Schools in Abu Dhabi

Every school has its unique selling point, so we wandered Abu Dhabi’s hallways to find exactly what those are

Happy are those parents whose children enjoy going to school every day. But, with the choice of primary education in the UAE growing all the time, big decisions need to be taken to ensure your child is in the right school with the right focus on the right programmes. Not an easy feat. The challenge is in how to make an informed choice that reflects the age and stage of the child and their specific talents and interests. We have gone beyond the glossy brochures and the user-friendly websites, straight to the leaders and administrators, to get the inside track on a number of the schools in Abu Dhabi, and discovered what it is that makes each institution really shine, both inside and outside the classroom…

Aldar Academies Al Mamoura Academy
The focus:
Health and wellbeing
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Fee range per annum: Dhs48,800 to Dhs70,400
The USP: Al Mamoura Academy is keen to make a positive contribution to the surrounding community while also teaching students about respect, collaboration and creativity. To make both happen, the school hosts charity fundraisers, led by its Primary students, to give them a hands-on lesson in philanthropy. Last term, the academy held one such event to raise funds for Red Crescent charities, under the condition that no cakes or sweets could be made and sold (hard luck, kids!). Pupils volunteered to be involved and organised themselves into groups to come up with alternative fundraising ideas as a team. Ideas ranged from a flip the bottle game to picture quizzes, origami and fruit kebabs. Students were also tasked with devising special offers to entice more sales and designing posters to advertise their stalls. Overall, this single event raised almost Dhs4,000 for Red Crescent charities, while also teaching a valuable lesson in creative thinking and compassion. This approach – nurturing an inventive mindset in pupils – is a priority at all ages, from Al Mamoura Academy’s co-ed primary school right through to its girls-only secondary school.

In their words: Head of Primary Emma Shanahan says: “Our children come to school to develop as individuals, but an important part of that is understanding how their actions influence the world around them. Charity events are a great way of teaching pupils about this because it opens their eyes to the challenges faced by others while also encouraging them to solve problems together. This creates a great sense of community at the school itself, but is also a valuable skill to learn now and carry into adult life.”
Al Nahyan, close to the Eastern Ring Road exit 8, Abu Dhabi, (02 885 7100).

Aldar Academies West Yas Academy
The focus:
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
Curriculum: American Massachusetts State Curriculum
Fee range per annum: Dhs51,000 to Dhs61,500
The USP: West Yas Academy, which opened its doors on Yas Island in September 2016, was built from the ground up to teach students how to be little innovators. And, the academy leads by example with many forward-thinking teaching methods. For example, during the Primary Years, pupils are introduced to the basics of electricity using what are known as “inventor kits”. They include everything students need to create a circuit, using any object that can conduct electricity. So, to engage kids in the lesson, teachers give them a challenge: use the kit to build an electronic keyboard featuring fruit and vegetables as the keys. The completed circuit is then linked to a laptop’s musical application, where students can create their own melody using the edible keys. It’s effective because students learn in a way that feels like play, which encourages them to engage from the start of a lesson and focus throughout. They’re also learning how to apply theory in a practical way, helping them to retain knowledge.

In their words: Principal Peter Carpenter says: “We live in a digital world and our teaching methods need to reflect that. This is why West Yas Academy – and other Aldar Academies schools – use tools such as inventor kits to deliver lessons in the most effective and engaging way. Although we use a lot of innovative technology in the classroom, we always first ask ourselves: how will this improve teaching and learning? We’ll never use a technology for the sake of it – it has to provide real educational value.”
Zone K, Yas Island, close to Yas Waterworld, (02 885 7001).
Al Muna Academy
The focus:
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Fees: Contact school admissions for a quote
The USP: Lessons in the STEM subjects often lead to “light bulb moments” from students that translate into ground-breaking ideas when they’re adults. To encourage this kind of thinking in school and beyond, Aldar Academies’ Al Muna Academy hosts a dedicated STEM week for all of its Primary students. With the aim of sharpening their inquisitive minds, the academy organises activities during the week that challenge them to complete specific STEM-related tasks. Most recently, Year 6 students designed and created their own model Formula 1 racing car, before testing them for stability and aerodynamics on Yas Marina Circuit. Year 3 students had to find a way to create working floating gardens using only recycled plastic bottles, while KS2 pupils programmed their own emojis.

Beyond this dedicated week, the STEM subjects are a fundamental part of Al Muna Academy’s wider English National Curriculum. The academy recognises skills in this area are vital to the UAE’s future, which is why pupils are introduced to them from the earliest ages.

In their words: Principal Wayne Howsen says: “At Al Muna Academy, and across the entire Aldar Academies network in fact, building STEM skills in our pupils is a real priority. We exist to help them shape the future, and that future will rely on STEM knowledge far more than we already do today. STEM week is just one example of how we use the latest technology to develop this knowledge in students and help their creativity to flourish.”
Between Madinat Zayed and E2 sectors, Abu Dhabi, (02 501 4777).

Al Raha International School (Taaleem)
The focus:
Environment and sustainability
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Fee range per annum: Dhs36,100 to Dhs49,700
The USP: Al Raha International School, a member of the Taaleem family of schools, is dedicated to delivering an innovative International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP), teaching methods even in the Early Years. Head of Early Years Jasmine Taylor saw an opportunity to introduce two new roles to expand the Early Years provision, creating roles of an Outdoor Learning Coordinator and an Outdoor Learning Assistant to develop and promote extended learning activities in the fresh air and sunshine. These positions are dedicated to the development of students’ gross and fine motor skills. These outdoor opportunities are organised to complement and extend the PYP transdisciplinary Units of Inquiry which take place in the classroom. The Outdoor Learning provision has been further enhanced by Al Raha’s recent facilities upgrade. The school has been able to add an additional nine playground structures and areas to the campus. Set amid nature, Al Raha kids can cook in mud kitchens, climb on netted suspension frames, enjoy the water play installation and ride bikes, trikes and scooters on the outdoor bike track. But it’s not just about physical development. Mathematics, Science and Language outcomes are covered through inquiry-led learning and a play-based approach, too. And the students are able to socialise in a setting that also fosters independence.

In their words: Head of Early Years Jasmine Taylor says: “We encourage our children to be risk takers! We want them to get wet, get dirty, climb higher and run faster. In today’s screen-dominated environment, Al Raha wants students to get outside and play!”
Khalifa City A, Al Raha Gardens, (02 556 1567).

Al Yasat Private School
The focus:
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
Curriculum: American
Fee range per annum: Dhs30,370 to Dhs37,690 
The USP: The world that students will graduate into will require them to have a special skill-set. As education advances with the help of technology, it is abundantly clear that modern-day classroom needs are very different from the conventional classroom. Consequently, the evolved 21st century classroom at Al Yasat is a productive learning environment in which students can develop the skills they will require in the future workplace with its teachers actively facilitating their learning. The focus of Al Yasat is on students experiencing the environment they will enter as modern-day workers and developing their higher-order thinking, effective communication and collaboration, making them adept with using technology and all other skills they will need in the 21st century workplace. Learning through collaboration is one of the most effective forms of learning in the school, they say. They know that teaching and learning in isolation is very restrictive and can hinder student progress. So, students learn in groups, which enhances the scope of learning and develops critical thinking. Activities include collaborative writing, group projects, joint problem-solving, debates and more.

In their words: Principal Dr Jake Madden says: “We are an innovative learning community and, in line with our vision statement, we are working to nurture the leaders of the future in the UAE. We believe every student graduating from school needs to be appropriately equipped, to be able to seize learning opportunities throughout life and to broaden their knowledge, skills and attitudes. Our graduates must be able to adapt to a changing, complex and interconnected world.”
Sector SH 10, Plot P1, Al Shamkha, (02 641 2300).

Al Yasmina Academy
The focus:
Innovation and enterprise
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Fees: Contact school admissions for a quote
The USP: Did you know, an effective way of learning about a subject is to teach it to others? Al Yasmina Academy does and used this technique – called peer learning – to help its Year 6 students grow. To engage them, the educator tasked pupils with creating workshops for their peers that included visual and audible learning materials, and could be followed via an iPad. The workshops explored topics like basic algebra, how to balance equations and “order of operations”, a series of mathematical rules that explain how to work out a numerical challenge. By developing learning materials around subjects they’ve only recently been taught, pupils can reinforce their newly acquired knowledge, which helps it stick in the mind. Not only that, the “student teachers” also learn an important lesson in responsibility. Who knows, it could even put them on the path to becoming future Aldar Academies teachers.

In their words: Principal Dr Tim Hughes says: “The old-fashioned method of a teacher dictating every lesson to pupils is long gone. Students need to be active participants in the classroom, even helping their classmates to understand theories and how to apply them. Our workshops allow this to happen in a controlled way, while also motivating students to immerse themselves in a subject.”
Between sector 32 and Shahama Road, (02 501 4888).

Cranleigh School
The focus:
Theatre and Performing Arts
Curriculum: National Curriculum for England
Fee range per annum: Dhs65,000 to Dhs 80,000
The USP: Beautiful World was a ground-breaking educational project that focused on two key goals – to find a new and innovative way to celebrate UAE culture and to inspire and develop children through performance and visual arts. It started with the poem, Beautiful World, written by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, which became the muse for Emirati-born calligraphy artist Narjes Noureddine and resulted in the creation of an exhibition at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, in association with Abu Dhabi Art in November and curated by Zayed University, where Narjes is a fourth-year student.
The second part of the project saw Karen Gillingham, Artistic Director of the Youth Opera Company at London’s Royal Opera House, bring together a creative group, comprising a music director, choreographer, designer and two opera singers. Narjes joined this professional team and, together, they worked intensively with 80 students and Cranleigh’s Performing Arts faculty to devise, shape and stage a unique production. Everything, from set design to costumes, and dance choreography to musical libretto, was created by the students themselves, in less than five days. The Beautiful World opera received a standing ovation on the Cranleigh stage on November 14, 2016, and such was its impact that a revival was requested by The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development as part of its 45th National Day programme. The project was a pilot but the model will be extended to involve and engage a broader section of Abu Dhabi’s educational and cultural community.

In their words: Headmaster Brendan Law says: “Beautiful World was one of the most exciting and inspiring projects of my educational career. From a seed of an idea came the most wonderful creative journey that enthused and inspired our students and teachers, as well as the broader community, enriching everyone who was privileged to engage with it. It brought together many of the things we are passionate about at Cranleigh: Fusing Eastern and Western cultures by building bridges where others may seek to build walls; celebrating the arts and bringing our motto – Ex Cultu Robur (From Culture comes Strength) – alive; giving our community exceptional opportunities by removing all ceilings on learning. In so doing, it helped our children develop into confident, considerate and thinking young adults.

“It is worth stressing that the performance was never the primary focus. The power of the project lay in the journey, in the lessons of teamwork and leadership, of tenacity and collaboration, commitment and self-expression. It also lay in the subject matter that celebrated the rich heritage and beauty of the UAE through a Western operatic performance style using the genres of art, design, music, dance and dramatic performance. We know that when children are given the opportunity, they exceed all expectations. Beautiful World was proof
of that.”
Saadiyat Island Cultural District, (02 497 0000).

The British School Al Khubairat
The focus:
Curriculum: National Curriculum for England
Fee range per annum: Dhs41,500 to Dhs46,400
The USP: The British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) is the oldest British curriculum school in Abu Dhabi. It provides a world-class education for 1,900 students between the ages of three to 18, who represent fifty nationalities. It is a not-for-profit school and was established in 1968 on land generously donated by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE.

The school consistently delivers outstanding exam results and they continue to operate in conjunction with the British Embassy on a not-for-profit basis, meeting the demands for a high-level British education. The Primary school at BSAK prides itself on offering a broad and balanced extra-curricular programme and a firm emphasis on community throughout the whole school.

In their words: Deputy Head Teacher Jo Czerpak says: “Here at BSAK, our holistic approach results in the very best academic achievement, co-curricular education and quality pastoral care, for every student. Along with outstanding facilities and exceptional teaching and support staff, this allows students to exceed expectations.”
Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, (02 446 2280).

The British International School Abu Dhabi
The Focus: Music
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Fee Range Per Annum: Dhs47,00 to Dhs57,400
The USP: The British International School Abu Dhabi (BIS Abu Dhabi) is part of the Nord Anglia Education family of 43 schools worldwide and launched a collaboration with world renowned performing arts conservatory, The Julliard School, in September 2016.

The collaboration allows BIS Abu Dhabi students to benefit from an enhanced performing arts curriculum, by incorporating a set of teaching resources into the existing curriculum across the school. The enhanced arts curriculum focuses firstly on music, with dance recently introduced, and is developed by curriculum experts at both Juilliard and Nord Anglia Education.

The music curriculum is designed for all students, not just those who are serious about learning an instrument or musical performance and, in addition, students are able to access continued support from, and engagement with, Juilliard alumni and affiliated artists. Recent school visits to BIS Abu Dhabi include Hilary Easton, Director of the Global K – 12 Dance Programme at Juilliard, as well as Juilliard composer and violist, Jessica Meyer.

In their words: Patrick Horne, Principal, says: ‘I am very excited that our students will benefit from such a prestigious collaboration that will expand opportunities and embrace their ambitions in performing arts. It is such a unique offering bringing the Juilliard experience and expertise here to Abu Dhabi and to know it will have an impact on every student in our school.’
Behind Abu Dhabi University (02 510 0100).

The Pearl Academy
The focus:
Innovation and enterprise
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Fees per annum: Dhs40,400
The USP: Learning doesn’t stop when students leave the classroom – it follows them home, where their parents become the teachers. With this in mind, Aldar Academies’ The Pearl Academy came up with a clever way of helping parents support their child’s learning when they’re back at home – by bringing them into school.
Based in the heart of Abu Dhabi, the academy has developed a series of parent workshops that are held in school throughout the year. Each workshop focuses on a precise topic and age, such as learning to read, grammar and storytelling, or mathematics, with the aim of educating parents about exactly how and what Aldar Academies teachers actually teach.

As well as looking at what goes on behind the school gates, the workshops also provide practical tips and strategies that can be applied at home. Armed with this knowledge, parents can feel more confident supporting their child’s learning outside of school, which ultimately helps them excel back in the classroom or exam hall.

In their words: Principal Abigail Fishbourne says: “Students may be with us five days a week, but that doesn’t mean their parents can’t have a big influence on their education. We set up our parent workshops to create a closer bond between the school and our parents, and also to raise the confidence of students in the classroom.

“This can have a hugely positive impact on their development, because, when they’re confident, children are more likely to get involved, be openly curious, and enjoy learning, too.”
Al Dhafrah, just off Hazza Bin Zayed Street, (02 641 8887).

Not-for-profit schools

A few of the schools in the UAE are classified as not-for-profit schools. This means they are administered by a Board of Governors and, as such, there is generous reinvestment in the school on both a long-term and short-term basis. The other schools will be owned by private education companies and will also invest money into the school, but will have shareholders seeking a return. Cursty Hoppe, editor of, says: “The not-for-profits (NFPs) really are the UAE’s Ivy League. They’re old (well, 40 years or so), boast staggering resources, extensive campuses and most have impressive proven academic and sporting track records.

“Their age is their real secret. Established decades ago, most have low or no rent to pay, no investors requiring dividends and therefore they can spend significantly more money on improving and upgrading facilities and staff salaries.

“However, all this does make them exceedingly hard to get into. Even as the market matures and competition between schools heats up, and even though most NFPs ask for hefty debentures – securing a place in a NFP still remains exceedingly tough.”

The right fit

Fiona Mckenzie MA, Director of Gabbitas Education Middle East, shares her top tips on choosing the right school for your kids.

Explore the values
What are the values of the school and how do they put them into action? Do the values of the school fit your family values? Check the data from inspection reports; look at the academic results.

Make a visit
If you can visit the schools then look for happy, engaged children. How do they react to the teachers and to their fellow pupils? Ask to see a class in progress so you can observe the teaching and talk to the pupils. Feel the atmosphere – can you see your child here?

Discover the unique selling point (USP)
Academics are important, but what else does the school offer as part of a well-rounded education? How much sport is part of the curriculum? What is the art department like? Do they have an active drama programme?

Check the cost
Fees are becoming more of a decision point. Make sure you understand what is included in the fees. Some of the new schools are offering an all-inclusive fee that covers all ECA’s (Educational Credential Assessment) and uniform. Make sure you compare what you are getting for your money.

Connect with parents
Talk to other parents about their experiences there and take more than one opinion as each child is different.

Look at the long game
As children get older you need to be more concerned about the curriculum – is it the right one for your child? What subject options are available? What are the exam results like? Where do the pupils go onto university? If your child is a budding gymnast or a star musician, do they have the facilities to support their talent? You also need to be more aware of the culture of the school and how your child will fit into that. Ask about the pastoral care system, as this will be critical to your child’s experience at school. How do they deal with friendship issues, for example? Gabbitas Education Consultants Middle East are the global experts in education.

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