How to find the best school for your child in Dubai
Holland Park’s Manager and Lead Consultant in Dubai, Jeremy Branfoot, writes of the issues and options to bear in mind when finding a school for your child.
Choosing a school in Dubai
Finding a school for your child in Dubai is extremely difficult. There are well over 150 private schools in Dubai and, for the expat, there is no alternative. Of these, most are full and heavily oversubscribed, or almost so, particularly in the reception and foundation stage age groups where places are nigh on impossible to find. Consequently, the only places available to new arrivals, especially those with large families who wish to have all siblings in the same school, may well be one of several a ‘newly opening’ schools.
Below I outline some of the issues, pressures and options available to you when considering the issue of school choice for your child.
Many private schools in Dubai have eye-catching names that are borrowed from overseas such as ‘Winchester’, ‘Raffles’ and ‘Wellington’. With the notable exception of Repton Dubai and its prep school Foremarke Dubai, these have no links with their suggested overseas namesakes. Almost all Dubai schools are run to make a profit for their owners. The notable exceptions where places are keenly sought include: Jumeirah English Speaking Schools (JESS), Jebel Ali Primary School, the Indian High School, Dubai College, and Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) and its sister secondary College (DESC).
Large class sizes
Therefore, pressure from owners for a healthy bottom line means that class sizes tend to be high, and there is a general feeling in many schools that they operate as a business first and an educational establishment second. Schools also tend to be large (1000 or more pupils) so may lack a distinctive character or ethos. Furthermore, some schools look to recruit the cheapest staff and thus have a disproportionately large number of young, single teachers. Along with high staff turnovers, this means that the staff room can lack the breadth of age and experience that tends to characterise the best schools.
Be wary of waiting lists
This pressure upon schools to succeed financially should encourage you to be wary of waiting lists. You should establish whether you have a realistic chance of gaining a guaranteed place. Many over-subscribed schools do not cap or reject applications even when they know that your registration has no chance of actually securing a place (and they’ll happily take your non-refundable deposit). Also, some schools have a priority hierarchy allowing some (for example debenture holders) to leapfrog others. You should check carefully with the respective registrars as to their unique application process.
Fees and hidden extras
Additionally, fees vary enormously from school and are quoted as an annual figure. Guideline prices at schools popular with expats might be AED 35,000-50,000 for a Year 1 pupil, whilst ranging from AED 60,000-100,000 for a secondary pupil. However, school fees in Dubai have been moving regularly upward over the past few years and often feature a number of ‘hidden extras’. Despite this, Dubai’s top schools’ fees are actually about 20% cheaper that one might pay in the UK, though direct comparisons are difficult. You should make sure that your relocation package offers enough to cover basic fees, since most fall well short.
Local schools in Dubai
For schooling beyond eleven, local schools are now the preferred alternative; only 10% or so of expats send their children overseas. The most popular curriculum followed in Dubai schools is the British National Curriculum (31% of students), though there are a wide range of schools for specific requirements. The academic level expected by UK private schools, however, is significantly above the demand of schools in Dubai, thus there will be a shortfall to be made up by private tutoring for those transferring to the UK at 11+ or 13+.
Admissions tests and Special Educational Needs
Ostensibly, Dubai schools are ‘non-selective’ with entrance via an admissions test. Most schools will not accept children without a ‘minimum’ standard of English and will reject pupils who are particularly weak in either English or Maths. The notable exception is Dubai College, which has a competitive exam in January for Year 6 pupils. This attracts well over 400 applicants for around 70 places and thus competition is high with many parents using private tutors. It is important to note, however, that the provision for special needs (SEN) is often woefully lacking. Therefore, though most schools have in-house support, a condition such as dyslexia could well result in a failed assessment test.
Home education in Dubai
As a result of all of the above, homeschooling is becoming an increasingly popular option, particularly for families with three or more children where considerable savings can be made. It is also being used as a ‘stop-gap’ solution for those unable to gain a place at their first choice school, rather than compromise, whilst waiting for a place to become available. If you have to come to Dubai in a hurry, and have very young children, this could be the best – or only – option available to you.
The acute shortage of places at schools in Dubai is likely to continue, so for those contemplating a move to Dubai, whatever your educational needs and requirements, forward planning with regard to schooling is essential. It is reassuring to know, however, that no matter your deadlines, needs or requirements, there is a unique educational solution available for your family.
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Jeremy Branfoot is Manager and Lead Consultant at ’ Dubai office. From offices in London and Dubai, Holland Park can help ensure you .