Best Schools in Dubai , and Why?

What are the best schools in Dubai? In this guide we tell you not only which schools are the highest performing overall, but how to break that down so that a ranking can be made meaningful for your child.
Best Schools in Dubai , and Why?
By David Westley
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The best schools in Dubai? Good news, the list is growing - albeit more modestly than in previous years. In the latest (2019/20) reports from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) the number of ‘Outstanding’ schools in Dubai remained at 17, with 38 schools now rated Very Good, an increase of 7 compared with 2018-19.

Note: Click here for the parent view on the Best Schools in Dubai...

In January 2020, the KHDA announced that there were some 295,148 students studying in private schools in Dubai, indicating a 2.1% enrolment growth over the previous year. Students were divided between 143,040 girls and 152,108 boys, including 34,452 Emiratis.

In keeping with the UAE's extraordinarily broad range of residents' nationalities, students come from some 173 different nationalities, with the largest nationality groups being 98,527 Indian, followed by 34,452 UAE nationals, 22,668 Pakistanis, 17,238 Egyptians, and 13,594 students from the UK. The school with the widest range of nationalities in the city was GEMS Wellington Academy DSO with students from 103 countries. 

There were a total of 208 schools at the start of the 2019-20 academic year, including three new ones (although four schools closed). The utilisation of available capacity – that is the take up of places within the schools - was 81%.

Around 79,000 students study in Indian curriculum schools (where there has been flat growth over the past 5 years) and 49,000 students study in US curriculum schools (where there has been an approx. 1% growth in the past 5 years). Some 18,000 students attend IB curriculum schools – a curriculum that has grown quickly from 2015-16, by 5.7% over the past five years.

However, it is still the UK curriculum that continues to grow most quickly (an increase in student numbers from approx. 80,000 in 2015-16 to over 109,000 students in 2019-20, and growth of 7% over the past 5 years).

Interestingly, there has also been strong growth in French curriculum schools, with an increase in almost 5% of students over the past 5 years, though absolute numbers (approx. 6,500) remain comparatively low.

According to the emirate's education regulator, in January 2020, 25,830 of Dubai's 295,148 students (8.75%) attended Outstanding schools, 58,119 (19.7%) attended Very Good schools, while 113,691 (38.5%) attended schools deemed to be Good. That means over two-thirds of students (66.9%) were studying in schools rated Good or better.

The volume of good schools in the emirate should be of great comfort to existing residents, as well as those moving in. There is choice, and an increasing amount of it. And there is an increasingly wide range of fee options across all curricula.

Read:  Good Affordable British Schools in Dubai

But what do these rating mean in terms of the Regulator’s expectations?

In this article we have leaned heavily on the KHDA's Dubai School Inspection Bureau reports, so it is important to understand how they are prepared.

Internationally qualified school inspectors pay on site visits (annually in most cases) to every private school in Dubai (after a settling in period for new schools) to rate it on key questions such as:

  • How good are the students’ attainment and progress in key subjects? (Key subjects focus on Maths, Science, Arabic, Islamic Studies and English)
  • How good is the students’ personal and social development?
  • How good is the teaching, learning and assessment methods?
  • How well does the curriculum meet the educational needs of all students?
  • How well does the school protect and support its students?
  • How good are the leadership and management of the school?
  • How well does the school perform overall?

Following each inspection, the school gets a full written report with details of the school’s performance and shortfalls. Parents considering specific schools can access the latest school inspection report under the Inspection Report tab above the review on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.

The school is expected to prepare an action plan addressing any recommendations for further development, which is then used as a benchmark for the next year’s inspections.

Performance levels for Dubai schools are rated as follows:

  • Outstanding schools - Quality of performance substantially exceeds the expectation of the UAE;
  • Very Good schools - Quality of performance exceeds the expectation of the UAE
  • Good schools - Quality of performance meets the expectation of the UAE (This is the expected level for every school in the UAE)
  • Acceptable schools - 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 schools - Quality of performance is below the expectation of the UAE
  • Very Weak schools - Quality of performance is significantly below the expectation of the UAE

Why you should filter reports

The KHDA rates schools based on its own weighting system. In the 2014/15 Guide to schools, for example, it noted its next round of reports would focus on Special Educational Needs provision, and the core subjects of Maths and English.

With tough PISA and TIMMS targets, the KHDA's reports in 2016/17 placed more emphasis than ever before on academic results in external examinations. For subsequent reports, accurate assessment of students and Value Added benchmark testing has come to the fore. 

The inspection team will of course continue to look at Ministry of Education requirements for Islamic and social studies, Arabic as a first and second language and Moral Education.

As a parent it may be that not everything the KHDA uses in its overall rating, you will consider important - for non-Muslims the weighting given to Islamic Studies, for example, may not be considered so vital. Nor may you be so concerned about Arabic as a second language (which is mandatory), although this is without doubt becoming increasingly more important to the regulators.

If you do only look at the top line rating, you could be excluding schools delivering outstanding education in those areas you consider important...

Further reading: www.khda.gov.ae/en

Of course, 2019-20 has been a year like no other. With the arrival of Covid 19, many aspects of the KHDA's annual school inspections for the 2019-20 academic year were disrupted. This includes the publication of the results and reports, which were finally published in July 2020 - 3 months later than usual.

The KHDA had already announced in September 2019 that schools that had been rated Outstanding and Very Good would not receive the full inspection in 2019-20 and would retain their rating, based on a one-day slimmed down version of the inspection. As a result, a total of 17 schools retained their Outstanding rating.

Schools that score an overall Outstanding rating are undoubtedly some of the most sought-after school places in Dubai.

Table of Outstanding schools

School Name Main Curriculum 2019-20 overall rating 2018-2019 overall rating 2017-2018 overall rating KHDA Approved Fees 2019-20
Dubai College UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 82463 - 93399
Dubai English Speaking College UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 79392 - 85332
Jumeirah College UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 72988 - 91235
GEMS Dubai American Academy US/IB Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 61190 - 86260
Kings School Al Barsha UK/IB Outstanding Outstanding Very good 56322 - 106404
Repton School UK/IB Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 52863 - 92000
Dubai British School UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 49026 - 73920
GEMS Wellington International School UK/IB Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 43941 - 95597
Kings School Dubai (Primary) UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 43619 - 66383
GEMS Jumeirah Primary School UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 40865 - 51511
Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches UK/IB Outstanding Outstanding Very good 40242 - 94805
Jumeirah English Speaking School (Primary) UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 39838 - 49232
GEMS Royal Dubai School (Primary) UK Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 38331 - 48331
Dubai English Speaking School (Primary) UK Outstanding Outstanding Very good 37334 - 46204
Horizon English School (Primary) UK Outstanding Outstanding Very good 29126 - 40792
GEMS Modern Academy Indian (CISCE) Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 28646 - 60635 
Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou Primary Oud Metha French Outstanding Outstanding Outstanding 26922 - 26922

A further 38 schools were rated Very Good. Here, however, there were some new entrants, with IB curriculum Emirates International School Meadows, Indian curriculum Ambassador School, and UK curriculum Dubai British School Jumeirah Park, GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail, Hartland International School, MSB (Al Ameen) School, and Safa British School achieving the KHDA’s second highest rating.

These schools all show strong inclination to reach an Outstanding rating. More importantly, they may already be an outstanding school for your child. All will have many outstanding features, and will have fallen short of Outstanding status because of one one or two key criteria. This could be Arabic/Social Studies, SEN support, Value Added Performance testing and so on. Your choice of school will be significantly enhanced should you understand these criteria and be able to weigh them in importance to the needs of your child.

Table of Very Good schools

School Name Main Curriculum 2019-20 overall rating 2018-2019 overall rating 2017-2018 overall rating KHDA Approved Fees 2020-21
Ambassador Kindergarten Indian (CISCE) Very good Very good Very good 20108 - 26808
Ambassador School Indian (CISCE) Very good Good Good 20904 - 42298
Deira International School UK/IB Very good Very good Very good 40657 - 81913
Delhi Private School Indian (CBSE) Very good Very good Very good 10298 - 14416
Dubai British School Jumeirah Park UK Very good Good Good 76553 - 100000
Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills IB Very good Very good Very good 40988 - 72625
Emirates International School Meadows IB Very good Good Good 26802 - 79488
Foremarke School UK Very good Very good Very good 58500 - 83000
GEMS New Millennium School  Indian (CBSE) Very good Good Good 21397 - 31025
GEMS Our Own English High School Indian (CBSE) Very good Very good Very good 7527 - 15313
GEMS Wellington Academy Al Khail UK Very Good Good Good 57635 - 101515
GEMS Wellington Academy DSO UK/IB Very good Very good Very good 37296 - 84219
GEMS Wellington Primary School UK Very good Very good Very good 43398 - 54691
GEMS World Academy IB Very good Very good Very good 65747 - 114128
Hartland International School UK/IB Very good Good Good 49750 - 87000
Jebel Ali School UK Very good Very good Very good 45891 - 83000
JSS International School Indian (CISCE) Very good Good Good 15483 - 40401
JSS Private School Indian (CBSE) Very good Good Good 11228 - 24384
Jumeira Baccalaureate School IB Very good Very good Very good 59356 - 89034
Kings School Nad Al Sheba UK Very good Very good Good 53891 - 79478
Lycee Francais International (AFLEC) French Very good Very good Very good 26922 - 56936 
Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou  French Very good Very good Outstanding 35021 - 48093
Lycee Libanais Francophone Prive-Dubai French Very good Very good Very good 24622 - 52764
MSB Al Ameen School UK Very good Good Good 23986 - 35512
Nord Anglia International School UK Very good Very good Very good 63447 - 95946
Raffles International School UK Very good Very good Good 31485 - 81248
Raffles World Academy UK/IB Very good Very good Very good 31013 - 86836
Ranches Primary School UK Very good Very good Good 46630 - 56992
Regent International School UK Very good Very good Good 45373 - 95811
Safa British School UK Very good Good Good 27389 - 46315
Safa Community School UK Very good Very good Very good 49700 - 81656
Sunmarke School UK Very good Very good Good 56992 - 98441
The Indian High School Indian (CBSE) Very good Very good Very good 5525 - 10465
The Millennium School Indian (CBSE) Very good Very good Very good 16898 - 24849
The Winchester School UK Very good Very good Very good 13822 - 30835
Universal American School  US/IB Very good Very good Very good 37330 - 75659
Uptown International School IB Very good Very good Very good 58181 - 89183
Victory Heights Primary School UK Very good Very good Very good 36576 - 49877

Despite assurances from the KHDA that schools can achieve a rating of Very Good or even Outstanding, none has ever achieved this on first inspection. Again, the highest first time rating for any school this year was Good, achieved by North London Collegiate School

Schools rated Good by the KHDA

If you are currently researching a school for your child, note that Dubai's Outstanding and Very Good schools have traditionally been run at or near capacity (although with increasing competition this is less the case than at any time in the past).

Very Good and Good Dubai schools will also be targeted by parents and you should broaden your search to schools on this list. This is NOT about second or third best. Again, quite often the KHDA will mark down schools for criteria that may not be relevant to you. It is important to read beyond the overall KHDA ranking.

Some schools have been rated Good for years, and a lower fee structure can impede the improvement of their facilities or campus. However, if you're looking for a school strong academically but without the sparkling facilities, these schools can often be a good option. (See here for more information.)

It was predominantly schools due to be inspected for the first time (five in total) who missed their visit from the KHDA’s DSIB inspection team as a result of the interruption by school closures due to Covid 19. A further 13 schools were not yet due to be inspected. However, since the DSIB teams make regular visits to new schools prior to the first inspection taking place in the third year of operation, parents should not be concerned if a school they are considering has not yet received the regulator’s rating.

In light of the suspension of face-to-face learning in March 2020 and the move to distance learning, the Regulators in the UAE, led by the Ministry of Education, initiated a Distance Learning Evaluation process for all public and private schools which commenced in April 2020. In results issued in July 2020, the KHDA claimed that Distance Learning had been largely a success with over two-thirds of schools offering a fully-developed online learning experience.

Each school was rated as offering either 'Developed', 'Partially Developed' or 'Not Developed' on-line provision. Every school rated ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Good’ by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau in the 2019/20 academic year was found to offer ‘Developed’ distance learning. 80% of schools rated ‘Good’ and 26% of schools rated ‘Acceptable’ also offered ‘Developed’ distance learning provision.

Given the fact that parents still have the option at many schools to continue with distance learning, at least for the Winter term, and the possibility of a return to this mode of teaching for all schools in the event of an upturn in Covid cases, this evaluation process was clearly an important one.

It is Not All About The KHDA: Other Inspections and Affiliations

Although the KHDA inspection process is mandatory for private schools in Dubai, schools can also choose 'voluntary' accreditation and inspections linked to their curricula home country. These inspections often emphasise different indicators and analyse different aspects of the school, including cultural orientation, which parents can use in addition to the KHDA inspection reports.

British schools can choose accreditation and inspection from the British Schools Overseas, which sends OFSTED trained inspectors from the UK to check the school every five years. To find out more about the BSO process see here and for UAE schools most recent BSO inspection summaries see here.

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' KHDA ratings (mainly Outstanding to Very Good), this would certainly appear to be no bad thing.

In recent years, US curriculum schools were requested by the KHDA to be affiliated with an approved US accreditation body. The preferred choice is the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, (NEASC), however some schools already have long standing accreditation with other bodies (notably the Middle States Association).

Comparing Dubai schools internationally

The best Dubai schools are very good, with the likes of Dubai College, Dubai English Speaking College, Jumeirah College, JESS Arabian Ranches, Kings School Dubai and Al Barsha and so on comparing favourably with some of the best private schools in the UK - at least in terms of academic results.

As a whole however, the UAE has some way to go on international benchmarks like the PISA test. This is changing however with particularly Dubai schools beginning to make some serious head way.

The KHDA publishes PISA results which show steady improvement over the past 10 years.

  2009 2012 2015 2018
Science 486 491 497 501
Maths 479 485 493 501
Reading 474 481 484 500

There is, however, a gulf between the best performing and worst performing schools, and this level of detail - i.e. which are the schools delivering - is not released to the public.  We do know however that IB and UK curriculum schools scoring significantly higher than their peers and are already closing in on the benchmarks set in the UAE for 2021.

Higher performance in these tests is reflected in the ratings of schools in the UAE by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau. Two thirds of Outstanding schools in the emirate are either UK or IB schools.

Note, however, that this is not necessarily to do with the curriculum. UK and IB schools tend to be the most expensive, charge the highest fees, and therefore are the most well- funded schools in Dubai.

Exam Results

The other way to benchmark the UAE's schools - domestically and internationally - is of course to look at results in external examinations. This works well for UK and the International Baccalaureate curriculum schools - although the IB organisation frowns on using the Diploma for international comparison.

For Indian schools, CBSE and CISCE results have never reached the level of importance that peer qualifications elsewhere have. This we believe is because Indian universities do not use the CBSE and CISCE to assess the competence of a student for entrance. The same applies for US universities which offer places before exams are taken.

For GCSE, A Level and IB, parents also need to draw a distinction between selective and inclusive schools. In Dubai, Dubai College is the only true selective school academically, and its results reflect this. If you recruit academically oriented students, you will get strong academic results.

Many inclusive schools say that Value added is the most important metric. This is the difference between the projected score of a student upon entrance, and what he or she gets because (at least partially) of the work put in by the school. Unfortunately, this kind of data is complex and difficult to compare across schools.

That leaves exam results as, arguably, the worst way to compare schools, except for all the others...but failing the ability to compare by other means, and on the basis that schools that publish their results are showing a degree of transparency that we would like to see from all schools, please see the links below.

Jump here for the UAE's A' Level results
Jump here for the UAE's GCSE results
Jump here for the UAE's IB Diploma results

This year, of course, exams were also impacted by the Covid pandemic, with most being cancelled and results being issued (finally and after much controversy – and more than once in the case of the UK curriculum exams) based on an assessment process rather than traditional final examinations.

Parent Opinion


To find out what parents think, click on the Parent Opinion tab, or the Overall Parent Rating - both highlighted above.

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

If you click on any school review 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....

And there is more...

We have compiled a proper ranking of the scores for you, so you can see easily how Dubai parents rate their own schools. Some of the rankings are:

Getting into one of the best schools in Dubai

If you are currently researching schools, you want to read our guide to getting into a good school in the UAE.

In conclusion, the standard of schools in Dubai is increasing every year.  A rigorous approach to schools' operations, accreditation and inspection has ensured that standards are improving.  Even if a school maintains the same KHDA rating for many years, this does not mean that improvements have not occurred - quite the reverse in fact, since the demands of the regulator have also grown and continue to do so. 

In addition to reading the reviews on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, we always strongly advise parents to go into the detail of the inspection reports - which can be found under the Inspection report tab above each review - to check out the WSA Experience, which is our own personal inspection process that we undertake by our OFSTED trained team, and to check out the Parent Feedback from our surveys which can also be found on the review pages. 

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was set up and is operated by parents for parents; we hope you feel that you can rely on us. 

 

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