How to apply for schools in Dubai
Everything you need to know and all your questions answered
Baffled by the school application process? We’ve spoken to a panel of experts in Dubai to ask the all-important questions…
1 How do I choose the schools to apply for?
The first step is to choose a curriculum. Alison Schofield, Co-Founder of IngeniousEd explains: “There are four main choices: National Curriculum (for England and Wales), American Curriculum, International Baccalaureate (I.B.), or Indian Curriculum (C.B.S.E).”
She continues: “A lot of parents think they should choose the curriculum that matches their child’s home country (for example, British parents usually think they are limited to choosing schools with a British curriculum) – but there are other options out there and it’s worth looking into all of them. Some parents opt for a particular curriculum because they feel their child fits better into a particular model – for example, International Baccalaureate schools are known to operate with a very international approach to learning, which parents may prefer. Although there can be a little red tape involved in moving between the different types, registrars are well prepared to help with the logistics.”
The next step is to decide how many schools you should apply to. Aimon Sabawi, Director of Admissions at Repton School advises: “This varies depending on the curriculum of your choice and the year groups you are applying to. If you are applying to the British system (FS1 to Year 4), I would recommend applying to as many schools as will accept your application – this can be costly and time consuming, but it can be very challenging to find availability due to the UAE’s demographics and age spread. For older year groups, I suggest sticking to three top choices.”
When it comes to the important business of selecting schools, Gina Seto, co-founder of Facebook group Dubai School Guide for Parents suggests: “Start by organising your priorities. Write down your targets for curriculum, budget, location/commute, KHDA rating, size, reputation, after-school activities, and any other factors that are important to you. You can then start making a shortlist of schools that fit the criteria. Research those on your shortlist; read their websites and call them for information about admissions. You may find that some schools in Dubai are heavily over-subscribed, particularly in the primary years, so it pays to do this research.”
2 When do I submit the applications?
So you’ve chosen the schools, but how quickly do you need to get the application form to the admissions department? Alison Schofield of IngeniousEd says: “If you are looking for admission for children who are 4, 5 or 6 years of age, be aware that these ages are the most popular for seeking spaces. In some cases, you may need to fill out applications up to two years in advance if you are trying for an overbooked school. Make sure you check with each school individually because their dates and procedures may be different from one another and there is often a great deal of paperwork and application fees to submit according to deadlines.”
3 What do I need to include with the applications?
Alison continues: “When it comes to applying, most schools ask for very similar documents. These include a completed application form, father/sponsors passport (and visa if available, although most schools are willing to wait for these to be processed as long as you comply with deadlines), a transfer certificate (which should be translated into Arabic or English and accredited and stamped by schools/governing bodies), the child’s birth certificate and immunization record, passport photos of the child, and the application fee (the average is Dhs500 but it can be as much as Dhs1000 and is typically non-refundable).”
She adds: “Some schools may request additional documents, such as previous report cards or behaviour/conduct reports, so check with the individual institution for their requirements. Almost all schools require an entrance assessment (or observation for younger children), with usually comes with an additional non-refundable fee of around Dhs500.”
4 Is there anything we can do to increase our chances?
There’s one thing we all want to know regarding school applications - is there really anything we can do to increase our child’s chances and push them up the waiting list? Gina Seto says: “The first rule is not to procrastinate! Organise your priorities, research schools, and make sure you have a bunch of back-up options. Talk to other parents with similar backgrounds and goals about their experiences – and most importantly, register as early as possible. Getting your application in first will never harm your chances, but will most likely help. Consider having a chat with the registrar, but be warned that this might actually harm your chances. This is because the application process is ultimately not transparent and completely at the discretion of the school”
She adds: “It’s also worth considering some out-of-the-box strategies. Register a younger child with your preferred school and move your older child to that school at a later date (relying on sibling priority); hold your child back for a year (if their birthdate is close to the cut-off date); or enroll your child at a ‘feeder nursery’. I don’t personally like the idea of ‘feeder nurseries’, but have to admit that it does give a child a significant edge when applying to a popular school.”
5 What happens if we don’t get a place?
If the unthinkable happens and you don’t get a place for your child, what should your next step be? Felicity Cross, head of Marketing at Foremarke School advises: “Stay in touch with the schools that you originally applied to. Dubai is a very transient community and there are times where last minute change of circumstances can occur, even after the school term has begun. However, there are unfortunately instances where you will not find seats in any of the schools you have shortlisted. The only option here would be to look at an alternative curriculum for the time being, and hope that a seat opens up for a future term/academic year. It’s not ideal, but KHDA have become much more flexible regarding their transfer policy, so this option has become a bit more practical in recent years.”
Alison Schofield of IngeniousEd adds: “It’s thankfully very rare that a child doesn’t gain admission to any school, but if it happens, I’d advise looking into keeping them in nursery if they’re permitted. You can also consider homeschooling or using an online education programme like K-12, for example. You can also check out other online courses that are available and accredited - this is more suitable for middle-school and high-school students and is often very affordable.”By Time Out Dubai Kids staff
Time Out Dubai,