No sooner has a new academic year started, it is time to start thinking about admissions for the next one. In this admissions guide we take you through what you need to be thinking about, and when, during the course of a student's education. In the UAE this is complicated a little by the many curricula on offer and the differing academic years. In the Southern Hemisphere the academic year starts early in the calendar year, January/February with the Indian and Pakistani academic years starting in April. In the Northern Hemisphere, the academic year and admissions begin in September. KG and EYFS Finding appropriate KG and EYFS places is always a challenge in the UAE. This is especially the case in the ‘through’ schools that offer seamless transfer from KG/EYFS programmes into their first grades of primary education. Over-subscription is a characteristic in these schools which is often echoed in the transfer between primary and secondary and then for the post-sixteen years. These premium places are often snapped up as soon as they become available with some schools accepting registration almost as soon as the baby is born. Fortunately, there are many good nurseries that can accommodate your child and, sometimes, these may be more convenient in terms of location. Attending an independent nursery does, however, give you a little breathing space as you address your next challenge, that of finding a primary place. Over-subscription is often a characteristic of schools in the UAE If new to the area, you will often find oversubscription in the early years with some vacancies appearing in the later years of primary. Likewise a similar situation appears in the secondary sections. The post-sixteen options are another matter as there are often academic criteria attached to conditional offers to enter these years. Open Days In the UAE, October to December is the school ‘Open Day’ season. These events are most enjoyable and great ‘showcases’ for a school and its students. They are not, however, held by all schools. It is also important to remember the showcase nature of the day, although this will help you to short-list the potential schools. We, at Which School Advisor, would always recommend a school tour during a school’s working day. Do see our other articles on selecting a school. Key Articles Dubai Admissions current availability Abu Dhabi Admissions current availability Dubai British Schools - an Insider's guide to the best (Premium) Dubai school fees - understanding why some school's charge so much New to the UAE, looking for a school - start here UAE Schools - Getting mentally prepared to choose School Search Advice from a Dubai headmaster How to find, short list and choose a Dubai school 20 Questions you should ask when visiting a school What to look for when visiting a school Notifications of Open Days are often advertised in the local press and can be seen on school websites or calendars. Admissions assessments Many school admissions’ processes in the UAE are accompanied by an assessment and/or interview with often an activity session for the very young. It is important to recognise that these assessments are designed to draw the best out of the applicant and to ensure that s/he can access the school’s curriculum at a particular level. They may also be used to identify whether there is a specific learning need that the school can or cannot address. An obvious example of this is related to the language medium of a school. For example, if it is an English medium school and the applicant requires specialist English language tuition, it is unlikely that a place will be offered unless the school has capacity within its EFL or EAL facility. Not all schools will offer EFL, EAL. However, it is always worth discussing this further with the school as there may be a solution with some external support of the student. In an academically selective secondary school, the assessment is more about identifying the higher ability range. With this in mind, some parents have their child privately tutored for this entrance examination. As an ex Headteacher, I do wonder about the appropriateness of this where entry to a highly academic school is achieved leaving a less academic child to struggle whilst there. Some may argue that students are drawn up to the higher level but this is not always the case and some fall by the wayside only to be left with a sense of failure. I believe that, when given a choice of school, it is important to find the right school and learning environment for each child. For example, able, but not highly academic learners, may be better suited to a less pressured learning environment.In this equation, also consider the benefits to self-esteem and achievement when a student is in the right learning environment and feeling positive about his or her learning. See: Loss of confidence, a major issue for struggling children In this matter, the conversations that take place between you and your son or daughter and his or her teachers are important ones. These conversations will enable an understanding of your son or daughter’s strengths, weaknesses, learning style and what type of school would best suit them, particularly in the higher grades of secondary level. Year 9/Grade 8 This is another important transition point in schooling, particularly in the British system. It is when some students enter boarding schools as well as being the year prior to when the two year I/GCSE programme starts. In a school system such as the British one, which is presently driven by external examinations, it is important to be able to maintain residence in the UAE to enable the uninterrupted completion of Years 10 and 11/Grades 9 and 10. If not the case, I have noted that few schools allow admission into Year 11. The student may need to restart the I/GCSE programme as there is less transferability from course to course than most people are led to believe. Understandably, the international, IB or US curriculums are less driven by external examinations and transferability is much easier. Post-sixteen Start thinking early about the style of post-sixteen curriculum your son or daughter would benefit from. Some of this will be determined by the outcome of the preparatory route that he or she has received. For many people, it makes sense to move through the British style curriculum into the GCE AS, A level route or, increasingly, into the IB Diploma programme (IBDP) as an option. For comment on the difference between the GCE and IBDP go here. If presently in the IB, US, International, Arabic or a national system, it is usual for the student to continue in the same system until age eighteen. An important factor to consider is the destination country and which post-sixteen route offers the best preparation and/or most acceptable qualification for entry to colleges and universities in that country. The IBDP and GCE A level examinations are well established and recognised as good preparation for university entry. The IBDP is more widely understood internationally, but the GCE A Level is making inroads outside the UK. The I/GCSE results are often a good indicator for the more academic GCE A levels and IBDP routes. Schools will often require at least 5 or 6 pass grades of C and above including Mathematics and English as a minimum starting point for entry. In the GCE, a school will often require an A or B grade in the I/GCSE for entry to the same subject at A level. For a new applicant where their learning profile is not known, the school will usually require reports, an interview, plus a letter of recommendation from the previous school stating that s/he is a suitable candidates for this style of academic route. Alternatives to the academic route A post-sixteen or post-eighteen academic route is not always the best one. Unless the student is fully prepared in the years prior to this, an assumption that they are ready or suitable candidates for the IBDP or GCE A level could be setting them up for a fall in the first few months of the programme. It is important, therefore, that a conversation about this takes place by the end of the first year of I/GCSEs or, at a similar stage in other systems, to allow time for appropriate options to be considered. This may also form part of the school’s career counselling service and could involve some psychometric style assessments to determine best routes. The alternative post-sixteen/eighteen options are usually modular in approach and are designed to continue building a learner’s confidence, competencies, skills and knowledge in a more practical manner. These more vocationally orientated routes tend to be on limited offer in the UAE and it may be necessary to return to one’s home country to follow up this option. For a parent this can be quite a daunting time when the youngster is just sixteen. Further education colleges in an area close to family or with boarding facilities are often considered. There will be a lot of competition for these places in much larger markets and it is important to start your research and application process early. It is my experience that, when left to as late as six months before entry, the popular course places are taken up with conditional offers leaving very limited options. The school will be able to advise on appropriate routes in the UAE, although, if it is a home country destination, you will need to do the research and legwork yourself. Some countries have educational placement consultants who will be able to direct you for a fee. Post-eighteen: university or college This process starts in the first year of post-sixteen study with applications being processed in the first four months of the final year. Schools are often very helpful in this process preparing students and parents for the application and advising on appropriate courses and universities. Although a supportive student, parent, teacher partnership exists, it is important to point out that the responsibility for this process is handed over to the student. This may be the student’s first encounter with a competitive entry process and it is crucial that s/he meets all internal and external deadlines. Many schools produce excellent guides to support this process. If your school is not so proactive in this matter, it is always worth checking out a top school’s website for information. In some country destinations such as North America, SATS and English language tests may be required and these will need to be taken alongside existing study. Some schools offer these facilities, however, more-often-than-not, a student will need to register on-line or with a centre to take these tests. Some Arab nationals may need to ensure a Grade 12 pass in subjects such as Arabic and/or Islamic Studies, if a Muslim, to gain entry into a university in their home country. This is something that should be ascertained early on to allow the opportunity to find an appropriate accredited route alongside their study when not part of their school curriculum. It is up to the student and his or her parents, not the school, to ascertain specific entry criteria in the various destination countries. The Internet does make this a much easier task these days! The question of residency In some countries where nationals are offered preferential entry, fee status and possibly grants for college or university attendance, it is important to establish if residency rules apply. In the UK, resident Scottish nationals pay minimal university fees, if at all. Whereas, resident English nationals are classified as ‘home status’ and receive a reduced university fee. However, with recent rises in university fees the differential between ‘home status’ and ‘overseas status’ has reduced significantly. Resident European Union (EU) nationals, I understand, may also receive fee benefits when attending a Scottish university that are denied an English national. Attending an English medium university in Holland, for example, may result in much lower fees than the same course in England. In most cases, the key factor in this is the interpretation and application of a country’s existing residency rules which apply to university fees, grants and student loans. This often ends up with a simple question based on the number of years the applicant was resident in the country prior to entry to the university. For example, in the UK although some of the defining factors have changed over the years and made it more difficult to obtain ‘home status’, the residency rule has been fairly stable at three years. You will hear of students who have achieved ‘home status’ with less than three years and even no residency having completed their education in the UAE. It is always worth challenging an adverse decision in this matter advising that: • a family has no permanent right of residency in the UAE and that a work contract is often for a limited and defined period, even though it may have been renewed regularly; • in most cases, it can be argued that your permanent home is in your home country and that you pay property taxes in that country and that you do not own a home in the UAE. In my experience as a Headteacher, I have found that a challenge offers a fifty-fifty chance of success and that this will vary from one university to the next. The rules continue to tighten in the UK and the fee differential is not what it used to be. As is the case for most families, the cost of education is a substantial outlay and any reduced costs are always welcome. It is important, therefore, to establish an understanding of the rules that apply early on and to keep an eye on any updates. The final word Start the admission process early in the year prior to entry, or sooner is possible, as most places for a new academic year will be offered in the first four months of the previous one. If you are looking for a post-sixteen option that is not available in the UAE, start looking two years before entry. For the post-eighteen route, remember that there are international options which open up a whole new world of choice, fees, scholarships and entry points. This article was written by Which School Advisor’s Education Consultant and senior educationalist, Dr Michael Biggs. .