Yes, yes, we know it’s only February, but if you are looking at getting your child into school this coming September, you need to be looking now. In fact, you should’ve been looking last February or even earlier if you wanted first dibs on some of this town’s most popular primaries. Waiting lists here are notoriously long, and almost every child you come across will have his or her name down at several schools. Come September, there’ll be the usual scramble for places and you may well be lucky, but, even if you’ve left it to the last minute and are beginning to have a complete panic, don’t. True, you probably won’t get into the most-renowned and reputable, but rest assured there are plenty of good schools to go round.

Inspection reports, such as that conducted by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), are valuable and will certainly help separate the wheat from the chaff, but they don’t necessarily tell you much about the ‘feel’ of a school – which is where we come in.

While to look at all Dubai schools would be beyond the scope of this magazine, we’ve picked 15 of the most popular or well-known establishments, covering English, American and International Baccalaureate curricula, which have all been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by the KHDA. We’ve looked at their facilities, checked out their waiting lists and chatted to the top guy or gal. Most importantly though, we’ve asked our team of expert mums – whose kids attend these schools – to tell us exactly what they think because, after all, good old word-of-mouth is often far more insightful than reports and brochures.

So relax and read on, bearing in mind that the academic hothouse which suits maths-whizz Michael next door may not be up your arty Annie’s street.

American Academy for Girls
04 288 7251;

Location: Mizhar
Age range: 4-18
Curriculum: American
School size: 525
Class size: 18-20
Profit or non-profit: Profit (Taaleem)
Annual fees: Dhs34,000-Dhs53,000
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Open for admissions in all years
Facilities: Swimming pool, well-resourced library, three computer labs, interactive white boards, art studios, music studios, four science labs, mini auditorium, fitness room, gymnasium, sports field, dance studio, KG playroom, separate KG library, outdoor playground, canteen.

Dedicated to delivering excellence, our mission is to promote intellectual curiosity, independent and critical thinking, communication and problem solving skills. We aim to develop self reliant global citizens, committed to being leaders in community involvement and environmental awareness.
Delice Scotto, Head

Mum says: ‘A small school with small classes, students get great individual attention and the teaching standards are excellent. AAG is not massively competitive, so there is plenty opportunity for kids to enjoy activities without lots of pressure. Discipline is strict, so good manners and respect for others is encouraged. I didn’t choose AAG for its single gender ethos, but I can see the benefits now. When boys aren’t in class, girls seem to excel and take a much more active role in lessons. I do think the school would benefit from having more of a cross cultural population. Diversity is a good thing, and I’d like to see more American, European and Asian children at the school.’

American School of Dubai
04 344 0824;

Location: Barsha
Age range: 4-18
Curriculum: American
School size: 1,350
Class size: 16-24
Profit or non-profit: Non-profit
Annual fees: Dhs45,000-Dhs70,720 annually. (A separate deposit of Dhs29,850 will be held, interest-free, and will be fully-refunded upon settlement of accounts when the child leaves the school).
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Accepting applications. Grades 4-11 will be expanding in 2011/12.
Registration fee: Dhs500 paid once student has been accepted
Facilities: Two swimming pools, toddler pool, two large outside playing fields with real grass, auditorium, black box theatre, field house, running tracks, shaded play areas, two libraries, two cafeterias, music rooms.

Founded in 1966, we are the oldest and only non-profit American school in Dubai. Even though we are celebrating the building of our new school campus, we realise that our long-term success has been based upon our commitment to our children and families by instilling such American values.
Harold Fleetham, Head

Mum says: ‘I moved to Dubai this summer and wanted my child to follow the American system, as he’d been in an American school previously. ASD has a good reputation, the discipline is strong, and though the school is currently a work in progress, once the construction is completed, it will be one of the best schools in Dubai. I’m happy with the teaching standards as the staff seem organised and well prepared. I feel let down because the gym, swimming pool and tennis courts for the high school years still need to be completed and parking is also problematic. Because the school is new, there is work to be done in creating that welcoming atmosphere and sense of community and ASD is also lacking a little in parent-teacher communication.’

04 337 1457;

Location: Oud Metha
Age range: 4-11
Curriculum: British
School size: 800
Class size: 23
Profit or non-profit: Non-profit
Annual fees: Dhs32,880
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Accepting applications for all years
Registration fees: Dhs300 non-refundable
Facilities: Swimming pool, sports field, netball and basketball courts, shaded play areas, indoor sports facilities, music rooms, ICT suites, library, Art and DT rooms.

Dubai English Speaking School was the first English curriculum school in Dubai and provides an education in the best traditions of English primary schools. High educational standards are seen as important as is the development of the whole child.
David Hammond, Head

Mum says: ‘DESS feels like any good private school you’d find in the UK. It’s non-profit, so everything goes back into the school. It has an excellent reputation and we loved the positive atmosphere when we went to visit it. The kids were so friendly, they included my son in their games and he didn’t want to leave! We decided DESS was for us then and there. It’s a very happy school, the teachers are incredibly conscientious and they cater to every child’s need. It’s not as flash as some schools, but that’s because the focus is on quality of education – not dazzling parents with slick facilities. My son settled in immediately and has come on in leaps and bounds. That’s the only evidence I need that we made the right choice.’

Emirates International School Jumeirah
04 348 9804;

Location: Jumeirah
Age range: 4-11
Curriculum: IB
School size: 990
Class size: Max 19 (KG2), max 24 (Grades 1-2), max 26 (Grades 3-6)
Profit or non-profit: Profit (Al Habtoor Group)
Annual fees: Dhs28,841-Dhs38,455
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Applications are open for all years, but you need to apply ASAP.
Registration fee: Dhs2,000 paid once your place has been secured.
Facilities: Two indoor well equipped sports halls, large sports field, basketball courts, swimming pool, four age-appropriate play areas, two computer suites, library, music rooms, specialist teachers for PE, computers,
music, French, Arabic and Islamic Studies, learning support teachers, English as a second language support teachers, counsellor, access to fully equipped theatre on site.

We pride ourselves on our friendly, supportive and successful environment, where every person is valued as an individual.’
Karen Green, Deputy Head

Mum says: ‘I was looking for the IB programme and ended up choosing Emirates International School because I felt the teachers were more prepared and had more experience with IB than other schools I’d looked at. Academically I can’t complain. I have compared the standards of EIS with schools internationally and in Dubai, and found them to be at a good level. The student teacher ratio is good, and they seem to be improving their teaching standards. However my daughter complains that some Emirati kids are treated differently, that their misbehaviour is, at times, acceptable. There’s also a high teacher turnover, which can be unsettling for the students. As the school gets older, I also feel its facilities are not up to the standards of other schools here in Dubai, particularly their sports facilities.’

Dubai American Academy
04 347 3465;

Location: Barsha
Age range: 4-18
Curriculum: American
School size: 1,200+
Class size: 20-23
Profit or non-profit: Profit (GEMS).
Annual fees: Dhs17,630-Dhs65,270
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Accepting applications for all grades.
Registration fee: Dhs500 non-refundable
Facilities: Outdoor swimming pool, grass soccer field, shaded play area and playground, covered tennis court, indoor sports facility, cafeteria. Students also have access to an auditorium and track and field facilities.

Based on an American education model, our enriched curriculum is rigorous while presenting a continual challenge. I couldn’t be more pleased with the manner in which our children live daily, what we proudly refer to as our Culture of Kindness.
Jay Roy, Head

Mum says: ‘A friend had her children in DAA and was very happy with it, plus it has a great programme for kids who don’t have English as a first language, which is very important for us. We liked what we saw, our daughter could be in the same class as a girl she already knew, so we decided to take the plunge. We love everything about the school, particularly the style of teaching and all the activities that the children can participate in. It’s such a complete change from our first year here. Our daughter is in her second year at DAA now and is actually looking forward to going to school! What more do you want?’

The English College
04 394 3465;

Location: Sheikh Zayed Road
Age range: 3-11
Curriculum: English
School size: 322
Class size: 22
Profit or non-profit: Profit (HH. Sheikh Butti bin Maktoum bin Jumal al Maktoum)
Annual fees: Dhs22,620-Dhs27,840
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Open to applications in all years. Long waiting lists for FS1 and FS2.
Registration fee: Dhs300 non-refundable
Facilities: Swimming pool, indoor sports hall, shaded play areas, learning support, shared sports field.

The English College Primary is a small caring community school. Our emphasis is on nurturing each individual child and giving them an outstanding educational experience.
William Johnston , Head

Mum says: ‘While the school is very friendly and relaxed, it still gets the results where it counts – and it has a fantastic art department! My son arrived with some learning difficulties and there were numerous meetings, during which we were kept fully in the loop. Happily, the staff found a solution that has helped my son move forward and he’s now doing well at school. I like the fact that EC isn’t money-grabbing like a lot of schools here. There are lots of new schools that promise the earth, but, ultimately, a tried and tested reputation counts for a lot.’

Greenfield Community School
04 885 6600;

Location: Green Community
Age range: 4–18
Curriculum: IB
School size: 685
Class size: 25 (max)
Profit or non-profit: Profit (Taaleem)
Annual fees: Dhs35,840-Dhs43,010
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Applications are welcome
Registration fees: Dhs500 non-refundable
Facilities: Two swimming pools, auditorium, design technology, information technology and science laboratories, drama, music and art studios, two libraries, tennis courts, gymnasium, sports field, shaded outdoor play areas and indoor play areas, two cafeterias.

We ask students to be intellectually curious, inviting them to research and hypothesise. We implement the IB Programme that is academically rigorous and stimulating, requiring high standards for teaching and learning.
Angela Hollington, Head

Mum says: ‘Our kids had been very happy at a Taaleem School in Abu Dhabi and we wanted them to continue with the IB curriculum. We love the community feel of GCS and the facilities are very good. The staff encourage students to be confident, which shows in their exhibitions and projects, although the school is not competitive enough, almost to the point of ‘everyone’s a winner’. We also feel it should focus more on being an education centre rather than a profit centre. For example, it charges students for bus travel to sports competitions – a cost which should be incorporated into the fees.’

Horizon School
04 342 2891;

Location: Jumeirah
Age range: 3-11
Curriculum: British
School size: 480
Class size: 24
Profit or non-profit: Profit (privately-owned)
Fees: Dhs26,220-Dhs35,610
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Open for admissions
Registration fee: None
Facilities: Two swimming pools, two indoor sports hall, three shaded play areas with extensive climbing areas, learning support, library, music rooms ICT lab.

Our small classes ensure that every child receives the individual attention young children need in a caring, family atmosphere.
Marion Sinclair, Head

Mum says: ‘Horizon provides a good academic standard and takes a holistic approach to learning, offering a well-rounded education. We like it because it’s small by Dubai standards and offers a warm, friendly learning environment for young children. Although it is small, the facilities are excellent. The school doesn’t set formal homework but suggests activities which can be done at home to support the learning in school. Some parents really like this approach, but it may not suit families looking for a strict homework policy and continuous feedback on their child’s performance.’

Jess Arabian Ranches
04 361 9019;

Location: Arabian Ranches
Age range: 3-18
Curriculum: British/IB
School size: 528
Class size: 22
Profit or non-profit: Non-Profit
Annual fees: Dhs28,791-Dhs36,087
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Foundation years closed for 2011/12 - those with access to a corporate debenture can apply, but may still be wait-listed. Places are available in later years.
Registration fee: Dhs300 non-refundable
Facilities: Learning support, landscaped campus, play areas, two shaded swimming pools, indoor sports hall, PE studio, tennis and netball courts, floodlit sports field, ICT suite and design and technology workshop, indoor auditorium, outside amphitheatre and drama studios.

At the heart of JESS are our students. Each class is of mixed ability, working in learning environments designed to encourage the active engagement of all students.
Ann Jones, Head

Mum says: ‘JESS was the obvious choice because my husband works for Emirates, which meant we stood a good chance of getting a place. If you don’t have a debenture, you’ve barely got a hope of getting in because of its fantastic reputation. JESS is a homely, caring village school and its facilities are second to none. It’s a beautiful environment for my kids, who both love going there. There’s an open door policy for parents too, so you can always pop in for a chat with the class teacher. My one gripe – and it’s not a biggie – is the lack of a cafeteria, so for the whole school day, kids eat snacks from their packed lunches. Personally, I don’t mind, but some parents would prefer their children to have a proper, hot lunch.’

Jumeirah Primary School
04 394 3500;

Location: Jumeirah
Age range: 3-11
Curriculum: British
School size: 1,334
Class sizes: 22 (FS1-FS2), 27 (Years1-6)
Profit or non-profit: Profit (GEMS)
Annual fees: Dhs30,920-Dhs38,976
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Parents should register as early as possible.
Registration Fees: Dhs500 non refundable
Facilities: Library and discovery centre, music studios, ICT labs, sports hall, gymnasium, swimming pool, astroturf sports and play areas, mosques, garden, school transport, recycling centre.

GEMS Jumeirah Primary School is a special place to learn and is focused on one principle aim: to provide the best possible learning experience for all.
Stephen Chynoweth, Head

Mum says: ‘JPS impressed me the most – it provides everything we’re looking for. My daughter is happy to go to school every day and I’ve noticed a big improvement in her behaviour since she’s been there. There is great parent/teacher liaison, and, during a recent family crisis, the staff were very supportive. I like the fact that the FS1 and FS2 classes are segmented away from the rest of the school and the littlest children are, in general, well looked after. But I was upset that my daughter came home from school a few times with dirty underwear as the teachers are not allowed to help children with toilet hygiene. At three years old, I feel assistance should be provided as it is at nursery schools. After all, parents are under so much pressure to get their children FS1 places.’

Kings Dubai
04 348 3939;

Location: Umm Suqeim 3
Age range: 3-11
Curriculum: British (adapted for relevance in the UAE)
School size: 448
Class size: 24
Profit or non-profit: Profit (ANC Group and Zabeel Investments)
Annual fees: Dhs30,680-Dhs46,690.
KHDA ranking: Outstanding
Waiting list: FS1 is wait-listed until 2013-2014, but places may be available in Key Stage 2 in 2012/13.
Registration fee: Dhs500 non-refundable.
Facilities: Pool, playing field, indoor sports facilities, learning support, ICT labs and shaded play areas.

Kings’ Dubai takes pride in the purpose-designed facilities and quality of experienced and well qualified British staff. The curriculum is designed to meet the needs of young people growing up in Dubai.
Kevin Stedman, Head

Mum says: ‘We chose Kings Dubai because a friend, whose daughter had attended the school, had nothing but praise for it. Thankfully both our girls were offered places – it’s difficult to get in now. I love that it’s small, intimate and friendly with young, keen teachers. It feels like a village school, where everyone knows each other. Also, the Headteacher was fabulous. She left last term to have her twins and as a testament to the affection Mrs Watson was held under by all the parents, there was a ‘This is Your Life at Kings’ presentation – and there wasn’t a dry eye on the field! My only complaint is that they don’t mix the classes up at all, so the children stay in the same class all the way through the school. As a new child entering the school three years ago, my youngest daughter found it difficult integrating with a group of kids who had all been together for quite a while.’

Star International School Umm Sheif
04 348 3314;

Location: Umm Al Sheif/Umm Suqeim 3
Age range: 3-11(2010/2011). 3-12 (2011/2012)
Curriculum: British
School size: 350 (to increase to approx 450 in Sep 2011)
Class size: Max 20
Profit or non-profit: Profit (ETA Star Education Management Systems)
Annual fees: Dhs28,400-Dhs42,750
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: FS1 and FS2 currently closed. Waiting lists for all other years are open.
Registration fee: Dhs500 paid upon offer of a place
Facilities: Sports hall, Foundation Stage splash pools, swimming pool (to be completed May/June 2011), sports field, multi-purpose hall, ICT suite, art room, music room, library, outdoor and indoor play areas, school clinic.

Our children are a pleasure to be with each day. They are so responsive, engaging in their learning and taking tremendous pleasure in their achievements.
Michael Henry, Head

Mum says: ‘I was impressed by the welcoming environment and the approachability and enthusiasm of the head during the school tour. He was obviously passionate about the school, and all the children kept calling out ‘Good morning Mr Michael’ so they impressed me too. Since my son started, the feedback has been excellent – they’ve really made an effort to get to know him and understand his needs. The after-school club is well run with lots of staff and while the pool is not yet finished, this isn’t an issue for me at the moment. The car park is a sandpit – but I think that most schools suffer from this!’

04 426 9393;

Location: Nad Al Sheba
Age Range: 3-18
Curriculum: British
Class size: 19 (avg) 22 (max)
Profit/Non: Profit (Evolvence Capital)
Annual fees: Dhs42,500-Dhs54,000
KHDA Ranking: Good
Waiting lists: Contact admissions for Sep 2011 entry
Registration fees: Dhs500 plus Dhs1000 assessment fee (non refundable).
Facilities: Two floodlit tiger turf pitches, two sports halls, indoor cricket nets, bowling machine and climbing wall. Indoor competition swimming pool, indoor pool for children up to Y2. Two multi sports areas (basketball, netball, tennis, volleyball and 5-a-side football), tennis courts., shaded play areas, dining hall and learning support unit.

English and maths are the central elements in the curriculum, delivered with a rigour stemming from proven, traditional teaching methods and bolstered by innovations such as interactive white boards and other ICT systems. Our approach to motivating and getting the best out of our pupils is based on the belief that praise and encouragement lead to confidence.
Mark Atkins, Head of the junior school

Mum says: ‘Repton impressed me with its amazing facilities, warm, enthusiastic teachers and well-behaved, neatly-dressed children. It’s strong on manners and offers a traditional, academic approach to education. I’m trying to bring up a down-to earth child with good values – not an expat brat – and Repton supports my efforts. Children are streamed for reading and maths, so the quick kids are encouraged and the slower ones supported, and I love the clean, bright, attractive feel of the school. But I feel it has become too big before it’s able to manage itself. The Christmas Fayre was a bunfight, parking is an issue and it must sort out the situation with supply teachers. Last time my child’s teacher was sick, the class was taught by the PA, who is a mum with no teaching experience whatsoever. Repton has its own canteens but last year the food was appalling. It also really pushes the Arabic curriculum – a bit too much given it’s a British public school – although I like that my child meets kids from other backgrounds, not just Brits.’

Uptown Primary
04 288 6270;

Location: Mirdif
Age Range: 3 years, 9 months-11
Curriculum: IB
School size: 650
Class size: 20 (KG), 25 (Grades 1–5)
Profit or non-profit: Profit (Taaleem)
Annual fees: Dhs33,000-Dhs45,000.
KHDA ranking: Good
Waiting list: Waiting lists for KG2 and Grade 1. All other years are open to admissions.
Registration fees: Dhs500 non-refundable.
Facilities: Swimming pool, gymnasium, library, ICT Suite, art studio, music and dance studios, safe play areas, a kids’ café and facilities for the physically challenged.

At Uptown, we believe in balance, with strong emphasis on music, art and physical education – including swimming – within our curriculum. We also offer a wide and varied extra-curricular programme, created to foster healthy, well-rounded children.
Elizabeth Loadwick, Head

Mum says: ‘I wanted my children to go to study the IB and Uptown Primary impressed me the most out of all the other IB schools in town. It’s a fantastic school that practices interactive learning in the best possible way. The teaching is so creative that the kids think they are playing most of the time. A lot of effort goes into making their education fun and inspiring. The secondary school is moving to Jumeirah this year, which means once my child finishes primary, she will have to travel much further every day, or consider moving to a different High School.

Wellington International School
04 348 4999;

Location: Al Sufouh
Age range: 3-18 years
Curriculum: British and IB
School size: 1,870
Class size: 10-27 (depending on year group)
Profit or non-profit: Profit (GEMS)
Annual fees: Dhs33,249-Dhs41,878
KHDA ranking: Outstanding
Waiting list: Open, but contact for current status.
Registration fee: Dhs500 non-refundable
Facilities: Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, indoor sports hall, gym, dance studio, shaded play areas, learning support, cafeteria, music rooms, radio station, TV station, astro turf pitches, science labs, observatory.

Wellington International School offers the UK curriculum up to GCSE/IGCSE and the IB DP in Year 12 and Year 13. The school’s personalised approach to learning embraces and responds to diversity in individual learning styles to achieve incredible learning outcomes.
Mel Curtis, Head

Mum says: ‘I’d visited a number of schools and just had a good gut feeling about WIS. It was quite new when we joined so I liked the fact the classes were fairly small. The school is well equipped to cater for children that want to follow certain careers with a movie and radio production studio, their very own astrology centre and an amazing technology centre. I thought with all of these facilities at my daughter’s disposal she will surely be happy – and she is. She loves her teachers and friends, and she loves the school trips and taking part in the BSME tournaments. In general, I do feel schools here should adopt some of the teaching techniques from other curricula. In South Africa, for example, kids are taught to be entrepreneurs, focusing on business skills through projects so they learn all about budgets and making money. They don’t do that here and, in my opinion, that’s far more useful than geography or history when they leave school.’