United Arab Emirates / Abu Dhabi / Khalifa City A / Raha International School, Gardens, Abu Dhabi

Raha International School, Gardens, Abu Dhabi Review

One of the few IB World schools in Abu Dhabi, with its broad mix of nationalities across pupils and staff, Raha has a ‘new world’ feel, in an environment designed with a semblance to a traditional Arabic village. A second branch campus was launched in September 2020 and offers enhanced sports facilities that will be used by both schools.
Parents' Rating
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3.7 out of 5 based on 53 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2022/23
Availability 2023/24
Annual fee average
AED 55,500
Annual fees
AED 39,330–61,900
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2006
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
25%
Principal
Ms Nicola Neethling
Owner
Taaleem
Main student nationality
United Arab Emirates

Nearby nurseries

2.2km • EYFS curriculum
2.5km • Creative Curriculum curriculum
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Raha International School, Gardens, Abu Dhabi
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2022/23
Availability 2023/24
Annual fee average
AED 55,500
Annual fees
AED 39,330–61,900
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2006
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
25%
Principal
Ms Nicola Neethling
Owner
Taaleem
Main student nationality
United Arab Emirates
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One of the few IB World schools in Abu Dhabi, with its broad mix of nationalities across pupils and staff, Raha has a ‘new world’ feel, in an environment designed with a semblance to a traditional Arabic village. A second branch campus was launched in September 2020 and offers enhanced sports facilities that will be used by both schools.

The Story so Far..

Raha International School is a very popular, and one of only three IB Continuum (through), schools in Abu Dhabi, having now passed its thirteenth year of operation. It is located in the suburb of Khalifa City A in the heart of the Raha Gardens area – a popular residential area for all nationalities and close to the Etihad Head office and airport. The school caters to 2,200 students in the 2022-23 academic year.  The school has historically had long waiting lists.

The opening of a new campus - Raha International School Khalifa City - located only minutes away from the current one, which opened in 2020, has been welcomed.  Expected to be larger than the current site, altogether both campuses will have a combined total student cohort of 5,000, with the new campus absorbing 3,000 of them.  The new school opened from KG to Grade 3 in September 2020, adding grades to Grade 8 in September 2021 and annually thereafter, offering the full spread of K-12 grades in 2025-26.

Latest: New Branch Campus opened in 2020, read our Hard Hat Tour article.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received limited feedback from parents and students at RIS - rather a shame given the high regard in which the school appears to be held from an academic standpoint and in terms of demand from parents for places. 
One parent comment from the 2020-21 academic year noted;"Outstanding Adek rating, good reputation, gardens campus is very nice, new Khalifa city campus is brand new and surprising unattractive. Friendly admin staff' location of gardens campus is great, Khalifa city campus is difficult to reach. Most teachers are nice."
Additionally, feedback from a student noted "Strengths: supportive and caring teachers, overall great environment, parents are well educated by the school about all the things happening/going on in your specific grade and in other grades. Weaknesses: Facilities are a bit outdated in some buildings, the Arabic language department's aims/teaching goals are not always clear."

Find out more about parent opinion in the Buzz.

Parents interested in either school will find that all admissions (and school management) activities are centalised between the two campuses. This means that both will be managed as one operation. One important aspect of this is that applications for places will be managed across both campuses and although parents may state a preference between the two campuses, an offer at the preferred campus is not guaranteed.

The school achieved an Outstanding rating from ADEK for the second time during its inspection in 2017-18.  This was something of an achievement, given the relative lack of IB curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi. No subsequent inspection had taken place due to the Covid 19 pandemic which halted inspections in the 2019-20 and 2021-22 academic years.

It has clearly come as a disappointment to the Raha Gardens community,  when a third inspection did finally take place, in May 2023, that the much celebrated Outstanding rating was reduced to Very Good. The format of the inspection, and the reporting of it, lacked much of the detailed analysis that usually accompanies an ADEK inspection, leaving it difficult to understand the reasons behind the change in rating.  More details can be found here.

Students at Raha are from a wide variety of nationalities, over 80 in total. Some 18% of students are Emirati,  with the two largest other nationality groups American and Indian citizens. The class sizes are 24 children in EY 1 and 2. Grades 1 to 10 have a maximum of 26 per class whilst Grades 11 and  12 have around 22 per class, although this number varies between courses.  The teacher:student ratio at 1:12 is in line with these class sizes.

Read about our Experience when we visited Raha International School

The nationality of the teaching staff also varies, coming predominantly  from Ireland, the UK, and Canada, but with teachers from as far away as the USA, South Africa, Australia and the UAE. The broad mix of staff and students gives the school ‘a new world feel’.

At the end of March 2022, Taaleem announced the departure of long-standing Principal, Iain Colledge, who, after joining Raha in 2016, was widely felt to be responsible for the growth in the Gardens school, the ADEK Outstanding rating and the development of the Khalifa City sister school which was also under his leadership. Mr. Colledge has been replaced by Ms. Pali Nahal, who joined Taaleem's IB curriculum Uptown International School as Head of Primary in 2017, subsequently being promoted to Vice Principal and latterly as Acting Principal during 2021. 

What about the curriculum?

The school has chosen to follow the IB PYP, MYP and IBDP curriculum, as its team is convinced that this is the most successful foundation for young people, many of whom go on to university.

The school does not currently offer the IBCP (Career-related Programme), which is usually offered in combination with the UK-based BTEC qualification, to offer a more vocationally-focused curriculum. RIS has, in the past, offered the IBDP Courses curriculum, which is a scaled-down version of the full Diploma. 

What about support for students of Determination?

Raha, in common with all Taaleem schools - the group has led the development of support for students with additional needs throughout the UAE - is an inclusive school.  At the time of the 2022-23 ADEK inspection, there were just over 3% (65) of students identified with additional learning needs. 

The SEN department, which includes a team of specialist staff, is seen as an important one, as many children need fast-tracking in their English to attain a good understanding or require support because of specific additional learning needs. The school also employs a Full-time Counsellor in the Primary school and in the Secondary school who support students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural counselling. Deputy Heads and Assistant Heads of school address any disciplinary issues.

As there are students joining Raha from around the world, the school provides an ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) programme to support students in the English language. This programme comes at no additional cost, unless an Inclusion Assistant is required.

What about Student Achievement? 

Raha International is one of the few Abu Dhabi-based schools to offer the full range of International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) in Elementary, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Middle School and the Diploma Programme (IBDP) in High School.  Seen by many as the "Gold Standard" for university entry, the IBDP has become increasingly highly regarded by the leading Russell and Ivy League universities.

Raha graduates choose the UK as their most desired destination for higher learning, followed by the US, Canada and mainland Europe.  Top tier universities to which Raha students have graduated include Cambridge University, London School of Economics, Imperial College London, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, University of California - Los Angeles, McGill University, The University of Toronto, The University of Melbourne.

May 2023 brought in the first set of IBDP examinations where the stated aim of the International Baccalaureate Organisation was to return the grading process to that of 2019, the last examinations to take place prior to the Covid 19 pandemic.  Results across the world showed lower pass rates and point scores.

For the first time, Raha did not provide full details of its results, advising only that the average score was 32.5 points and pass rate 94%These results are well above the UAE averages of 31.97 points and a pass rate 89.7%.

With no examinations held in 2020 and 2021, the first set of examinations sat by Grade 12 students took place in 2022. A total of 127 students were entered for the IBDP and achieved an average point score of 33.8 with a 92% pass rate.  81% of awards were above 35 points. The highest student score -  a perfect 45 points -was achieved by Giacomo Schott - who achieved the highest score of 7s in both Maths and Physics Higher and was offered places at university in Germany, Hong Kong and the UK.

In 2021, for the second year in a row as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, students did not sit the IB examinations, instead being awarded their results based on Centre Assessed Grades (predicted by their teachers) and on assessments that were marked by IB examiners.

With a steadily growing number of students participating in the IBDP, this year saw 134 candidates score an average of 35 points. Almost all students passed the Diploma (98.5%), with 82% achievng 30+ points, 52% achieving 35+ points and a resounding  28% achieving 40 points or more of the total 45 points available.  This latter group represent around 5% of students globally and would be eligible to the world's elite universities,

In 2020, a cohort of 98 students participated in the IBDP and achieved a 95% pass rate. The average points awarded were 34, with 72% of students achieving 30+ points, 44% achieving 35+ points and 13% achieving 40+ points.

We would like to make parents aware that there is general evidence of grade inflation across the IB awards - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students last took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021.

As anticipated there was a correction in 2022 when students sat exams in the usual way and this was further reflected in the results for 2023.  As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.

Raha International is one of the few UAE schools that has consistently provided this information.

In 2019, 83 students were entered for the IB Diploma examinations, whilst 7 students took the IBDP Courses Programme. 92% of candidates passed the IB Diploma, with an average point score of 31.7. 63% of students achieved 30 points or more, with 27% of students achieving 35+ points and 6% receiving over 40 points.

Some 86 students made up the cohort of students who took the Diploma programme examination in 2017-18 and achieved an average point score of 32.1, above the UAE average score of 31.41.  The global average score for IB students worldwide was 29.78 (down slightly from just under 29.9 points in 2017).  Any school that achieves above this average is doing very well indeed. The highest award achieved was 44 points - just one off the perfect 45 points available.  This high-achiever will be heading to the prestigious university at Stamford in the USA.

Comparative data from 2018 to 2017 is shown in our chart below.  It should be noted that some data was not provided for 2018 that was available in the previous year.

IB results 2018 2017
No. of candidates registered in the session 86 75
No. of diploma and retake candidates registered Not provided Not provided
No. of subject entries in the session Not provided Not provided
No. of candidates who passed the diploma 77 70
% of candidates who achieved 40+ points Not provided 8%
% of candidates who achieved 35+ points Not provided 34%
% of candidates who achieved 30+ points Not provided Not provided
Highest Diploma points awarded to a candidate 44 43
Average grade obtained at the school by candidates who passed the diploma 32.1 32.5
Total number of candidates excluded from the statistics Not provided Not provided

In recent years, one student was awarded a full scholarship to US Ivy League Dartmouth College and in 2017 another was accepted to Oxford in the UK to read experimental psychology.  A Counsellor in the Secondary school provides Career/University application guidance to older students. 

What about facilities?

Designed with the style of an Arabic village in mind, the sand-coloured and double and three-storey classroom buildings surround several large piazzas with wide shaded pathways linking the campus. There are a lot of well-established palm trees and shrubs which help create an authentic garden feeling. There are a large number of open spaces and play areas.

The school has been divided into 3 sections, three separate EY1, EY2 and Grade 1 buildings located at one side of the campus (incorporating a new sports hall topped with a tennis court on the roof).

Read about our Experience when we visited Raha International School

There is one full size football pitch, two tennis courts, three well equipped gymnasiums, ICT labs, one 25-meter swimming pool and one beginners’ pool and two main libraries. The canteen boasts both indoor and outdoor seating, with new misting fans being installed outside for the warmer months. The classrooms are well equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards as well as appropriate specialist equipment. Physical emotional welfare are looked after through the provision of a fully equipped health centre, Sensory room, Mindfulness room and Serenity Garden.

Sport, the Arts and Music are seen as integral to the whole education of the children and there is evidence of creativity around the campus. The school opened the Raha Arts Centre in September 2016, comprising a full theatre auditorium with orchestra pit and a capacity to seat 600 people, two changing rooms, two entrance lobbies which can also be utilised as gallery spaces, two drama studios/classrooms, two music classrooms, seven music rehearsal rooms, three art studios, a small black box theatre space  and a kiln room.

What the Inspectors Say 

Raha International School was rated an Outstanding school for the first time in 2015-16, a step up from the previous rating of Very Good that the school received at the previous ADEK inspection, and retained its rating in 2017-18.  With the inspection process interrupted by Covid 19 in 2019-20 and 2020-21, the first post-pandemic inspections took place in the 2021-22 academic year, when ADEK appears to have focused on schools rated less highly than Raha International.

When the inspection team did finally find its way to Raha Gardens, the inspection process, and reporting of it, was in an abbreviated form. The resultant reduction in the Outstanding rating to Very Good clearly was unexpected by Raha's team. 

For reasons that have not been explained (we assume to enable inspections to take place at all schools that had not been inspected in 2019 and 2020), the inspection team reviewed only four of the six key performance standards and issued abbreviated reports without commentary.  We would strongly recommend that you read the full previous report to gain an overall understanding of the best features of the school.

The 2023 abbreviated report did not take into account the previous Outstanding ratings for the two key performance standards - the Curriculum and Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovations skills - that were not subject to inspection.

Based on the ratings, the main areas of concern were in relation to Student Achievement in respect of Arabic and Islamic Education, whilst the majority of ratings for English, Maths and Science were Very Good or Outstanding.  Teaching and Assessment were rated Good in the EY section and Very Good across the remainder of the school. And while Health and Safety retained the Outstanding ratings, Care and Support were awarded Very Good.  Partnerships with parents retained the Outstanding rating, as did the Management of the school.

Whilst the inspection reports are an indicator of school performance, it should be borne in mind that the focus of the inspectors may not necessarily be entirely aligned with that of parents.  We would always encourage parents to look at the broader picture - and particularly parent opinion and academic achievement - in addition to what is essentially a snapshot of the school at given time period.

If you would like to read the inspection reports - and we strongly recommend that you do so, in order to understand the current and past outcomes  - you will find them here.

The Buzz

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received limited feedback to its School Survey.  Just over 55 parents have responded to the survey, providing Raha Gardens with a rating of 3.7/5 - a positivity rating of 74%.

Around 85% of children are said to have 'quite a bit' or a 'strong sense of belonging' to the school whilst a similar percentage enjoy going to school quite a bit or tremendously. Parents are largely satisfied with the academic performance of Raha Gardens (with 79% completely satisfied, 11% partially satisfied, though some 10% are dissatisfied). 

Despite this, close to 25% of parents said that they needed to arrange external tuition - a growing trend in UAE schools where the average is 29%. There is some indication from parent and student comments to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that this relates to Arabic and Islamic Studies.

Parents are generally satisfied with communication and feedback - the school has a communicator app for parents to keep up-to-date with school activities - although this has fallen from 9/10 to 7/10 who are satisfied in this respect. Similar views are held with regard to the disciplinary policy.

And overall, 81% of respondents would whole-heartedly recommend Raha Gardens to other parents, though 13% were not sure and 6% would not do so.  It would seem that the principal reason for this relates to the school's fees.  44% of parents agreed that fees represented good value for money, whilst 41% partially agreed.  However, a significant 15% (one in six) of respondents disagreed with this statement.  .

If you are a parent, teacher or student at Raha International School, and would like to share your opinions and experience with potential members of your community,  complete our survey.

Our View

Having met the demands of parents with the opening of the sister Khalifa City campus, under the same management and integrated with the Gardens branch, there was a clear indication of the ambition that Raha Garden had to develop still further to meet the demands of the community in which it is based. 

The school is serving its very large and diverse community, and would appear to be doing so very well across the board,  based on both local and international measures.   The school has also clearly taken steps to make this as simple as possible, with school buses serving the community for children from EY1 to G12.  We expect that demand for Raha International School Gardens will continue to grow.

What about the fees?

Fees are on the premium end for Abu Dhabi at AED 40,880 in EY1, AED 42,940 in EY2, AED 56,230 for Grades 1 to 6, rising to AED 64,340 in Grades 7 to 12.  They are payable in three installments: Semester 1 in August, Semester 2 in December and Semester 3 in March. Materials are included in tuition fees for EY 1 up to Grade 10. Diploma textbooks for Grade 11 and 12 should be purchased for each course.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

Raha International School, Gardens, Abu Dhabi is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:

If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information

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