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The Guide to Choosing a school in Dubai: 19 Best questions for Parents to ask on a school tour

The Guide to Choosing a school in Dubai: 19 Best questions for Parents to ask on a school tour

by Tabitha BardaJanuary 23, 2024

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. 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

Photograph of Raffles


Photograph of Steven Giles, Principal of Raffles International School in Dubai. Mr Giles gives an insight into the key questions of what parents should be asking on a school tour to decide whether the school is right for their children

Pictured: Steven Giles, Principal of Raffles International School Dubai

What to look for…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Photograph of a child in the library at Raffles International School in Dubai

The Top 5 questions to ask to uncover the likely fit of a school to your child – and how good they really are:

  1. Will my child be happy here?
  2. Do all children learn the same thing at the same time?
  3. Can my child still go to university if they take BTEC in the 6th form rather than the A Level route?
  4. What are the teachers like?
  5. 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

Photograph of Dubai International Al Barsha in 2022

Photograph of Ian Thurston, Principal of Dubai International Academy speaks to SchoolsCompared about what parents should ask on a school tour

Pictured: Ian Thurston, Principal, Dubai International Academy – Al Barsha

What to look out for…

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

Photograph of child on climbing frame at Dubai International Academy Al Barsha

Top 5 Questions to ask…

  1. What do you do to support staff retention and what is your rate of retention?
  2. How do you see your school improving over the next 5 years?
  3. What are the most memorable activities that my child will experience at your school?
  4. Why do parents choose/stay at your school?
  5. 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

Photograph of Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills in Dubai

Hitesh Bhagat Principal Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills

Pictured: Hitesh Bhagat, Principal of Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills during his coaching activities in Sport

Mr Bhagat told 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?

Photograph of Raffles World Academy in Dubai with the Burj Al Arab in background

Top tips: Timothy Roberts, Principal of Raffles World Academy

Photograph of Timothy Roberts, Principal, Raffles World Academy Dubai - what to ask on a school tour

Pictured: Timothy Roberts, Principal, Raffles World Academy Dubai

What to look out for…

  1. Security throughout the building – are your children going to be safe?
  2. Staff engagement with students – are your children going to be listened to, understood, known and cared for?
  3. Staff active when on duty (if they are on duty) – are staff invested in the welfare of (all) children?
  4. Cleanliness – is this an environment that you would want your child to be educated in?

Photograph of young children at Raffles World Academy in Dubai

Top 4 Questions to ask…

  1. Will my child be happy in this school? Then ask the same question to yourself when you leave. 
  2. Ask questions relevant to your child around staffing, resourcing, safety and the curriculum. Look for clarity and their explaining why these are important areas.
  3. How would you actually know if this is a happy school? This is a key question that will make them think.
  4. 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.

Further information

The School Tour is vital in understanding if a school will be right for your child.

Pictured: Poonam Bhojani, Chief Executive, Innoventures Education

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.”

Read our review of Raffles World Academy here – and visit the school’s official web site here. 

You can learn more about Raffles International School here – and visit the official web site here.

Read our review of Dubai International Academy Al Barsha here – and visit the official school web site here.

For more information on Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, click here, and visit the official web site here.

© A WhichMedia Group publication. 2022. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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