Schools in the UAE set up online tours and taster sessions during the pandemic to help parents choose the right school for their children.
Dubai has 210 private schools following 17 different curricula and Abu Dhabi has 205 private schools, which means the task of selecting the right one is not always easy, especially during these challenging times. But there is help at hand.
Here's everything parents need to know about choosing the right schools and navigating the tricky admissions process.
Things to consider when choosing a school
Rachael Wilding, principal of Smart Vision School in Al Barsha, Dubai, said parents should begin by making inquiries and asking lots of questions.
Do they want a school with a structured environment or one that offers flexible programmes? Does their child require one-on-one learning or larger groups to encourage social skills?
Not all schools in the country are inclusive, so parents whose children need additional help may prefer communities that offer an equal opportunity to learn.
Do they want a school that focuses only on sciences and maths? Or one that teaches music, fine arts and sports, too?
Ideally, parents should consider schools that best suit their child’s interests and aptitudes.
Once parents have got an idea of what it is they are looking for, it is time to make a shortlist and view some options.
Questions to ask
Parents can ask schools about their class sizes, extracurricular activities, teacher-to-pupil ratios, homework and annual fees.
Shahida Patel, head of admissions at Taaleem, one of the UAE's largest education providers, said it was important that parents found a school that was the right fit.
“If you are looking at academics or extracurricular, what's most important is that your child is happy at school,” Ms Patel said.
“If they are happy, they will automatically learn and progress.”
Once parents have visited some schools, they can join parent communities on social media to gather more information to help narrow down their choices further.
Things to keep in mind when selecting a school
Location, fees, curricula and inspection ratings are important things to consider.
For school inspection results, parents in Dubai are advised to refer to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's website, while those in Abu Dhabi can check with the Department of Education and Knowledge.
Parents should also consider the school's location, which should be close to home or their place of work, especially if their child will attend after-school classes.
How important are school tours?
Guided tours play a crucial role in helping parents find the right school and with many conducting online and in-person visits, it is incredibly easy to find out what each school offers.
Ms Patel said Taaleem offered personalised tours of its schools after teaching hours or on Saturdays, as well as online visits.
“Virtual tours have been welcomed widely as families can experience the school without actually being here or even when they are overseas,” Ms Patel said.
Ms Wilding said her school offered one-on-one tours with a member of the leadership team and online walk-throughs.
Can parents attend an online class?
Parents are not allowed to sit in classrooms due to safety reasons, but many schools record lessons, so footage can be viewed. Taaleem schools allow all of its prospective pupils to participate in taster sessions, too.
How to choose the right curriculum
With more than 200 nationalities calling the UAE home, schools offer a wide choice of curricula.
The International Baccalaureate is often considered the gold standard in education and is highly transferable, making it ideal for children who are likely to move around the world.
How to find a school that is within budget
Schools vary greatly when it comes to cost.
For example, fees at Nord Anglia International School in Dubai are currently Dh74,021 ($20,155) for Year One pupils and Dh95,946 for Year 13 pupils for an academic year.
It costs Dh7,764 a year for a Grade 12 pupil to attend the Gulf Model School in Dubai.
To help with rising school costs, several schools cut fees, distributed textbooks free of charge and made uniforms optional during the pandemic.
Hartland International School, a British-curriculum school in Dubai, reduced its fees by up to Dh15,000 last year and, in November, Repton Abu Dhabi announced it would give discounts of up to 50 per cent to new pupils for one term.
But Ms Wilding encouraged parents to do their research when it came to finding the best school.
“Shop around as there is a lot on offer. They are not [always] well-known schools but some are incredible,” she said.
How to enrol your child in school
1. Fill in all of the application forms.
2. Provide the required documents and pay applicable fees.
3. Some children may have to sit assessments. Costs, if any, vary.
4. Once a child is accepted into a school, a deposit is required to reserve their place.
Joining a school in higher grades is more complicated and many schools do not accept pupils in exam years.
What documents are needed?
A school application form, passport copies (pupils and parents) including UAE visa pages, Emirates IDs, eight passport-size photographs, a copy of the pupil's birth certificate, school reports for the past two years, immunisation records and a school transfer certificate are all required.
A pupil will need a leaving certificate if they move from another school in the UAE.
When should the application process begin?
Places at popular schools fill up fast, so parents need to start the application process one year in advance, ideally in October of the preceding year.
While some schools accept pupils at the beginning of the school year, others stop admissions in December or January.
What does an admission test entail?
Admission tests vary. While schools have tough assessments for senior pupils, most exams for juniors are designed to identify a pupil's needs and skill sets. Tests usually cover key subjects such as English, maths and science.