New to the UAE: How to enrol your child in school

If you are moving your family to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, this is everything you need to know about getting your child into school

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., September 2, 2018. 
 Pupils heading to school for the first day after the summer break at the Pearl Academy School on Muroor Road.
Contact: Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Anam Rizvi
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Dubai has 216 private schools following 17 curriculums and the emirate of Abu Dhabi has 247. But places at the most sought-after educational institutions fill up fast and many schools have waiting lists.

If you are moving to the UAE with children, the system of administration and the number of curriculums can be confusing for parents. So, here is everything you need to know about school admissions in the UAE:

How do I find the right school for my child?

First, make a list of schools that suit your child’s educational needs. Parents should choose a curriculum and make an appointment to visit the schools that offer it. Ask about exam rate success, extra-curricular activities, class sizes, staff turnover and any specific needs.

Lisa Whyte, head of admissions at Taaleem gave some tips on ensuring you thoroughly research the school.

“You should speak to or contact other parents, ensure the location is right so the journey to school is not too long, join a school tour, meet the school staff and consult the school inspection reports from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi, the Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK),” said Ms Whyte.

How do I choose the right curriculum?

Education experts in the Emirates said parents should choose a curriculum based on what their child would best fit back into should they decide to return to their home country before they have graduated. Parents should also look into what each curriculum entails.

The International Baccalaureate is often considered the “universal donor” of education and is highly transportable for those who are likely to move around to different countries.

How do I find a school that fits my budget?

Education institutions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi can vary widely when it comes to fees. While the top schools can be pricey, fees have been frozen at Dubai’s private schools for the last three years.

A grade 12 pupil in Bright Riders School in Abu Dhabi pays around Dh19,650 a year in tuition fees, whereas a grade 12 pupil at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi will pay Dh96,333.

Repton School in Dubai charges Dh95,000 for year 12 and 13 pupils, while at Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistani School pupils pay Dh8,604.

Private schools in Dubai told The National late last year they are considering whether to raise fees if a government freeze is lifted next year.

Several school leaders said the rising cost of living for parents would be a major factor in the decision, as is tough competition between the top providers.

Dubai's government has frozen private tuition fees for three years in a row. Before that, fees could be raised by about 2 per cent to 5 per cent annually, depending on academic performance.

Visit the KHDA or ADEK websites to find details of school ratings and fees. School websites also list the fees for each grade.

I've found an appropriate school. How do we apply?

Ms Whyte, head of admissions at Taaleem said:

“Assuming parents have completed a tour and researched the school well, ensuring it fits in their budget and is focused on what’s important for them and their children, be it academics, sports, the arts or inclusion, these are the next steps:

1. Complete the online application form.

2. Provide the required documents as requested by the school, make an appointment for an assessment and pay any application fees.

3. After the assessment you should receive an offer letter, this should be signed and a deposit is required to reserve your seat, usually expected within five days of receiving the offer. A place usually will not be held until the payment has been received. You may be placed in a waiting list pool, but these often move fast.”

Where do I find a school's admission criteria?

Parents can ask schools directly, or find the information on the regulators’ websites. Some schools will be at capacity and the most popular schools will have waiting lists.

What should my child expect from the admission test?

Tests depend on the grade and curriculum. They typically cover key subjects such as science, maths and English. In Abu Dhabi, children are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis and the tests are used to help determine the child’s grade level. In Dubai, assessments are often prerequisites for elite schools and some carry a non-refundable fee of up to Dh1,000.

What is the timetable for admissions?

In UK, IB, and American curriculum schools, admissions for the following academic year will commonly remain open all year round. Check the website to see if the grade or year group is available to apply or waiting list only.

Parents who want their child admitted to schools will find that some in-demand schools have waiting lists. Schools that have places available will keep taking children until September. In British and American curriculum schools, admissions for the following academic year will open on about March 1.

Ms Whyte said many schools across Dubai and Abu Dhabi are at capacity. She explained that these schools open admissions for a short period of time, commonly in January, 20 months before the September of the following academic year. Admissions will close once the school has processed enough applications and parents will be invited to the school for an assessment in the October of the same year, 12 months before the child starts school.

The earlier you apply the better. Unfortunately for those who arrive late in the year, there is no quick route to finding out which schools still have places. Parents will need to speak to each school that matches their criteria.

What documents do I need?

A school application form, copies of the passports of the pupil and parents and their UAE visa pages, Emirates ID, eight passport-size photographs, a copy of the child's birth certificate, their school records for the last two years, immunisation records and a school transfer certificate. Incoming pupils whose documents are incomplete cannot be registered, but most schools allow a few weeks to acquire these, as long as parents can show evidence of the application for a visa.

How does this process differ in other emirates?

The process is generally the same across the UAE, although there may be some minor differences.

A version of this story was first published on August 8, 2018