WhichSchoolAdvisor.com spoke to UAE schools to gain answers to these questions and ultimately find out if it’s too late for children to join FS1/Pre-K in a school for the current school year.
Parents in the UAE who are new to the school systems often hear of lengthy waiting lists for the most sought-after schools, being told they should register several years in advance to stand a chance of being offered an FS1/Pre-K place. Is this really a reality with so many schools operating?
The not-so-simple answer to this is yes and no. There are indeed schools with lengthy-ish waiting lists (in particular those in the not-for-profit school sector), however this is by no means the norm. Applying for schools, and being offered a place, during the academic year prior to a child starting FS1/Pre-K is much more typical in UAE schools.
For more information on the usual timeline for this, read our detailed guide to enrolling in a UAE school.
Ms Fiona McDermott, Head of Foundation Stage at Safa British School in Dubai, shared the school’s waiting list process:
“There is currently no available space in Foundation Stage 1 in the 2023-24 academic year at Safa British School. We are managing a waiting list for prospective students.
“We do generally have some flexibility regarding the times in the year that the new children in FS1 are accepted to begin their schooling. This is dependent on the availability, although we try to accommodate families where possible.”
The good news is that there are schools with spaces immediately available for this age group, although these spaces are limited. New schools are a fairly safe bet for finding a school place later in the year, as they are often building up enrolments, but there are also some very established highly regarded schools with spaces available.
Ms Karen Farrell, Primary Phase Leader at the Outstanding rated (KHDA) Nord Anglia International School Dubai shared this information (on 11th September 2023):
“Our FS1 admissions remain open throughout the year and of course we continue to accept applications even when we are full, these applications are placed on a waiting list. We currently have only ten spaces left in FS1 this academic year. Admissions for next academic year will open in October.
"Families are invited to apply and submit the registration fee at any time; then our admissions team will contact our new families with assessment criteria once the admissions formally open.”
Dubai's only Outstanding-rated (KHDA) all-through IB school, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, has hit capacity in many year groups for this year already, but does have a limited number of spaces available in the Pre-K age group for interested families.
Likewise, Mr Timothy Roberts, Principal at Raffles International School, told us his school has twelve Pre-K spaces available (as of 11th September 2023), although he expects these spaces will fill up quickly. He explained that the school accepts new children in Pre-KG throughout the academic year, according to availability.
The newly launched Glendale International School Dubai has spaces available in FS1 currently and Head of Foundation Stage, Ms Jadine Bodenstein, explained that the school accepts new students all throughout the year, subject to availability. A benefit to joining a new school may be smaller class sizes initially, meaning settling children can receive more personalised attention and support.
Mr James McDonald, Principal at Wesgreen International School Sharjah, shared:
"One noteworthy consideration is that when securing a seat in FS2 and beyond at GEMS Wesgreen, preference is given accorded to those who join us in FS1. The limited number of FS1 seats available is filling up rapidly, and the vast majority of these students are expected to remain with us for several years. Consequently, obtaining a place at our school in the future may become increasingly challenging."
GEMS Metropole School Al Waha has also recently opened and is already proving very popular. The school currently has spaces available for FS1 and beyond.
Mr Jeremy Hallum, Principal, told us:
"We very much welcome parents to get in touch with the team and we'll be delighted to show them around the school."
Mr Nav Iqbal, Principal of GEMS Metropole Motor City, shared:
"In response to community demands, we have expanded our EYFS provision to accommodate more students from our school community. I believe that our school will reach full capacity in EYFS next year, as the demand for Foundation Stage education is continually increasing across schools."
Most schools will have a standard settling in process at the start of the year, that may include stay and play sessions prior to the academic year starting, an opportunities for families to meet the teacher, and a staggered start, introducing children to school life gradually. For children starting a little later, schools may not be able to offer all of this, but will likely endeavour to ensure the child is supported to settle in at a manageable pace.
Ms Fiona McDermott, Head of Foundation Stage at Safa British School shared:
“While new students joining mid-year may experience some disruption to the established class dynamics, the team aims to make any child's transition to school as smooth as possible, regardless of when they start their Safa journey.
“Our settling-in process is rather fluid; where necessary, we create bespoke processes to best suit the needs of the child. All of our decisions are planned around the needs of the individual children and what is best for them. Our biggest priority is that the children come to school happy and find joy in their learning.”
Ms Karen Farrell, Primary Phase Leader at Nord Anglia International School Dubai, shared a different perspective on this:
“The difference with children who join us mid-year is that they are welcomed into an established class where the existing children can support their new friend in the settling in process by being kind and caring and modelling the daily routines.
“It is imperative that children feel safe and happy in school and therefore we allow each child to come into class for a few hours each day for a couple of days before joining us full-time if this best meets the needs of the child.”
Mr Jonathan Cox, Principal at Collegiate International School, added:
"Sometimes, friendship groups can already have been formed, so children may need a little more help integrating, but at this young age children are endlessly curious and generally very welcoming to newcomers."
While a child joining later in the term or year will of course have missed opportunities for learning and building relationships, the beauty of FS1/Pre-K is that it is typically tailored to meet individual needs and interests and takes more of a fluid form to learning.
In short, children should not feel they need to catch up as such and will likely be supported to settle in as a new member of their class.
We asked Mr Jonathan Cox, Principal at Collegiate International School, whether joining later in the year can be problematic for FS1/Pre-K children:
"This is totally dependent on what the alternative provision has been and on the individual child. However, there is no suggestion that starting this provision sooner rather than later results in improved results or development later in the child's life. It is very much a decision for individual families and individual children. It is usually quite obvious to parents when a child is 'ready' for school."
Head of Foundation Stage at Glendale International School, Ms Jadine Bodenstein, shared:
“At Glendale, we continuously share previous and upcoming lesson objectives with parents via our newsletters that they may like to review at home. Each lesson is also differentiated to support all students according to their needs. If any students have gaps in their learning, the teacher will focus on attending to these first to help them reach the end of year goals.”