The Guide to Choosing a school in Dubai: 19 Best questions for Parents to ask on a school tour
Looking for the best school in Dubai for your child? School tours are the perfect opportunity to get a real feel for an educational environment, and will often be the clinching factor that helps you decide whether or not it is the right place for your little one.
But planned school tours often follow a certain formula, and staff and even students will usually be well versed in ensuring that everything is set off to its best advantage. That is, of course, what you would expect of a proud school, keen to celebrate its qualities, teachers and all it can do to help every child reach its fullest potential.
But how can you slice through the veneer and ensure you get an authentic taste of what it would really be like to send your child to the school? Every child is different. However amazing a school may be for some children, there is no perfect school for every child.
It’s all about knowing what to look for – and which questions to ask.
SchoolsCompared.com went looking for the answers – and who better to advise us on this than school Principals themselves? We spoke to:
- Steven Giles, Principal of Raffles International School;
- Ian Thurston, Principal of Dubai International Academy Al Barsha;
- Hitesh Bhagat, Principal of Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills;
- Timothy Roberts, Principal of Raffles World Academy Dubai
for their tips on the best questions to ask on a Dubai school tour, and what to look out for…
Best questions to ask on a Dubai school tour
Top tips: Steven Giles, Principal at Raffles International School
What to look for…
- The first thing a parent should look for on a school tour is the ‘openness’ of the school. Do school tours avoid certain areas or are the tours happy to walk to all areas suggested by parents? It is important that a tour goes where the parent wants to see, rather than the tour-prescribed route. Ask to visit a language or Arabic class; are there any bespoke subjects that make the school unique? How full are the classes and classrooms? Parents should always look into random class windows and see the number of students in a classroom. If you are looking in the Primary-school area, are there any support staff to help the teacher? Do students look engaged and enthused to learn? Are they copying notes, or discovering and researching? These teaching methods are very different.
- Look beyond the facade. Schools often have a ‘face’ that shows a front that is pearly white marble and LCD 4K screens. But schools are not about resources in a reception, or the thickness of a desk. A school is, rather, about the life and vibrancy of the people in it. If a school has an amazing Apple resource centre, are there children actually in it when you visit? If there a lecture or drama theatre, does it look used and a part of the school, or somewhere only used 5 times a year? A school should be a working place; a place where students have the opportunity to explore and develop their skills in all areas.
- Do staff look smart and happy? Staff dressed professionally are role models and set high standards for the students to replicate. Are staff happy to talk and engage with you? If they are, can you see the passion they talk about the school – or are they just following a script?
- Does the school have a history and is it established? Dubai has a lot of new schools popping up all over the city. Often these schools will try and encourage you to join through fancy taglines and reduced fees. Often these schools make their finances in hidden areas like paying for CCAs (Co-Curricular Activities), or certain expensive uniforms and PE kits. Other schools offer taglines of extended hours. Ask whether the extended hours will be taught by the same specialist teachers who are in during the day? Will leadership still be on site? A fancy hook to get you to sign up is often hollow, so be sure to look beyond the headlines and see if the school can answer your trickier questions.
- Does the school accept all students of all abilities – or is it ‘selective’? Most schools will require an entrance test or access test. But what is it for? Before you agree, check if it is a factor in deciding whether your child will be offered a place for the school. The entrance test should be to ascertain strengths and areas of development in the position and teaching and learning of a child, not a deal breaker in whether they have a space or not. The entrance test often has a fee, and it should be clear if there are actually even spaces before your child takes the test. If there are spaces then, if you discover that the school is selective, they should share this with you prior to any test or assessment.
The Top 5 questions to ask to uncover the likely fit of a school to your child – and how good they really are:
- Will my child be happy here?
- Do all children learn the same thing at the same time?
- Can my child still go to university if they take BTEC in the 6th form rather than the A Level route?
- What are the teachers like?
- Where are you, and can the school be accessed from all over Dubai?
The answers to these questions will tell you so much about the school.
Top tips: Ian Thurston, Principal of Dubai International Academy Al Barsha
What to look out for…
- Student interactions at break times and change-over times (in the case of Secondary schools) – this will give the best indication of how students behave when they are not supervised.
- Student engagement in lessons and activities – this will suggest how engaging the learning provided is and the “normal’ environment that your child will experience in lessons.
- The general environment – is it a pleasant, light, spacious space to learn in every day? Is it clean, well presented and shows care and pride? Is it well-resourced to enhance learning?
- The teachers – are they interesting and expressive, motivating students to learn? or are they stressed or rushing around? Do they look positive amongst themselves? This will give a good indication of staff morale which will impact learning and retention.
Top 5 Questions to ask…
- What do you do to support staff retention and what is your rate of retention?
- How do you see your school improving over the next 5 years?
- What are the most memorable activities that my child will experience at your school?
- Why do parents choose/stay at your school?
- If I asked a student to describe your school in 3 words, what would they say?
Top tips: Hitesh Bhagat, Principal of Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills
Mr Bhagat told SchoolsCompared.com that it is all about the questions:
Top 10 Questions to ask…
- How can parents get involved in school life?
- How do you deal with a child who isn’t meeting academic expectations or who has gaps in his or her knowledge?
- What is your placement record like? Where do most of your graduates go?
- What are your teachers’ qualifications and what professional development opportunities are available to them?
- What type of student are you looking for?
- How do you measure individual achievement and progress?
- How do you honour or recognize the students at your school?
- How do you handle discipline?
- What is the end goal for your students? What do you want for them when they leave?
- Ask something absolutely unique to the needs of your child, something that is important for them. Can the school deliver?
Top tips: Timothy Roberts, Principal of Raffles World Academy
What to look out for…
- Security throughout the building – are your children going to be safe?
- Staff engagement with students – are your children going to be listened to, understood, known and cared for?
- Staff active when on duty (if they are on duty) – are staff invested in the welfare of (all) children?
- Cleanliness – is this an environment that you would want your child to be educated in?
Top 4 Questions to ask…
- Will my child be happy in this school? Then ask the same question to yourself when you leave.
- Ask questions relevant to your child around staffing, resourcing, safety and the curriculum. Look for clarity and their explaining why these are important areas.
- How would you actually know if this is a happy school? This is a key question that will make them think.
- What does the admissions and enrolment process entail? This will tell you how interested they are in your child rather than numbers on a page.
DIA and Raffles Schools are part of the Innoventures Group of schools. Innoventures Education, lead by the respected educationalist Chief Executive Poonam Bhojani, was established in 2004 and today educates almost 8000 students from more than 100 nationalities across its 5 multi-curriculum schools and 8 Nurseries. Poonam Bhojani told SchoolsCompared that above all else, when considering a school, it is teachers that must be placed centre stage:
“Outstanding, inspirational, passionate and motivated teachers are the single most important part of delivering world class schools for children. This is the largest investment we make at every one of our schools. You can get rid of everything else but without extraordinary and outstanding teachers you have nothing, the children have nothing.”
For more information on Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, click here, and visit the official web site here.
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