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UAE to Delay Age Children Start School by One Year. Progressive Decision will Improve Child Welfare and Academic Performance. UPDATED.

Background: UAE to Delay Age Children Start School. Progressive Decision will Improve Child Welfare and Academic Performance.

In a move that will be welcomed by many families, the UAE has revised the minimum age for admissions of school students in Kindergarten (KG) and Grade 1 levels across the country.

A child must now be four years old to be enrolled in KG1 – the equivalent of FS2 in the UK curriculum – at the start of the academic year. 

This means that for Grade 1 (Year 2 in the UK system), the point at which schooling becomes compulsory in the UAE, a student must now be between six and eight years old.

The new starting age and year group entry ages for children and older students will be effective from next year and the beginning of the academic year on August 31 2021.

The change is significant.


The Current System in UAE schools


Currently, children may start school in KG1 at 3 years and eight months old and compulsory education at Year 1 begins from age 5.  The new rules mean that children will have to have turned 4 by the start of the academic year in September.  Although not specifically mentioned in the announcement from the Ministry of Education, we expect that children entering pre-KG/FS1 will be required to have already celebrated their third birthday by 31st August.

Table showing the new dates when children can start school in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE

The new rules will not immediately apply to Indian, Pakistani and Japanese curriculum schools, whose academic year start in April 2021. Instead, the new rules on starting age for Indian, Pakistani and Japanese schools will be deferred until April 2022.

In practical terms, this means that, for English, American and IB curriculum schools, where the school year starts in late August/September (i.e. traditionally “The September Term”), your child has to turn 4 by the 31st August of that year as follows:

  • Pre-Primary: 3 to 4
  • KG 1: 4 to 5
  • KG 2: 5 to 6
  • Grade 1: 6 to 8

As it stands, for Japanese, Indian and Pakistani curriculum schools, which start in April, the current system in which your child has to turn 4 by 31st July of that year will not change until the new 2022 academic year, at which point your child will need to have turned 4 years by the start of the academic year in April.

The Education Regulators (ADEK, KHDA, SPEA and MOE) are expected to clarify the requirements further in the coming period.

How does the UAE now compare with the Rest of the World?

Worth noting that in the UK, for example, Reception year education starts for children between the ages of 4 and 5 years, and Year 1 entry starts for children aged between five and six years. In this context, the decision of the UAE can be seen as progressive and further evidence of the government and education regulator’s commitment to child welfare.

The new starting age aligns more closely with much of Europe and the rest of the world where the starting age for formal education for children is between 6 and 7 years. Many believe that a later start to formal education, ideally to age seven, brings with it much greater child well being and later improvements in academic performance.

Table showing the school starting age of children in Europe. The UAE has now raised the starting age of formal education for children to between six and eight years in Year 1.


Comparative data for school starting age outside the UAE in Japan, Australia, the US and UK 

Age Japan Australia U.K. U.S.A.
 Apr – Mar Jan – Dec Sep – Aug Sep – Aug
3-4 Kindergarten Kindergarten Nursery Nursery
4-5 Kindergarten Kindergarten Reception Pre-K
5-6 ​Kindergarten Prep Year Year 1 Kindergarten
6-7 ​ELMN 1 Year 1 Year 2 Grade 1
7-8 ​ELMN 2 Year 2 Year 3 Grade 2
8-9 ​ELMN 3 Year 3 Year 4 Grade 3
9-10 ​ELMN 4 Year 4 Year 5 Grade 4
10-11 ​ELMN 5 Year 5 Year 6 Grade 5
11-12 ​ELMN 6 Year 6 Year 7 Grade 6
12-13 JHS 1 Year 7 Year 8 Grade 7
13-14 JHS 2 Year 8 Year 9 Grade 8
14-15 JHS 3 Year 9 Year 10 Grade 9
15-16 HS 1 Year 10 Year 11 Grade 10
16-17 HS 2 Year 11 Year 12 Grade 11
17-18 HS 3 Year 12 Year 13 Grade 12


Should we go further still?

For an interesting article addressing why the starting point of formal education should be delayed still further, see here.


Editor’s Note:

Many thanks to Lyn Soppelsa, Manager and Editorial Consultant at our sister site,, for updates and clarifications to this developing story.  Lyn lived in the UAE for 17 years and all three of her children have been educated in part or full in Dubai, in both the UK and IB curricula.  She has been through the process of searching for a new Sixth Form school for her younger daughter to enable a switch of curriculum for her final two years.  Lyn’s interest in education started as a Parent Relations Executive/ Registrar for one of the GEMS schools.  She also worked as the Registrar for a new school. This was followed by eight years working in Relocations.  Lyn joined WSA very early in its development in late 2013 and is a key consultant for complex stories across Which Media.

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About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]

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