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When Can My Child Start School?

When Can My Child Start School?

by Lis ONealMarch 28, 2017

Choosing and sending your child off to school for the first time, or to a new school, is likely to be one of the most emotionally challenging and nerve-wracking decisions that any parent makes. After all, you are choosing what you hope will be the best school, the best education and the best future for your child, often based on a fairly subjective decision.

Our Guide, of which this is the first in a series about choosing and applying to schools in the UAE, is designed to assist you through this process.

Schools in the UAE operate to two distinct Academic calendars. There is supposed to be a unified calendar that applies to all schools throughout the UAE, but in reality, variations still exist between different Emirates and individual schools. The following is therefore indicative.

For Indian/Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, the academic year is similar to the home countries, with the new academic year starting in April. There is a summer break from late June to late August, a further two week break at the end of the calendar year; school ends mid-March. There is a further two week break before the start of the new academic year.

All other international curricula schools follow the Western calendar, with the academic year starting in September, a short (two week) break at the end of the calendar year, a two-week Spring break in April and the end of the academic year at the end of June. Most schools have a short mid-term break in the first and second terms, but not all. US curriculum schools, which tend to close for the summer earlier, tend also to have little or no mid-term break periods.

You will need to bear in mind the curriculum you plan your child to follow in order to make sure that you start the research process and making applications in good time.

The next question is more about timing – when is the right time for your child start school in the UAE – both from a legal perspective on the one hand, and in terms of your child’s individual development on the other?

School starting ages vary considerably from country to country, with some children starting their education in “big school” from as young as 3 years, to others only moving into this environment at the age of 7. In the UAE, children are legally obliged to start school in the academic year in which they turn 6. So your child will be 5 years of age when s/he is obliged to start school.

In order to ensure that children are of an appropriate age to start school, the Ministry of Education has set out specific age by date criteria (so called cut-off dates), which vary depending on the curriculum and Academic calendar followed by the schools. To make life a little more complicated, schools in the UAE have different grading structures depending on the curriculum. This chart shows the most common curricula, grade structure and age (cut-off) requirements.


Turning Age Age at 31 Aug American curriculum IB curriculum* Age at 31 Aug British Curriculum Age at 31 Mar Indian curriculum
3-4 3.8 None Pre-K 3 FS1 3.8 KG1
4-5 4.8 KG1 KG1 4 FS2 4.8 KG2
5-6 5.8 KG2 KG2 5 Year 1 5.8 Grade I
6-7 6.8 Grade 1 Grade 1 6 Year 2 6.8 Grade II
7-8 7.8 Grade 2 Grade 2 7 Year 3 7.8 Grade III
8-9 8.8 Grade 3 Grade 3 8 Year 4 8.8 Grade IV
9-10 9.8 Grade 4 Grade 4 9 Year 5 9.8 Grade V
10-11 10.8 Grade 5 Grade 5 10 Year 6 10.8 Grade VI
11-12 11.8 Grade 6 Grade 6 11 Year 7 11.8 Grade VII
12-13 12.8 Grade 7 Grade 7 12 Year 8 12.8 Grade VIII
13-14 13.8 Grade 8 Grade 8 13 Year 9 13.8 Grade IX
14-15 14.8 Grade 9 Grade 9 14 Year 10 14.8 Grade X
15-16 15.8 Grade 10 Grade 10 15 Year 11 15.8 Standard XI
16-17 16.8 Grade 11 Grade 11 16 Year 12 16.8 Standard XII
17-18 17.8 Grade 12 Grade 12 17 Year 13 17.8

* Some IB curriculum schools follow the UK curriculum structure

Most schools in the UAE start to offer formal education in the year in which children turn 4. Historically, families have chosen to send their children to school at the earliest possible age, in large part because they fear that there will be no places available if they wait until a year or two later for entry to year 1 or KG2. Unfortunately, it is still the case in many Indian schools that later entry is extremely difficult. However, in other international schools – particularly the UK curriculum – a later start is often an option.

Whilst nurseries are increasingly losing children of 3-4 years to schools and are no longer permitted to offer UK curriculum FS classes, the introduction in Dubai of Early Learning Centres (ELCs), which combine both Nursery and the Foundation/KG units of established curricula, mean that there has been a small, but growing, alternative to “big school” for 3 and 4 year olds. These centres are regulated by the KHDA (the Dubai-based schools regulator) which means that children are registered with them, ensuring a smooth transition to school at a later stage.

Unfortunately, recent changes at the Regulatory level have placed this development on hold for the moment, but it is expected that a UAE-wide framework for ELC’s will be developed and rolled out in the coming months.

In Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates, the Regulators are responsible for children only from KG1 to grade 12 (5-18 years). As a result, Foundation 1/pre-KG classes are being phased out in some schools and more nurseries are offering these options.

If you feel that you would prefer to keep your child in a smaller, less formal school environment, legally you are permitted to do so. However, before you make this decision, do check with your preferred schools whether you can apply for later entry, at what point in time, and what the likelihood is of a place being available. In the past, schools often added places in these year groups/grades, but with the tendency for families to place their children in school as early as possible, this is no longer the norm.

Given this situation, we suggest that you think carefully about whether you want to keep your child in a Nursery/ELC environment or have a greater chance of assuring them of a place in your chosen school by applying for the first year group or grade offered. Some schools will offer the possibility of deferring an offered place to the following academic year and guaranteeing that the place is held for your child, but again, this is increasingly unusual.

The ELC’s are often choosing to associate themselves with local schools that will offer places to the ELC’s students (subject to assessment), and this may well be the happy medium. There are also nurseries that have links with Primary Schools and, again, it’s worth asking nurseries and schools about such links before making your decision.

As you can see, there is a definite answer to when your child can start school, but a rather more flexible one in terms of when s/he should – to a large extent in the period between the age of 3 and 5, parents have a choice. We advise you to be aware of the possible constraints of enrolling your child later than the commonly accepted start dates for FS/KG – particularly in longer-established and more popular schools.

About The Author
Lis ONeal
  • Nidhi
    November 12, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Lis,

    We are facing some difficulties given our Son’s age and his current school. Could you please let me know if I could reach out to you to have a one on one?

    Thanks and regards,

  • rose casilagan
    January 3, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    HI my daughter will be 4 on December 8, 2018. Is she required to go to school now?

    • January 4, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Rose,

      Your daughter is not legally required to start school in the UAE until the school year in which she turns 6 – that means that she would need to start school by September 2020 if you are considering a curriculum other than Indian. For Indian curriculum, she would not need to start until April 2021.

      However, the various school curricula tend more commonly to start in the year in which children turn 4 – so in the UK curriculum this would be for FS2 and in the others for KG1. She could therefore start school in September 2018. In fact, if you wanted her to start school sooner, she could have already joined FS1 in the UK curriculum last September. If you wait to enrol her after she has turned 4, it may be more difficult for her to settle into school and to join in with her peers as she would need to catch up with them. There are also often less school places available.

      If you are not sure that you want her to start school so soon, you could consider her joining FS1/FS2 or KG1 at one of the Early Learning Centres if you are based in Dubai. These have been designed to follow the international curricula but in a smaller more nursery-like environment. They are relatively few in number currently, but may be a good option since your daughter will be one of the youngest children in her school year in view of her birth date.

  • Fari
    February 2, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Hi Lis
    My Son is born on 8/04/2013.He will be turning 5 this April.Last year we couldnt place him n schools as we had to shift many times.He will get admission for kg2 ( Indian Curriculum) But i would lile to put him in Kg1 .Is it possible can i put him in kg 1 is age a big criteria for kindergartes??? Or shall i put him private nurseries so i can enroll him directly for grade 1 when he trurns 6.Will that be problem later…is kindergartens a must for grade1???

    • February 2, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      Hi Farid,

      Many thanks for your question. As you know, the admission rules now relate almost solely to the age of the child. Your son is indeed old enough for KG2. You do not mention which emirate you live in and this is an important factor. In all of the Emirates – with the exception of Dubai – it is almost impossible to arrange admission to a lower grade unless there are medical reasons to do so. In Dubai, it is possible to request that your child be demoted, but this needs to be supported by the school to which you apply since they have to submit the request to the KHDA. Some schools are less willing to allow this, since in theory, teachers should be able to differentiate teaching and provide support, irrespective of whether the child has attended school previously or not.

      Your suggestion that you place your son in Nursery in advance of Grade 1 is likely to be very difficult to arrange, since most nurseries are no longer able to take children beyond the age of 4 (KG1). There are a few Early Learning Centres who are able to take children for longer, but they are few. In addition, the transition for your son to school in Grade 1, if he has had no experience of nursery or school is likely to be a challenging one, as this will be a major change for him at a time when he will also potentially be trying to “catch up” both socially and educationally with his new classmates.

      On balance, therefore, my advice would be to aim to obtain admission for your son to KG2. I would certainly explain your concerns when you register him with your preferred schools, and if you feel strongly that KG1 would be a better way forward, discuss the possibility of demotion with them, but I think you will find that provided he is socially and academically capable, he will settle into school very quickly and make good progress. In fact, given the obviously turbulent time you had last year, it might well be that starting school (even if it is a little challenging to start with), will provide him with stability.

      Good luck in your search.

  • Nithin Basheer
    March 1, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    My son born on 30/July/2014. He will be 4 in this July last and will be 5 on next July last. He is still very shy and less interactive. So we r planning to put him in kg1 next year. Will schools ( Indian curriculum) accept him. We r living in Dubai. Please advise.

    • March 2, 2018 at 12:33 am

      Hi Nithin,

      You are correct in thinking that your son could start school in April in KG1 in view of his birthdate. The challenge you will potentially face if you postpone his entry to school until next year, is that schools will almost certainly seek to place him in KG2 which would be the appropriate grade for his age.

      I think you have two possible options. You can see whether the schools to which you plan to apply would be agreeable to his demotion to KG1 next April. In general Indian curriculum schools seem to be reluctant to do this. The other possibility is that you place your son in an Early Learning Centre, where he would then start to develop the social skills and confidence to be able to cope with a larger school environment. You will probably find that this is more likely to follow a US or UK curriculum, but if he is able to join a KG1/FS2 equivalent, he would be developing his personal skills and also starting the academic content which would prepare him for KG2 in April 2019.

  • Sakshi
    March 6, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Hi dear my daughter completed her 4yr in aug I’m unable to take her admission in any Indian school.coz of 1month her 1yr spoil

    • March 12, 2018 at 3:58 pm

      Dear Sakshi,

      Yes, I am afraid that many families have found themselves in a similar situation. There is no flexibility with the regulator in this respect, and it is inevitable that there will always be children who just miss out on the start date.

      If you feel your daughter is ready for school, and is not already doing so, perhaps you could consider an Early Learning Centre or Nursery where she can get used to the learning environment and become well-prepared for her start at school next year. This extra year gives her a chance to still learn through play and the environment around her. It has been proven that children who are among the oldest in the class, tend also to be more academically able – perhaps because of the additional confidence they have when they start school, but also because of the extra learning they do before they start school.

      In many ways, this is an opportunity for you to spend that extra time with her, enabling her to grow in confidence and to be really ready to start her school career next year.

  • Nida
    March 19, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    Any updates on whether other Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi , are now allowing the Early Learning center structure license like Dubai ?

    • March 19, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      Dear Nida,

      Our most recent understanding is that the Early Learning Centre licence is still under discussion and study in the other emirates. We understand that this is also on hold in Dubai pending a common agreement across the UAE Education Authorities.

  • Lakshmi
    May 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    Hi my daughters dob is 28 september 2015. We are in abudabi . By 2018 sep she will be 3 and by march 31 2019 she will only be 3.6 yrs . Will she get an admission to kg1 in indian schools ?
    Also would like to know if i go back to india n do her kg1 kg2 and grade 1 there and be back to abudabi aftr completing grade 1 , will she be able to get an admission in std 2 or grde 2 in indian schools . Will that be a better solution .

    Also to know is ther any indian schools in abudabi which follow icse /isc syllabus

    • May 21, 2018 at 8:21 pm

      Hi Lakshmi,

      The cut off date for the Indian curriculum is 31st July, by which time your daughter would need to be 4 years of age to join KG1. She will therefore be too young to join a school next April in the UAE. If you return to India for her to start school there and to complete KG1, KG2 and Grade 1, provided she has completed Grade 1 and has an attested Transfer Certificate showing this, then the transfer certificate will take precedence over her date of birth – based, of course, on current regulations.

      We are not aware of any ICSE schools in Abu Dhabi.

  • Srimathi saravanan
    July 12, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Liz
    My daughter’s DOB is 23rd November 2012. She has completed her kg2 in India and was promoted to grade1. we have just moved to RAK, UAE. Now we are seeking admission for grade 1 here….But the schools here are saying that she is eligible only for kg2. She completes her 6yrs by this November. I m worried that she will loss 1 year. I would like to know whether she will be able to join grade 1 here.

    • July 12, 2018 at 1:07 pm

      Dear Srimathi,

      The rules issued by the Ministry of Education here require that children are 6 years old by 31st July to enter Grade 1. From Grade 2 onwards, the Transfer Certificate takes precedence, but until this point the birth-date of the child takes precedence. I am afraid that your daughter will have no option but to join KG2 and she will then be promoted to Grade 1 in time for the next academic year in April 2019.

      • Srimathi saravanan
        July 12, 2018 at 2:17 pm

        Thank you Lis.

      • Srimathi saravanan
        July 16, 2018 at 9:20 am

        Dear Liz
        If I go back to india to complete the 1std there and wen i come back for 2std here in rak UAE will there be any problem because of the DOB(23 nov 2012) of my daughter

  • Anand
    July 15, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    My daughter date of birth 05.08.2015, is she required to go to school 2020(kg1) CBSE curriculum this is possible? Other wise what is other option, suppose UK curriculum.joining(KG1,Kg2) after I am change cbse curriculum this change possible please explain thank you u reply

    • July 17, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      Hi Anand,

      Since your daughter will not turn 4 until August 2019, she will be too young to start KG1 in April 2019. The cut off date is 31st July and Indian curriculum schools throughout the UAE are not able to be flexible in this respect. Your daughter would not be able to start CBSE until April 2020 as a result. Your daughter would be able to join a UK curriculum school in FS1 in September 2018 (pre-KG equivalent) in a UK curriculum school. Please bear in mind that she would be among the very youngest children in the year group and this may not be the best option for her. If you place her in a UK curriculum school this year, this would not have any effect on her entry grade in a CBSE school, as the age criterion remains the key one.

  • Anuja
    August 5, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Hi Lis,

    My son will turn 4 in jan 2019.

    Please let me know the options for him to start schooling.also where do i check a list of schools which have been honestly reviewed online? I get confused with the rating of 2.5 on one wensite and 4 on other.

    • August 5, 2018 at 1:35 pm

      Hi Anuja,

      Since your son will be 4 by 31st July 2019, he will be able to start KG1 in April in the Indian curriculum, which I assume is the curriculum that you are considering. In terms of looking for schools, I would suggest that you research the schools following the curriculum you want on our sister website,, where you can use the search function to find a list of CBSE and ICSE curriculum schools. You can then read the reviews on both websites.
      In terms of ratings, it is quite likely that these will vary from one site to another, since each will use different criteria. On and, we consider the official school inspection reports and our own visits, together with feedback from parents and educators, to come to a view on the schools. We do not rate the schools – rather, we including independent ratings. Our advice would be that you look at all the available sources, including the schools’ own websites, and then create a short-list of the schools that seem to fit your needs. We would strongly advise that you visit the schools that interest you if at all possible – a first-hand impression often really helps to narrow your choice. Good luck in your search.

  • A Khulbe
    August 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    Thank you Lis.please let me know if he will go to fs1 or fs2 incase i send him to british curriculum in sharjah ?

    • August 22, 2018 at 12:22 pm

      Hi Anuja,

      Since your son will be 4 by 31st December next year, I would expect that he would start school in FS1 in September 2019. Sharjah and the other emirates use the 31st December cut off date. Your son would therefore be one of the oldest in his class. I would, however, suggest that you check this with the schools that are of interest to you, as FS1 does not fall under the remit of SEZ (who are responsible for FS2- Year 13/KG1 to grade 12) and it may be that FS1 may be an option for him in September 2018 if you wish him to start school earlier.

  • Govinda Rao
    August 25, 2018 at 9:14 am

    Hi, My son date of birth is 19 November 2014. when should i start for admission into KG1

    • August 26, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      As your son will have turned 4 by the end of this year, you may apply for FS2 in the UK curriculum or KG1 in other international curriculum for September admission now. For Indian curriculum starting in April next year, most schools open applications in September/October. You will need to check with the individual schools to confirm the exact timing for applications.

  • Irfan
    August 30, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Hi, My son date of birth is 30 March 2015. When my son can start schooling for KG1 in Pakistani school. He will be turned 4 on 30 March 2019. Kindly advise.

    • August 30, 2018 at 8:16 pm

      Hi Irfan,

      Since your son will have already turned four before 31st July 2019, he will be able to start KG1 in April 2019. Most schools start to accept applications in around September/October, so do keep up to date with when you need to apply. Good Luck.

  • karthika
    September 3, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Haii my daughter’s DOB is 24th april 2015. By 2019 april 24th , she will be aged 4 years. So please lets u know when should i take admission in indian school.

    • September 3, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      Hi Karthika,

      Since your daughter will have turned 4 before 31st July 2019, she will be able to start school in April next year. Most admissions for Indian curriculum schools open at the end of September through October. We would advise you to check on the websites of the schools that you plan to apply to and to ensure that you follow the instructions and timings for applications, as demand for KG1 in Indian schools remains high.

  • Heena Rajwani
    September 14, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    HI, My daughter date of birth is 09-Sep-2016, can you please guide me for the admission process for Indian CBSE , british and IB curriculum

    • September 15, 2018 at 12:06 am

      Hi Heena,

      Since your daughter will be 3 years of age by 31st December 2019, she would officially (as per the KHDA guidelines), be able to join a UK curriculum school in FS1 in September 2019. You may find that some traditional UK curriculum schools (particularly those with strong UK links) may feel that she is too young for FS1 as she will be barely 3 years old at the start of the academic year. I would advise you to consider whether your daughter is mature enough for “big school” at that age. You could potentially wait a year so that she would be among the oldest in the class rather than the youngest but this may involve you requesting demotion in order for her to start FS1 in September 2020, and you should definitely check in advance with the schools that you are considering.

      IB curriculum schools do not generally accept children until the equivalent of FS2 – the year in which your daughter would be 4 years of age – so again you would be looking at September 2020 for EY1.

      As regards Indian curriculum, again your daughter would need to be 4 by the 31st July cut off date in order to start school in the April prior to this date. In this case, therefore, she would be able to start school in KG1 in April 2021.

  • Mahesh Costa
    October 17, 2018 at 1:38 pm


    My daughters birthday is on 04th june 2015. For the moment she is going to Nursery in Abudhabi.
    We’re hoping to enroll her to the school from 2019 academic year (British).
    Could anyone can advise me which class she will be enroll in 2019 year. Or else we should enroll her in this year…?

    Waiting for advice’s & opinions ….


    • October 17, 2018 at 8:18 pm

      Dear Mahesh,

      Since your daughter was already 3 years and 3 months by the start of school in September, she could potentially join FS1 in a UK curriculum school in 2018. She would be among the youngest children in her class, however, and it may be that you feel she is perhaps a little young yet for a school environment. Since she is already at nursery, though, she may well be ready for the next step. This is something that you should consider carefully.

      Should you decide to wait a further year, your daughter would join FS2, since she will already be 4 years of age. There are a couple of considerations in this regard. If she is joining a school with FS1, it will be a big step for her to start school, when many other children in her class will potentially already have been in school for the previous year. In addition, you may have more difficulty in finding an FS2 place for the same reason.

      My advice would be to contact the schools that are of interest to you to see whether entry to FS1 at this point is an option. If not, you will have no choice but to wait until entry to FS2 in 2019. Schools will already be taking applications for September 2019 now; therefore it would be wise not to delay in approaching those of interest to you.

  • B kaur
    October 23, 2018 at 5:36 pm

    Hi. My daughter is January 26, 2016 born.
    Pls guide me for her admission in British curriculum FS 1.
    When she is eligible to start FS 1?
    Thanks in advance.

    • October 24, 2018 at 7:12 pm

      Dear B Kaur,

      This is somewhat dependent on where you are located. In general, your daughter can join FS1 provided she has turned 3 years by the time that school starts – that is by 31st August for most UK curriculum schools in most Emirates. In Dubai, the cut off date has changed to 31st December, so this means that children born between September and the end of December who were previously too young (being less than 3 years on 31st August) may now also join in the calendar year in which they turn 3. Many UK curriculum schools (and parents) feel this is too young and are sticking to the original August cut off date.

      In your daughter’s case, it is quite clear-cut. Since she will be 3 years old in January 2019, she will be able to start FS1 in September 2019.

  • October 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Lis. My son turned 3 on 8 June. We would not have commenced him in ‘big school’ until 2021 in Australia so it is our preference to keep him in a preschool setting for as long as possible. Can you please direct me to a list of ELCs, nurseries or preschools in Dubai that offer FS2 or KG1. Can you also confirm whether my understanding is correct that there are no ELCs, nurseries or preschools that offer FS2 or KG1 in Abu Dhabi. Thanks in advance. This information would be very useful.

    • November 4, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      Dear Andrew,

      Thank you for your message. You can check out Early Learning Centres and Nurseries in Dubai that offer FS2/KG1 on our sister website – by using the search function at the top of the home page. To some extent, this will be very dependent on where you are living; the majority are in the more southerly New Dubai areas and the numbers are limited due to a restriction on the introduction of new centres until recently.

      With respect to Abu Dhabi, since ADEK is responsible for the education of children from KG1 or equivalent, there are not, to the best of our knowledge, any pre-schools in Abu Dhabi Emirate. Legally, children do not need to be in school until the academic year in which they turn 6 years of age, so this would be September 2020. However, we would generally advise you do enrol him for FS2/KG1 as this is the age at which both the UK and other international curricula formally commence, and entry at Year 1/KG2 equivalent is likely to be more difficult, both in terms of acceptance and also in terms of your son settling into school.

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