Expats are not allowed to attend government schools in Bahrain so the only option is the private sector and most choose international schools. Hopefully, your package will include enough cash to provide for the fees, which can appear somewhat eye-watering.
National private schools tend to offer a bilingual Arabic/English education, aimed at Bahrainis, with a Bahraini curriculum and are, therefore, not often considered by expats. When it comes to international private schools, the curriculum on offer is usually the vital factor for re-locating parents. In Bahrain, the majority provide either an American or English option, adapted for the location. However, an increasing number of schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma and one school, Naseem International (mainly Bahraini students) teaches all four IB programmes.
Demand for places often outstrips supply, at the relatively small number of alternatives, especially in the younger year groups, so it is advisable to get applications in as early as possible. Only two schools offer the English national curriculum from nursery to year 13: St Christopher’s School and the greatly expanded British School of Bahrain, on a single campus in north-western Bahrain. The former also offers the IB Diploma and the latter has started teaching BTECs. Those with primary school age children have a couple of other choices. Nadeen School is a small and friendly primary, particularly popular in the younger years and with a good reputation for bringing on those with English as a second language. The British Preparatory School only offers schooling up to year 2.
These are also thin on the ground, but Bahrain School (one of the schools offering the IB Diploma) is a long established US Department of Defense School. Priority is given to children from US armed forces’ families and fees are comparatively high for non-forces students. Riffa Views International School is a relatively new, purpose-built school and there is also the just opened (2020) all-through American School of Bahrain, which plans to provide an American education with the option of the IB Diploma as well as the American High School Diploma.
The other possible choices include, International School of Choueifat Manama which offers a combination of English and American curricula, under the auspices of the SABIS system, and the French lycée (Lycée Francais MLF de Bahrain) is one of the oldest international schools in Bahrain. Only opened in 2019 is the Canadian School Bahrain (CSB), only up to grade 5, but planning to expand upwards. There are, also, schools catering to the large Indian and Pakistani communities as well as a small Japanese school.
Special Education Needs
Unusually for the Gulf, Bahrain is fortunate to have an excellent and extremely well-funded private special needs school. The Children’s Academy which teaches in English, has expanded up to the age of eighteen and the BTEC syllabus enables pupils to leave with a recognised qualification. The school includes expats and caters for a range of needs including Down’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD and Developmental Coordination Disorder. They also run an outreach programme in the afternoons for children from nine to eighteen years of age who have a variety of learning and developmental needs.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Bahrain considered by expats'.
Bahrain carries out OFSTED type inspections by BQA (Bahrain Education & Training Quality Authority) https://www.bqa.gov.bh, rating schools from ‘Insufficient Progress’ to ‘Outstanding’. Some British and American senior schools are also externally accredited, including Bahrain School, Nadeen School, Naseem International School, Riffa Views International School and St Christopher’s School.
Schools in Bahrain have to comply with Ministry of Education regulations, both with regard to health issues (vaccination records from birth are required for registration) and curriculum requirements. All schools that accept Arab children are required to provide Arabic from a certain age, split into Arabic for Arabs and Arabic for non-Arabs. Additionally, schools must provide Islamic studies for Muslim students. Other religious studies are permitted subject to approval from the Ministry.
School Year, Holidays, Hours and the Moon
The school year starts in September and ends in July with two week breaks in December and March. The school week runs from Sunday to Thursday and schools generally start early (between 7.30am and 8.00am) and finish early (between noon and 3pm, depending on age). Bahrain also has lots of national and religious holidays when schools are required to close. As these decisions are down to somebody's (we're not sure whose) first sight of the new moon - it’s all pretty last minute.
Transitions In and Out
Bahrain’s international schools cater well to new arrivals and most families do not take long to settle in. Pupils come and go throughout the school year so children are used to welcoming new faces. There are plenty of local students at all the schools, though some, such as St Christopher’s, limit their intake of Arab pupils to ensure an international flavour is maintained.
School Buildings and Extracurriculars
Facilities vary from school to school. Some are housed in converted villas, others have sparkly purpose-built premises. Those that cannot offer adequate on-site sports facilities try to make arrangements to use off site pools and playing fields. The larger private schools have teams in swimming, football and a range of other sports and there are opportunities for the sportiest children to travel round the Gulf region with their school teams. However, the opportunities for inter-school sports inside Bahrain are limited and sporty parents or keen children often end up enrolling in clubs outside school.
Private bus companies offer transport to all the schools. Arrangements need to be made with the bus companies directly and the bus will collect your child from their door. Be aware though that this door-to-door service means journeys take longer so often your child will be collected literally, at crack of dawn (between 6am and, if they are lucky, 7am). This is a cultural leap for Europeans but the alternative of rush hour 'solids' is often even less palatable to parents!
Pre-school children are well catered for and there is a wide range of nurseries and pre-schools. The large international schools all have nursery sections and for those who prefer a cosier atmosphere, there are several smaller pre-schools to choose from.
Most expats agree the range and quality of pre-schooling and primary schooling in Bahrain is excellent, often offering facilities far better than local state schools back home (a similar comparison applies when it comes to the all-singing, all-dancing horse-racing track). At senior level, there is no doubt some parents prefer the boarding school route, believing Bahrain to be too limited. Older year groups and sixth forms, therefore, tend to have a larger percentage of Bahraini students than younger year groups. Those who choose to stay, on the whole, seem happy with their decision, or maybe it’s down to having chosen the winner of the 2.30 or the Bahrain Grand Prix.