Choosing a primary school in the UAE

What to look for and what questions to ask when picking a school for your kids

Choosing a primary school in the UAE

Choosing your child's school is a very serious business.

Depending on where you live coupled with so many other important factors and considerations like – whether you work, your family and support network, your curricula preferences, any additional needs your child may have… And a whole lot more besides – it may seem like there’s too much choice or very few options.

It’s a huge decision to make so how do you even know where to start? Don’t panic. Rachel Higgins, headmistress at GEMS Jumeirah Primary School has some pointers to help you ensure that the choice you make is the best one for you and your child.

Once you’ve decided on which curricula would best suit your family circumstances, Higgins says that a consideration is “whether a parent would like a stand-alone primary or for their child to be part of a through school (FS1 – Year 13).”

She says both have their merits so it is definitely worth exploring both options available to you.

“If selecting a stand-alone primary school, you would need to consider which secondary school they naturally feed into so you are choosing a journey, which suits your family,” explains Higgins.

Other things to consider are whether you’d prefer an established school with history and a proven track record within the context of Dubai or a newer school which may offer certain facilities you deem to be important for your children’s education.

“Location is also a consideration, many parents prefer a community school where your children can walk or bike to school. This will very much depend on where your family would like to reside while in Dubai,” she adds.Higgins believes that looking at the KHDA ratings are a good place to start.

“Within Dubai each school has a report written annually from the Dubai School Inspection Bureau, which gives you information by curriculum, about a variety of schools.”

Higgins explains that if a school is rated as outstanding, this means they have to be outstanding in a wide range of parameters including attainment, progress, personal development and leadership.

But she also points out that not all outstanding schools are outstanding in all of those areas, so it is worth looking deeper within a school’s report at the areas which your family deem to be important to get a more holistic feel, before visiting the schools.

Once you’ve narrowed down the schools you are interested in for your children, it’s important to book yourselves in for a
school tour.

“Ask about the level of parental involvement during your child’s learning journey. What support can you expect to receive from the school in order to fully engage with your children? Ask what the school believes makes them unique and why the school believes you should choose their school over other schools with similar features,” she says.

The idea should be for parents to have a list of queries they have prepared in order to then be able to use these to compare responses from different schools.

“When visiting a school your aim is to get an overall perspective for the school and a sense of community. Ask yourself at every point of the tour, ‘can I see my child here?’ and consider whether the children within the school seem happy, enthusiastic and engaged,” Higgins says.

“On the tour, ask yourself, ‘does what I am hearing resonate with me and our family values?’ Most parents report on the feel of a school as being the most important deciding factor.”

Higgins adds that she would always recommend touring schools from your short list more than once as it can be quite confusing seeing multiple schools within a short space of time. All good schools, will welcome a second tour to help you support a good decision.

And what about the children themselves?

“Children will see schools from a very different prospective and should be integrated within the tour and able to ask questions. It is important for children to have access to the classrooms and play spaces so that they can gain a better perspective of what life may be like for them if they join the school,” says Higgins, adding that: “Children should have access to current pupils and have the ability to chat to them about the life at the school. mately children, like adults, will always be able to tell whether a school feels just right
for them.”

Be prepared

Rachel Higgins suggests that parents should have specific questions in mind that they want answers to ahead of visiting school websites, school comparison websites and the school itself. Questions such as…

Does the school have an ethos, culture and values that suit my family?

Does the school have an option to continuethe journey from FS1 to Year 13? Either within its setting or as a natural feed to a secondary school.

Is the price point something, which we as a family consider value for money?

What do other people say about the school?

Does it offer the options I would deem important for my child?

How did I feel as I entered the building?

Do the resources match what I feel my child would need in order to give them an outstanding education (this includes outstanding teachers)?

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