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Best British Schools in Dubai – the Parent Guide 2017
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Best British Schools in Dubai – the Parent Guide 2017

by Jon WestleyFebruary 9, 2017

Pure British versus IB Hybrid

It is very difficult to guide parents set on a UK education on whether to opt for an IB hybrid. Until recently UK universities had in many cases demanded higher grades from IB students than A’ Level students. Recently we have found the opposite to be the case, with some universities, responding to perceived grade inflation, asking for lower grades at IB. On this basis it is not possible to advise parents on the better course of study judged in terms of securing a better chance of entry to Tier 1 UK universities.

What we do believe, however, is that the A’ Level continues to allow greater specialisation than the IB, whilst the IB prioritises greater breadth of study. For students who are less gifted in languages, A Levels may also be a better option. Both are highly academic – and with changes to the British system (see below), this will only increase. We also believe that the non-academic child, the British BTEC qualification is better than the IB Career-related programme. It may not however secure a place for children at University and is designed for a direct route into industry. The IB Career-related programme, however, is a highly creditable qualifier for entry to UK universities and balances extremely well the academic and vocational gifts of many children.

Our International Baccalaureate Diploma Guide can be found here.

Our International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme Guide can be found here.




The new landscape – fundamental changes to British education

Prospective parents should note that there are very significant changes to UK O Levels and A Levels currently taking place. We cover these in our UK curriculum Guides:

Our Guide to the International GCSE can be found here.

Our Guide to the International A’/Advanced Level can be found here.

In summary, we believe that the UK GCSE is arguably being so fundamentally changed in content, assessment and weighting that it no longer exists. The new GCSE being taught in UK schools is a very different animal:

  • The GCSE is now being assessed on a numerical grading structure between 1 and 9 (9 being the highest). The alphabetical grading structure between A* and G has been abolished.
  • Coursework and modularity is being removed entirely from assessment.
  • Any opportunity to re-sit failed modules is being removed.
  • Some subjects are no longer being taught.
  • All subjects are being revised and are more challenging. It is expected that the number of children securing higher grades will significantly fall.
  • The emphasis and evaluation of subjects is being changed. Previously, with the exception of English Language and Mathematics, all subjects, had similar weighting. Today, a group of subjects known informally as the English Baccalaureate subjects is prioritised. These include English Language, Mathematics, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Geography, History and a foreign language. English Language and Mathematics will be double weighted in assessing the performance of schools.
  • League tables based on final grades/results are being abolished. Instead schools will be rated on a “value-added” basis using a formula called “Progress 8” which measures how well a school meets or exceeds each child’s predicted performance in 8 subjects between the end of primary and secondary phases. The English Baccalaureate is heavily weighted, with five of the 8 subjects in Progress 8 having to be drawn from these EB subjects. Vocational subjects are being de-prioritised, and some, including Travel and Tourism, being abolished altogether.
  • All subjects are now entirely assessed by a single set of examinations sat by children at the age of 16.
  • Performance at GCSE will become more important when children apply for University entrance as AS Levels decline in importance (see below)

Changes to Post-16 provision in the UK are equally as radical:

  • AS and A Levels are being decoupled and are now entirely independent. It is likely that AS Levels will become increasingly less relevant.
  • Subjects will be awarded on the basis of a single set of examinations sat by children at the age of 18.
  • Opportunities to re-sit modules to drive up grades is being removed.
  • All subjects are being re-designed to become more academic with a number of subjects no longer taught.
  • Whilst the alphabetical grading structure will remain, it is anticipated grades will fall as the new A Levels bed-in.

What all this means in practice, at least in aim, is that levers for grade inflation will be removed entirely from the UK system and that the value of British qualifications will rise. The whole system will return to being very significantly more academic. The ultimate aim is to return the UK system to its roots three decades ago in a system based on the older O’ Level and A’ Level examination-only defined gradings.


British education in the Emirates

Remarkably, only a limited number of these UK changes are, fundamentally, being carried over to the International versions of the GCSE or A Level:

  • Alphabetical grading will remain at IGCSE – which will immediately, very transparently, distinguish international students in the Emirates at 16 from UK home students.
  • AS and A Levels will not be decoupled.
  • At least one Examination Board is changing the name of qualifications, for example from International A Level to International Advanced Level further confusing the two sets of exams.
  • Internationally some coursework and modularity will disappear, but some will increase where there is none at all in the UK.

That being said, many schools in the UAE do not offer the IGCSE – but have kept the British GCSE and A Levels. Our sister site, has details on which schools offer which here.

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]
  • Kashish
    February 23, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Hi i wnt to knw whch is best school horizon international or raffels international school

    • March 5, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Hi Kashish, this is a really tough question to answer. To some extent it will depend on the age of your child(ren) and what type of environment you are seeking. Raffles International is a very well established school consistently rated Good by the KHDA. It is a very international school in nature with students and staff from a diverse range of countries (with the highest proportion of students being from Europe) and around 1,700 students in total – so a large school, with a staff to student ration of 1:11. Horizon International is a much smaller school with under 1,000 students, the majority of whom are UK passport holders. Staff turnover at both schools has historically been relatively low, although there were significant changes at Horizon International at the end of the 2016 academic year. The staff to student ratio is 1:11, so lower than Raffles International. The new Principal (who joined from GEMS) appears to be popular with parents and has a clear focus on areas of development and improvement. Neither school has had students graduate from year 13 as yet, so it is too soon to comment on Sixth Form outcomes. Fees at Raffles International School range from AED 30,000 to AED 65,000, whilst at Horizon International, they are between AED 33,000 and AED 93,000 (though there is currently a large discount for children in years 10, 11 and 12 with fees being similar to Raffles). As you can see, there are many similarities between the schools and our advice would always be that you visit the schools and see for yourself which you feel is likely to suit your child(ren) better.

  • Kashish
    March 5, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Thanks for your comment and help.

  • Kashish
    March 5, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Thnank you, can you give me information on Regent International too?

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