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Dubai education and international schools guide

It is hard to keep pace with the educational whirlwind that continues to sweep Dubai, with new international schools rising from the desert, faster than sandstorms, but here is an overview from an informed expat.

Generally speaking....

Dubai has grown very rapidly from a small town, with a handful of schools, to a city where you can cheerfully be locked into a traffic jam, for a couple of hours, on the school run. This is possibly caused by some idiot changing his wheel in the fast lane or a five car pile-up caused by a 12 year old driving Daddy’s Landcruiser too fast on the central reservation. 

Schools went up equally quickly all over Dubai, some legitimate ones that have survived, and some a little dodgier that did not. Parents hoping to find places in the best known, best established schools can get more and more frantic as places get harder to come by. Names of a number of well-known UK schools are always tossed around in local gossip as "under contract", "in conversation", "connected to", but, in fact, very few have actually opened. Repton School Dubai and the newer Kent College Dubai are two of the few British schools that do indeed have a relationship with the English school that their names derive from.

Since the great majority of international schools are owned by for-profit businesses, some (not all) of those schools are run more than ever as commercial operations, who, equally cut costs where they can and raise fees. This is not to say that all of the schools owned and run by for-profit companies are questionable or should not be considered, as a number of good educational companies are here in Dubai.

If you're hoping your children will be able to live somewhat outside the bubble, and meet locals as well as fellow expats, fear not. The majority of the well-heeled local families send their children to these private schools as they learn English and everybody has to attend Arabic classes anyway. Parents should plan to visit schools, if possible, and sooner rather than later, when they learn of a new posting here. Remember; schools are closed on Fridays and Saturdays but open on Sundays, so that might be a possible day for interviews. 

The next snag is that schools in Dubai do not accept children under four, so if you were looking for a way to start your three year old on the road to Oxford there will be a slight delay. Worse, nurseries are very, very booked up with at least two year waiting lists, so you should put your infant's name down at birth (or before) to be guaranteed a place.

International Schools

The best known of the older, settled and very good schools include Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS), teaching a mixed English and IB  curriculum and Dubai English Speaking School (DESS) - the oldest school in Dubai founded in 1963 by Sheikh Rashid - and its follow-on Dubai English Speaking College or Jebel Ali School that ends at 15. For other secondary schools, students have tended to go to the American School of Dubai (also located in Jumeirah) that offers an American high school curriculum and Advanced Placement courses, or Dubai College (British curriculum - GCSEs and A Levels).

Of the newer schools, that have a reasonable cohort from outside Arabia, the most likely to be considered by British expats are the prep for Repton School Dubai - Foremarke School . Alternatives are Horizon English School and Kings’ School Dubai (both also primaries), GEMS Jumeirah Primary School and GEMS Jumeirah College or Nord Anglia International School Dubai and the newbies Fairgreen International School and Kent College Dubai. If you are looking for an American education, you might look at the older GEMS Dubai American Academy, although there are two potential young usurpers, Dunecrest American School and Dwight School Dubai, both opened in 2018.

A slight note of caution; some of the very anglicised school names are actually aiming at an Arabian (or in several cases) Indian audience. Examples include Raffles International School, Universal American School Dubai (both mainly Arabian students) and GEMS Wellington International School and GEMS Cambridge International School (where Indian students predominate). The globally ubiquitous Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) started up the Lycée Français International Georges Pompidou in 2006 but this school too, has a cohort of around 50 per cent Arabian pupils.

And finally…

On the whole, the international educational provision is growing and appears to be thriving, Dubai is dramatic, thrilling and innovative, attracting people with enormous amounts of talent and new ideas (as well as cash). The opportunities for teachers, parents and students to participate in the opening of an ancient yet brand new world are extraordinary and are being taken up in ever larger numbers, which, in turn should lead to a greater choice of genuinely international schools.

For more information on individual schools please go to each school’s individual entry on The Good Schools Guide International’ search or go to the GSGI article 'Best schools in Dubai considered by expats' .

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