As in other countries, the Bahraini school system is divided into government and private schools. Expats are not allowed to attend government schools and must look to the private sector, so ensure your package includes adequate provision for school fees.
Although there are over thirty private schools in Bahrain, most of these are what are known as national private schools, usually offering a bilingual Arabic and English education based on the Bahraini national curriculum, and aimed primarily at Bahrainis.
Expats use the foreign private (international) schools. Your choice will depend on what curriculum you would like your child to follow and there are schools catering to the large Indian and Pakistani communities as well as a French school and a small Japanese school. The International School of Choueifat offers a mixture of the English and American curricula under the auspices of the SABIS system, which originated in Lebanon.
For those wishing their children to follow an English or American curriculum, the number of possible schools is relatively small, particularly for older children. Demand for places often outstrips supply, 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 British School of Bahrain. The former also offers the IB Diploma. 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 offers schooling up to Year 2 only.
Parents looking for an American curriculum school have an even smaller choice. The Bahrain School (which also offers 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. It also has limited boarding facilities. Riffa Views International School is a relatively new purpose built school. It currently only offers KG to Year 8, although it plans to expand by a year group each academic year.
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 teaches in English to children aged between three and nine years. A fifth of the pupils are expats and the school caters for a range of needs including Down’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD and Developmental Coordination Disorder. The school also runs an outreach programme in the afternoons for children from nine to sixteen years of age with a variety of learning and developmental needs.
Accreditation: British Schools Overseas
In addition to any overseas accreditations they may have, Bahrain now also requires all international schools to pass OFSTED type inspections carried out by the recently established Quality Assurance Authority for Education and Training. Inspections of private schools are on going and those that have been completed are available on the QAAET website. But you can also check on each GSGI individual school entry whether it's been accredited yet by an authorised DfE agency, with details about this long-needed programme in our article Inspected by Ofsted: True or False?
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 the timing of many of these is dependent on the sighting of the new moon, they are often not announced until the 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.
Uniforms and Hats
Uniforms are generally required and hats are mandatory in summer when the soaring temperatures require the strict enforcement of a ‘no hat no play’ rule. Most schools allow children to remain inside at break times during the hottest months.
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. Some schools have a canteen or tuck shop, but this is not the norm.
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 in Bahrain are limited and parents whose children are keen on sport often end up enrolling their children in sports 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 between 6am and (if they are lucky) 7am. For those arriving from Europe this can take some getting used to but the alternative of stationary rush hour traffic is often even less palatable to parents!
The Under-Five Set
Pre-school children are well catered for and there is a wide range of nurseries and pre-schools (to see brief paragraphs about the ones most discussed by expats, click on Pre-Schools in Bahrain Considered by Expats). The large international schools all have nursery sections. For those who prefer a more intimate 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, offering facilities often far better than local state schools back home. 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 though generally seem happy with their decision.