Now Reading
When is half term for UAE schools?

When is half term for UAE schools?

by Tabitha BardaFebruary 7, 2024

When is half term for UAE schools? That depends on your school’s individual timetable – which might feature a full week off next week, a long weekend, or no time off at all (find out how to easily find your school’s academic calendar online here.) But why does it vary so much from school to school? And what is the reasoning behind the different decisions?

Also known as a mid-term break, half-terms are traditionally a one-week holiday that falls half-way between the academic term.  As we are approaching the middle of the Spring term, this means that many UAE school children – such as those at the Outstanding-rated Safa Community School, IB- curriculum school Dubai International Academy and UK-curriculum Raffles International School – are looking forward to a full week off next week, from 12 – 16 February 2024.

However, some schools have decided to shorten the customary one-week break to just a long weekend, with those such as US-curriculum GEMS Dubai American Academy having only Monday 12th February off, while IB school Raffles World Academy and IB/ American school Collegiate International School have opted for a long weekend at the end of next week, with Thursday 15 February and Friday 16 February off.

Yet others have opted for an unconventional four-day break, with schools such as Arbor School Dubai and Dubai Heights Academy having Monday 12th to Thursday 15th off. This means only the half-day on Friday in school – although for Arbor School Dubai this will be a designated staff training day instead, so that students are not required to come in.

Alison Lamb, Principal of Dubai Heights Academy explains:

“Dubai Heights Academy will be closed for 4 days from Monday the 12th until Thursday the 15th February. We will be welcoming our students back to school on “Friday the 16th for the second half of Term 2.

“This decision was made in accordance with the KHDA guidelines, which limited the days available for half term breaks to a maximum of 9 school days for this academic year.

“We selected a full week for the October half term, as this is the longest term of the school year.


“We also took into account the input and considerations of other local schools and the collaboration with fellow school heads is a key aspect of ensuring that our calendar is fair, consistent, and in the best interest of our community.”

And there are also many schools that do not observe a mid-term break at all, who will instead wait until March, when Spring Break kicks off after school on Friday 22 March 2024.

Alison Lamb, Principal, Dubai Heights Academy

Why do some schools have half-terms and some don’t?

Half-term breaks are not required by the UAE school authorities’ academic calendars, so it’s up to individual schools to decide whether to have them or not – although the school’s final choice has to be approved by the relevant school authority.

As a result, each school’s individual academic calendar varies – find out how to easily find your school’s academic calendar online here.

The UAE Ministry of Education (MOE) sets the minimum number of school days in the year for all UAE public schools. It also stipulates certain holiday beginning and end dates that cannot be deviated from. See here for a full list of UAE school holidays 2024 – 2026.

All schools that do not follow the MOE curriculum must have a minimum of 182 school days per academic year.

The Ministry of Education stipulates the following rules regarding school vacations:

  • Winter vacation must be 3 weeks, regardless of the curriculum being followed. Traditionally these dates are set and cannot be changed.
  • MOE curriculum schools have 3 weeks off for Spring Break. However, private schools are allowed to cut this break down to be just 2 weeks and use the extra holiday days elsewhere in the year (often these are used for half-term breaks).
  • According to the MOE rules, Summer vacation must not exceed 8.2 weeks, regardless of the curriculum being followed.

As long as schools are following these guidelines, they are able to have some flexibility when it comes to exact dates and any breaks half-way through the term.

Why do some schools have a shoter half-term this year?

For those schools that begin the academic year in September the school year is divided into three terms; an autumn term that spans from September to December, a spring term from January to March/April, and a summer term from April to July. The school year is distributed slightly unevenly, with the autumn term usually being longer than the spring and summer terms.

Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO, GEMS International School – Al Khail, explains:

“The length of the term will determine whether a full mid-term break is not only viable, but also optimal.

“Last year we preferred to finish the summer term a little earlier, given that the IB exams were complete and we wanted to ensure a longer summer break (earlier than A-levels, for example). However, for the 2023-24 academic year, we have decided to opt for midterm breaks, given the length of each term. This has led to a later finish to the year at the end of the third term.

“Public holidays are taken into account when placing midterm breaks, so that we have suitably long periods of work before the next pause.”

Simon Herbert - Principal and Head of GEMS International School Al Khail

Simon Herbert – Principal and Head of GEMS International School Al Khail

In order to ensure the minimum 182 days of school per academic year, school leaders must bear in mind the likely number of public holidays that are due to fall in the school term – not always an easy feat, considering that the religious public holidays are determined by official moon sightings, which can only be confirmed at short notice.

This year, it looks like Spring Break could end up effectively being a full three weeks, instead of the usual two weeks that private schools usually take, since there’s the strong likelihood of a bumper public holiday falling just after children are supposed to resume school in the third academic term:

Most UAE students are supposed to return from the two-week Spring Break on Monday 8 April. However, it seems likely that the UAE public holiday for Eid Al Fitr will fall on Monday 8th April or Tuesday 9th April, and run for three or four days, resulting in almost another full week out of school (see full list of public holidays below).

As a result, some schools that might usually have a full week off at half-term have chosen to truncate the break, to allow for the longer vacation that is on the horizon at the end of the second term.

The debate about half-terms and holidays

There is much debate about the ideal number of instruction days at school per year, and about the relative pros and cons of longer holidays. Parents, teachers and students all have their different views, with some pointing out the ‘learning loss’ that can happen over longer vacations, or the difficulty of finding alternative childcare provision, while others argue for the benefits of down-time and the opportunity to travel or spend time in ‘real-world’ learning.

Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO, GEMS International School – Al Khail, says:

“We always ensure the best timed breaks, and length of break, with student and staff wellbeing in mind. That’s because this then impacts on education, with the educational provision throughout the year enhanced if breaks are well timed and planned”.

Research from Wales in the UK has show that variable or longer academic terms can have a negative effect on both learners and staff, causing fatigue, burnout, and loss of momentum (Beaufort Research, 2022).

The UAE’s 4.5 day working week – wherein schools and government offices are all required to finish by 12pm on a Friday – was adopted at the beginning of 2022 in a move to improve family bonding and wellbeing. While this cuts down the total time that children spend at school on one day, global research  shows that it’s not the number of hours spent in a school environment that impacts children’s learning, but how that time is used. See UAE Principals’ thoughts on how time spent outside of school can have important benefits for learning and development.  

For educationalists such as Alison Lamb, Principal of Dubai Heights Academy, half-terms are vital for rejuvenating the spirits of both students and staff:

“We absolutely believe that half term breaks in the school calendar are beneficial as they give us all time to decompress and recharge our batteries away from the rigors of academic and professional responsibilities. Some of the advantages include;

“Quality Family Time: spending quality time with families and loved ones offers an opportunity to create lasting memories and strengthen relationships outside of the school or workplace environment.

“Travel and Enrichment: for students and staff alike, the break provides an opportunity for exploration and enrichment through travel, extracurricular activities, and cultural experiences. It allows them to broaden their horizons, learn new skills, and gain valuable life experiences.

“Time for Reflection and Planning: The break offers our staff the chance to reflect on their teaching practices, curriculum planning, and professional development needs. It provides time for educators to review student progress, analyse data, and strategise for the remainder of the term.

Prevention of Burnout: Regular breaks throughout the academic year help prevent burnout among both students and staff; reducing stress levels, prevents fatigue, and promotes overall mental and emotional well-being, ultimately enhancing productivity and performance.”

UAE School Holiday and UAE Public Holiday Dates 2023-2026 Overview

Below is all the school holiday dates for the next three years, including currently available public holidays, at a glance:


First Day of Term: Tuesday 2nd January 2024

Half Term (for some schools): Monday 12th to Friday 16th February 2024

Ramadan starts*: Sunday 10th March 2024

Last Day of Term: Friday 22nd March 2024

Eid Al Fitr Holiday*: Tuesday 9th to Friday 12th April 2024


First Day of Term: Monday 15th April 2024

Eid Al Adha*: Monday 17th to Tuesday 18th June 2024

Last Day of Term: Friday, 5th July 2024


Return from Summer Break: Monday 26 August 2024

Winter Break: 16 Dec 2024 – 5 Jan 2025

Spring Break: 24 March – 13 April 2025


Return from Summer Break: 25 August 2025

Winter Break: 15 Dec 2025 – 4 Jan 2026

Spring Break: 23 March – 12 April 2026

* Subject to official confirmation/moon sightings

Does your school have a half term? Do you wish it were longer or shorter? Please let me know your thoughts at [email protected].

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.

Leave a Response