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How to Get a School Place in the UAE

How to Get a School Place in the UAE

by Jane TalbotJuly 31, 2018
In 2016 the United Arab Emirates, Ministry of Education made the progressive and ambitious, five step plan designed to bring significant improvement to the countries education system by the year 2020.  Focusing on key factors such as smart learning programmes, revamped teaching, improved evaluation systems and curriculum revisions, the aim has been to create a globally renowned, top-quality, international education infrastructure.

The UAE is also investing in its youth. An incredible 21.2 % of the 2016 federal budget went to the education sector.

According to the latest Abu Dhabi Education Council Annual Report (ADEK) there are currently 580 Private Schools in the UAE, most of which are in Dubai (185) and Abu Dhabi (122), providing a variety of educational curricula to 500,000 students of over 185 nationalities. This forecast is that this will rise to 680,000 students by the year 2020.

Recent Government inspections found that there are currently 14 Outstanding schools and 27 Very Good schools in Dubai. In Abu Dhabi three schools have achieved Outstanding result and 11 have received a Very Good rating. Considering the number of children in the educational system, simple maths tells us that until more schools achieve these two highest ratings, there will remain significant competition to get into the small number of top performing schools

Part of the process for getting a child a place in a school in the UAE is the common pre-acceptance assessment practice. What follows is our guide on firstly how to select schools to apply for, and to then prepare your child for what can be a new and daunting process.


How to Narrow Down Your Selection

With so much choice, here are ways you can begin to cut down the number of schools in your shortlist.

  • Curriculum: This refers to textbooks, topics and examinations including school activities both in and out of the classroom and may have a significant impact on application and acceptance into higher educational facilities in ‘home’ countries. A school’s curriculum can also suggest an ethos towards a specific approach to learning. It is important that parents and students understand and accept what influence this will have on school life, and on future pathways. If you’re headed to the US after your stint in the UAE, it would make sense to study at a US curriculum based school in the UAE.
  • Quality: Reviews on and, as well as KHDA Ratings and ADEK reports are your key resources here. Clearly, once you have your shortlist, first hand evidence of what the school is like, as well as answers directly from the school itself (be prepared to ask the questions you need the answers for) should help you make your final decision.
  • Location: Navigating the UAE’s busy roads is a big consideration when choosing a school, so selecting a campus that is close by will help to keep the commute (and stress) to a minimum.
  • Environment: Taking the time to receive a tour of the school’s facilities and to meet the leadership team will help with the decision making process. This is the ideal time to discover about the approach to school-parent communication processes, how the school manages behavioural issues, whether it has an inclusive policy and other relevant factors.
  • Secondary School Affiliation: If it is anticipated that a student will continue their secondary level education within the UAE it may be beneficial to select an institution that that has senior school to avoid more application assessments and uncertainty.
  • Fees: With the cost of living in the UAE on the rise and the reduction in the number of companies offering attractive packages that include school fees, the cost of private education is an enormous factor when it comes to selecting a school. Most schools have their fee breakdowns on their websites; alternatively a list of UAE schools by pricing can be found at Secondary school prices are significantly higher than primary and it is fairly common for families to select secondary or post 16 education in their home countries.
  • Profit or not for profit: Not for profit schools are a sought after choice as it is believed that the higher salaries attract more experienced and better qualified teachers and that financial resources are fully channelled back into the school. Not for profits are also usually expremely highly rated. That said, they are also some of the UAE’s priciest schools – especially in Dubai, where they top the tables for fees. Some parents also prefer the blend or higher concentration of younger teachers in private schools. Nor for profits have higher teacher retention – i.e. teachers stay for longer, and teachers are on average older (and more expensive) than those found in for profits.
  • Special Educational Needs: If you are aware of any special educational requirements that your child would need when they begin school it is important to inform the appropriate members of the faculty.  Although legally UAE schools are required to be inclusive, there are a number of schools that have more comprehensive policies in successfully including SEN children in their curriculum with excellent results. More details can be found at our sister site, which offers a comprehensive SEN guide.

In Dubai: The Knowledge Human Development Authority (KHDA) is responsible for the growth of private education in Dubai, with the aim of assisting parents, students and investors to ensure high-quality education for the residence of Dubai.  As a guide to aid parents in selecting a school, the KHDA have a user friendly, online advisor that allows the user to filter by fee range, location, curriculum and performance in their search for a suitable school.

In Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department (ADEK), which covers Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafra regions, seeks to implement the development of educational facilities, plans and standards to achieve international benchmarks.

In Sharjah: The Sharjah Education Council (SEC) was established in 2006 to plan and develop education resources within Sharjah in accordance with the general U.A.E policies in its 38 accredited private schools. More information about the various curriculum schools can be found on the SEC website.

All 7 Emirates operate under the U.A.E Ministry of Education. AL Ain, Ras Al Khaimer, Ajman and Fujairah Emirates are managed through local branches or educational zones. More information regarding schools located in these Emirates can be found at



Education in the U.A.E begins significantly earlier than the European counterparts, beginning from Grade 1 for students aged three by 31st July for schools starting in April, or for students aged three by 31st December for schools commencing in September. However the legal age in which a child is required to be in official education is Grade 1.

(There is a general consensus that it is easier to find a place in a highly rated school from the KG1, as slots fill from that year and filter upwards. By Grade 1 classes are often already full).


For curricula starting in April
GradePre-PrimaryKG1KG2Grade 1
Age by 31st of July3456


For curricula starting in September
Grade/YearPre-Primary / FS1KG1 / FS2KG2 / Year 1Grade 1 / Year 2
Age by 31st of December3456


Each school has its own internal enrolment process, but most will require parents to submit supporting documents and pay an application fee, which is non refundable.

Some schools require payment of an assessment fee on top of this (which can be as much as AED1000). Most schools have a set period in which they are open for applications however submissions can be proffered throughout out the academic year.


Documents required:

  • Photocopy of the child’s birth certificate
  • Copy of their latest school report
  • Passport photos (up to 6)
  • Vaccination reports
  • Passport copies of parents and child
  • Emirates ID copies (if available)
  • Copy of residence visa (if available)
  • Application Fee
  • Transfer/leaving certificate from previous school (this is a mandatory requirement and must not be dated more than three months prior to the date of entry to the new school)


How Many Schools To Apply For?

Depending on the curriculum, it is recommended to apply to more that one school, especially if they are facilities in high demand.  It goes without saying that the higher standing the school, the more competition there will be for a place.  Considering the UAE’s demographic and age spread parents tend to apply to a greater number of schools when applying for FG1 – Grade 4, although the average application fee costing around AED500, parents will want to find ways to limit their applications.

When applying for older age groups, competition thins, and it should be sufficient to apply to a top three.


What do the assessments entail?

Foundations stage assessments tend to be play based, with parents invited to attend or be nearby while the assessment is happening, to eliminate separation anxiety and to allow the child to focus on their activity. The majority of private, international schools have an assessment process that involves a one-to-one interview or group interaction session (or both) in which the children are observed.


What Exactly Are Schools Looking For?


Early Years:

Personal, Social and Emotional Milestones: During the admissions assessments the observers are looking for evidence of key milestones in the children. These include, the level of a child’s ability to interact with other people, as well adults outside of their own family and their ability to control their emotions in a new environment. Plus how well they are able to communicate their needs and the extent of their ability to share.

Language Development: Observers will be looking for evidence of basic maths understanding in children’s common language such as ‘There is enough space for the shovel in the sand’ and ‘my cup is half full’, indicating that they are ready for learning.

Older children may be asked to sit through tailored assessments that will include literacy, maths and other core subject curriculum topics, which will be reviewed along with their report from the previous school (dependant on each school’s policy).

Having said that, if a child has not reached these developmental goals they may still be accepted into a given school.  There are other factors that will influence admissions, such as the need to balance gender and racial demographics, nationalities, first language skills and even equilibrium of personality types. 


How can you prepare your child?

For early years a lot of what schools are looking for is naturally occurring.

Dana Bader is an author who writes about school readiness in children. She advocates a number of simple techniques that can be initiated at home to help prepare a child for school. These include regularly talking with a child throughout the normal events of a day, using a broad vocabulary and avoiding ‘baby talk’, allow the child to play using tools to develop their fine motor skills, read a bed time story each night to establish a love for books and an interest in learning how to read.

On the day of the assessment itself communicate with the child about what is going to happen in simple and calm language. Use reassuring terminology instead of the words ‘test’, ‘exam’ or ‘assessment’, which may cause the child to think that they are receiving a pass or fail evaluation. Encourage the child to enjoy the hour of play and emphasise that it will be fun.

With 17 years in Dubai, Katherine Morris is a preschool teacher who has helped to prepare nursery children for the next step into ‘big’ school. She believes that children take their emotional cues from their parents.

“It is very important for parents to take the assessment in their stride, a new environment can be daunting for young children who will be looking to their parents for reassurance. Really, an early years assessment is just a play date with new friends and that is the attitude parents should be demonstrating.”

For older children, there are practice test sheets readily available on the Internet and many parents hire private tutors to give their child the extra edge. However, there is something to be said for not presenting a falsely high result on entrance exams, which may be detrimental for a child in the long run should they not be as capable as the exam would suggest.

Once a child has been offered a place, the parents will be given a notice period in which they need to pay a deposit to confirm acceptance. The amount varies depending on the school and will be deducted as part of the first terms fee. Many schools have a minimum time in which the deposit payment must be received for the place to be held.

Once the place has been accepted and the deposit has been paid, the school will begin to communicate all the exciting requirements needed for the first day of term.  Early years students are often offered introductory sessions and older new joiners may be asked to attend the school a few days ahead of the other students prior to the start of term so that they have the opportunity to settle into the new environment and get to now their teachers.

About The Author
Jane Talbot

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