There are a lot of international schools for a city of this size but, from the moment you’re posted, you need to keep a beady eye to make sure you grab a place at one of the best contenders and one where your child won’t be swamped by local students.
The Royal family has put a high priority on improving the Qatari education system and providing quality schools and educational opportunities for all residents of Qatar – both nationals and non-nationals.
Thus, Qatar provides free education for all citizens from kindergarten through high school and has poured vast financial resources into the educational system to adequately prepare Qatar for the future. The most obvious monument to the education advancement effort is Education City, an enclave of academia, home to a private primary and secondary school and branches of many US universities: Carnegie Mellon, Cornell Weill Medical, Georgetown, Texas A & M, and Northwestern.
Sprinkled throughout the state are other newer, private schools established as part of the Qatar Foundation’s Outstanding Schools Initiative. Under this programme, Qatar has brought in and opened up franchises or satellite campuses of well-regarded UK, US and other international, primary and secondary schools.
Two agencies oversee schools in Qatar, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Supreme Education Council (SEC). The MOE is in charge of the public schools in Qatar. The ultimate governing authority for education policy in Qatar rests with the SEC. Their purview includes all public, independent and private schools and universities. Many of the new SEC Outstanding Schools Initiative schools are required to teach Arabic and Islamic studies to Arab students, and they are gaining popularity with locals as well as Arab expat families.
The number of private schools has grown exponentially, along with the population. There are now over 300, according to MOEHE. There are schools established for almost every nationality: American, British Canadian, French, German, Indian, Filipino, and Lebanese. But although Qatar has made vast improvements to their own independent and public schools, they offer a strict Muslim curriculum, so most expats (as well as an increasing number of Qatar nationals) choose to educate their children in one of the many private schools.
At one time, new schools kept popping up like weeds, making it difficult to keep track of all of them and unfortunately some opened more for a business opportunity for the owners, rather than to offer a solid educational environment for expat and local children. However, the invasion slowed at the end of the noughties and there are far fewer new international schools these days.
School campuses, like much of Doha, can be a bit of shock - particularly the gated/high walls. Do not expect acres of lush, green foliage. Many schools have little to no grass play areas and no playing fields – partly due to the limited size of the campuses and also to the temperatures that make it difficult (and expensive) to maintain grass and are, anyway, too hot to use for much of the year.
School days tend to be shorter and many of the new schools are required to teach Arabic – a ruling handed down by the Supreme Education Council – so the actual time spent on the basic curriculum can suffer. Start and end dates change regularly, as determined by the SEC. All depends on the timing of Ramadan. Most schools will follow the Muslim holidays as well as many of the school’s home nationality.
Traffic is horrendous - a 10 minute trip one day may take two or three times that on other days and you may want to factor the terrible traffic into your school as well as housing choice. Many activities occur at schools – so allow for widely varying journey times if doing different pick-up schedules. Good news is that most schools offer buses.
There are some schools in Qatar that maintain an excellent reputation year after year and there are some that remain a bad option. Everyone knows which ones are the best and most everyone wants their kids in them – it is that simple. And yes, if you do get a slot at a one of the better schools, expect to pay a premium. This very well recognised hierarchy of private school reputations means you need to ask around as much as possible – you’ll soon realise you’re hearing the same names mentioned in both the good and bad categories.
The American (primary, middle school, USHSD, AP), International Baccalaureate and English curricula are the main curricula on offer. Be aware that many of the British schools offer a somewhat watered down version of the English curriculum. Some will have only minor adaptations, while others may be barely recognisable.
Because demand for slots at the good schools far surpasses the supply, persistence is key. Schools are inundated with perspective callers, so do not be put off by a less than encouraging initial response. Openings do become available since the expat community is more transient here than in many other locations, with families coming and going quite frequently.
Consider the number or percentage of native English speaking students vs non-native English speakers. Even if you like the curriculum, if the teachers are teaching to the non-native speakers, it may slow down the progress of the class.
Few, if any, schools accommodate moderate to severe learning disabilities but Qatar Academy does have a separate special needs school - Awsaj Academy. Some schools have learning assistance specialists but they tend to be for mild problems. You'll need to speak to the school directly to see if and how they can assist you and, beware, you may be required to pay for assistance in addition to the tuition and fees. The Learning Center is a centralised team which has been set up to support teachers in the various schools to handle the problems arising from students with special needs or learning disabilities.
PYP/ MYP/ American High School Diploma/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 900 students
The only non-UK based member of the four strong ACS schools group. Opened in 2011 and expanding into a new campus for 2,400 students. International Baccalaureate Diploma results are improving and reached a respectable 31 points average recently, compared to the global figure of 30. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
American High School Diploma/ AP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,250 students
Founded in 1988 by US ambassador Joseph Ghougassian, together with members of the Qatari community and is now located on a recently updated campus. Only school in Qatar to offer AP and the International Baccalaureate Diploma, both of which are offered in a wide range of subjects. Accredited since 1994 by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). 60 per cent of students from the US or Canada.
Alberta curriculum/ Alberta High School Diploma; ages 5-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 350 students
One of the smaller international schools in Doha, owned and run by the Globeducate Group. Teaching the rigorous Alberta (Canada) curriculum, culminating in the Alberta High School Diploma, well considered, when looking at applicants’ qualifications, by international universities.
EYFS/ International Primary Curriculum/ adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ IB Diploma; ages 3-19; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,600 students
Founded in 2006 by Fieldwork Education and now part of the Nord Anglia Education group. On four campuses, the last opened autumn 2019. A performing arts programme in collaboration with Juilliard, New York and a STEM curriculum devised with input from MIT. At the Rayyan campus pupils can join a bilingual programme with one native French speaker and one native English speaker per class, available from year 1 to year 5. A member of the Council for British Schools Overseas (COBIS) and the British Schools in the Middle East (BSME).
Adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level/ IB Diploma/ BTEC; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 2,090 students
Originally known as Doha Montessori and British School but re-branded as Doha British School (DBS) in 2011. Currently the main campus is in the Ain Khaled area with a second in Al Wakra (secondary school still under construction) and a third commissioned at Rawdat Al Hamama. An exceptionally wide choice of curricula post 16 available including the International Baccalaureate Diploma (since 2019), AS and A Levels and BTECs. Accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the first international school to have achieved Qatar National Schools Accreditation (QNSA).
National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,050 students
Consistently praised for academics and exam results and accredited by endless bodies including the Council of Independent Schools (CIS) and is an Accredited Member of the Council of British Overseas Schools (COBIS) for which it is a training school. Also, awarded ‘Excellent in Education’ by the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS) and is branded an Eco School amongst other commendations. Previously, there were mutterings that the facilities did not match the academics but that is being remedied with a brand new, state of the art campus.
National Curriculum for England; ages 3-13; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 980 students
One of the oldest English speaking schools in Qatar, opened in 1971, expanding into year 7 in 2021 and year 8 in 2022. Vast majority of pupils are British passport holders and this feels like a traditional British prep school. Sponsored by the British Embassy, this is THE first choice for primary school among the British expats (and probably most European expats, as well). Inspected by Penta for the British Schools Overseas (BSO). Most DESS students matriculate to Doha College.
EYFS/ Cambridge 1, 2/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,900 students
Established in 1991 and owned by the Al-Muftah group. On three campuses in Doha, Al Wakra and Alkhor plus a kindergarten in Al Wakra. Classes taught in English but with an emphasis on Arabic and Islamic studies and Qatari history. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
International Early Years Curriculum/ International Primary Curriculum/ International Middle Years Curriculum; ages 3-14; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; capacity 2,300 students
A second school in Doha for the International Schools Partnership, which opened in 2019. At present only teaching up to 14 but the intention is to grow organically and include offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma. An all bells and whistles, brand new, purpose-built school located in Mesaimeer.
Adapted curriculum/ SABIS; ages 3-18; day; co-ed; independent; private non-profit; 2,550 students
Founded in 1999 and rapidly grown to over 2,500 pupils. One of the international Choueifat schools originally founded in 1886 in the Lebanon and now spread across the Middle East. SABIS network graduates have gained entry to competitive global universities.
PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 950 students
International Baccalaureate World School with classes in English but also four class periods of mother-tongue lessons taught from age four. Recent graduate IB Diploma scores have been above the global average. Majority of graduates moved on to universities in the UK, including Russell Group, with the remainder heading to Europe or the USA or staying in the Middle East. Accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS) and by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Adapted National Curriculum for England; ages 3-13; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 600 students
Opened in 2016 as a sister school to King’s College, Taunton, a day and boarding school in the west of England. At present, offering a conventional prep school education to children from a wide range of nationalities but intending to expand upwards to IGCSEs and A Levels with the opening of the new Mesaimeer campus. Sponsored by Sheikh Mansoor Jassim Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family and run by EduReach, an operator of British schools abroad under the auspices of the UK school.
Newton International Schools
Adapted National Curriculum of England; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 10,000 students
Founded in 2006 and grown from the original 200 students into a group of eight private schools in different locations in Qatar, teaching ten thousand pupils. Four international and four British schools but all with the same curriculum including Arabic, Islamic studies and Qatari history.
Adapted National Curriculum for England/ International Primary Curriculum/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; capacity 1,200 students
Founded in 2012 and teaching in English to mainly Qatari and Indian students, aiming at global English-speaking universities. Also offering the opportunity to take the Duke of Edinburgh international awards.
Adapted National Curriculum for England/ IGCSEs/ A Level; ages 2-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,460 students
Part of the International Schools Partnership (operating schools in eight global countries) since 2015. Newly renovated campus, including a dedicated sixth form centre and ICT and tech improvements. Impressive A Level results with 25 per cent of students achieving A*-A. Offering the Duke of Edinburgh International Award and Model United Nations and, despite the name, an international school as there are pupils from over 70 different countries.
PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,770 students
An over-arching name to cover a group of schools established by the educational initiative of the Qatar Foundation. In several locations across Qatar, starting with three Early Education Centres using the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) programme. Also running primaries (teaching the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) and middle and high schools following the IBMYP and IB Diploma programmes. Vast majority from local families but some students from other nationalities. Results not obviously available but the school states that regular entry is gained to leading global universities. Also, part of the Foundation is a special needs school; Awsaj Academy.
PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 620 students
One of a small number of International Baccalaureate World Schools in Doha, which offers an all the IB Programmes except for the Careers option. Founded in 2012 and fully accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
EYFS/ adapted curriculum/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,900 students
On a campus in the diplomatic quarter of Dafna, teaching students from over 60 different nationalities. One of the first British schools in Qatar and still owned by the Qatari royal family. Some outstanding exam results recently with one student gaining the top mark in the world for A Level English Language. Inspected by Penta for British Schools Overseas (BSO).
Adapted National Curriculum for England; ages 3-13; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 300 students
A newish school, opened in 2016. Located in Umm Salal Mohammed (apparently, IKEA is the main landmark for navigation purposes) and only open since 2016. It provides an English primary education to a cohort that is approximately one third Qatari and one third British with the remainder of the students coming from around 30 other nationalities. Inspected by Penta for British Schools Overseas (BSO).
PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 300 students
Under the umbrella organisation of the SEK Educational Group who started in Spain 125 years ago and now have eight other international schools in Spain, France and Ireland. Opened in West Bay, near the centre of Doha in 2013. We have not seen for ourselves yet but it is encouraging that it is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)..
Adapted National Curriculum for England/ I/GCSE/ A Level; ages 5-19; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,090 students
A joint venture (50/50 on the board of governors), initiated in 2009 between Sherborne School in England and the Qatari royal family, some of whom were educated at Sherborne. Closely based on the British private school with all classes taught in English except for Modern Foreign Languages. Students from over 60 nationalities with the majority being local families and some 35 per cent British. Following English curricula including offering BTEC Business and with sound A Level results, roughly 20 per cent achieving A*-A. Inspected by Penta for British Schools Overseas (BSO).
For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on the Good Schools Guide international search.