Private schools are the only option for most expatriate parents in the UAE as the public school system accepts just a small number of foreigners.
The school system
There are several curriculums on offer in the UAE, from British and American schools to schools that offer the Indian CBSE curriculum.
The Abu Dhabi Education Council is the regulatory body for schools in the emirate. In Dubai, the role is filled by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
In Abu Dhabi the New School Model, launched in the emirate's classrooms in September 2010, sees pupils as young as three being taught by English and Arabic speakers. The model is being rolled out to grades one, two and three in government schools.
To find a school in Dubai, search the KHDA's website. You will find a list of schools by curriculum along with inspection rankings and reports from the government regulator.
The regulator in Abu Dhabi does not have a list of private schools on its website.
As in many other countries, school performance can vary widely.
Partial results from Abu Dhabi’s first school inspection of private institutions, released in June 2010, suggest the quality of education in the emirate’s private schools varies widely.
Adec visited 98 of Abu Dhabi’s 184 private schools. Of the 56 schools ranked so far, more than half were satisfactory and 32 per cent were “below satisfactory”; a mere 18 per cent were deemed “good”.
Full results from the inspection are not expected to be made public until some time in 2011.
Schools in Dubai did not fare much better in the last round of inspections, announced in May 2010, with two-thirds rated less than "good", which was little improvement on the previous year.
A total of 186 schools were assessed and graded into four categories - outstanding, good, acceptable and unsatisfactory.
They were evaluated on a wide range of criteria, from school leadership to student achievement. Inspectors judged 95 schools to be "acceptable", compared with 97 last year, while 20 others were ranked "unsatisfactory", compared to 22 last year.
A total of 115 schools were ranked in the lower categories, compared with 71 in the upper two.
Part of the schools’ collective failure to demonstrate improvement was due to an increased focus on Arabic and Islamic studies, an area that several administrators said presented difficult staffing challenges.
The UAE operates a four-tier educational structure that lasts for 14 years.
Pupils aged four to five years old
Pupils aged six to 12 years old
Pupils aged 12 to 15 years old
Pupils aged 15 to 18 years old
On completion, pupils students receive a secondary school leaving certificate.
Technical secondary school
Pupils aged from 12 to 18 years old
On completion, students receive a technical secondary diploma.
Annual fees for schools vary. Private schools are far more expensive than public and fees increase on a sliding scale with the age of the pupil and are usually paid in two instalments each year. Parents will be asked for a fee upon registration and a second payment on completion of the first term.
The government has pledged to shut down all villa schools in Abu Dhabi by 2013 so beware of enrolling your child in such a school as it will relocate or be shut by the Government.