of KG1 students pay less than 10,000 AED per year, just 34% of Dubai’s Grade 12 students pay less than 10,000 AED per year.

The average tuition fee paid by a student at a private school in Dubai is 18,196 AED per year, an average increase of 6.0% from last academic year.

However, frankly while this is an interesting stat in terms of regulating prices, it is almost pointless for parents with specific needs. If you're after an Indian curriculum school you will find, easily, lower fees. For a UK curriculum school, in newer Dubai, KG fees alone would start at around the 35,000 AED mark.

In terms of looking for a school, the only way price helps is simply to rule out what you cannot afford, and then to look for value within your boundaries. If you do not have plus 90,000 AED for a GEMs World Academy or a Repton School, why bother looking at it?

Price of schools you are interested in is also useful in determining whether you want to live in the emirate at all... Most people come to Dubai to have a better standard of living. If school fees are going to take away all your disposable income, you should have other very good reasons to come.

 

The age of your child

The final variable to throw into the mix is the age at which your child is applying.

Dubai’s private schools have more students in junior grades than in senior grades. This will be due to the growth in the general population, the age of candidates employers in the UAE recruit for (mid rather than more senior management), and because some families leave Dubai when their children get older.

Overall, there are approximately twice as many students in Grade 1 as in Grade 11, and in mid to senior years schools have a lot more availability.

In terms of getting your child into a Good or Outstanding school, then age clearly matters. If you are applying for a KG/nursery place then you are one of thousands. You may still be one of many at secondary school, competition, statistically at least, will be less.

If you're unhappy with your current school, then keep in touch with admissions departments to find out out about places becoming available in year groups across schools you are interested in. It will happen more often than you think.

 

What next

The latest KHDA statistics to be released are fascinating in that they show that while there is not an abundance of avalability, Dubai schools can certainly accommodate many more students, and there are choices for you.

To take advantage of the choice, the truth however is that you cannot ONLY target the schools that everyone else is targeting.

If you have a family, researching schools is a key bit of the puzzle - and not just when you arrive, but an ongoing challenge as your child moves through the stages of their education.

Do speak to friends and family, but remember that they are likely to rattle off the same names. Go beyond that. Look at WSA, look at the KHDA reports. The truth is, the more research you do, ultimately the better the school you may find for your child, a choice that in the end may be far better than your original limited ambitions.

 


Comments
9 Archived Comments
Amal Yousef
Archived 22nd Feb 2016, 15:23

Hi I heard about the IB system - can you help about it and whats difference between it and the american and UK system? also what are the schools applying the IB system in Dubai and Sharjah for KG1 grad.

Many thanks for helping.

Lyn Soppelsa
Archived 22nd Feb 2016, 20:34

HI Amal,

The following articles give an overview of the IB curriculum http://whichschooladvisor.com/advice/ib-gcse-indian-which-curriculum-is-right/ and http://whichschooladvisor.com/guides/111479/. To find out more details, please visit the IB's own website www.ibo.org. which explains the different programmes. The IB is probably now viewed as being the most demanding curriculum and is accepted and respected by the best universities worldwide. It does not suit every student and may also not necessarily work for students who are especially talented in a narrower range of subjects or who are wishing to pursue a career with specific subject demands. Whereas most curricula are still very subject focused, the IB through Primary and Secondary school focuses on "Units of Enquiry" whereby students are required to research across subjects. This does not suit all students, but does create independent learners who are able to research and investigate in a way that other curricula do not necessarily place such emphasis on.

Walaa Fouad
Archived 30th May 2015, 22:11

Hi there, i had reviewed your website and really was useful, however I noticed that there aren't private schools offering the Uk curriculum, getting good from KHDA and has reasonable annual fees at the Dubai Silicon Oasis area.!! Please advise if there's any.Thank you

Lyn Soppelsa
Archived 1st Jun 2015, 15:23

Dear Walaa,

You can find details of all private schools in Dubai, their curriculum and fees via the KHDA contact list. Go to http://www.khda.gov.ae/pages/en/schoolsen.aspx and then download the contact list at "click here" in the third paragraph.

Hardik
Archived 16th Apr 2015, 14:09

Does Any school provides Mid term admission for the international student in Sharjah?
I have been calling to all most all CBSC schools for admission inquiry for My daughter as she will be coming from India in 1st week of may 2015 and looking forward for her admission in Grade 3. Unfortunately every school saying no seats available with us. If guide if any school in Sharjah provides mid term admission for international students.

Anu
Archived 7th Jul 2014, 11:53

Hi! My daughter is currently studying in 10th grade( CBSE) in India. We plan to shift to Dubai after she finishes with her final exams in March 2015.I have been doing a lot of research regarding the schools in Dubai. I'm interested in sending her to a British/IB school. Which according to you is a better choice: REPTON/ GEMS WELLINGTON INTERNATIONAL OR HORIZON?

Professor
Archived 8th Jul 2014, 18:59

Hi Anu, we answer questions on our Q and A site... http://whichschooladvisor.com/qanda/

Shabnam
Archived 11th Jul 2013, 13:57

very informative article.

Bill
Archived 11th Jul 2013, 15:51

Many thanks Shabnam. We have a very large bit of research coming in the next 2-3 weeks on the "Best Dubai schools". We'll start with British schools because these are the largest in number.

This may be the first bit of content we actually charge for.

We need to find a way to get more on the site and that probably means having to pay for help, but it should be the start of a series of some really useful new guides on WSA...