Studying in Dubai: Know Your Top International School Curriculum Options

Expats in Dubai default to private schools. While there are government schools (e.g., public schools) in the United Arab Emirates, attending them is not free to non-Emiratis and non-GCC citizens. Additionally, public schools in Dubai use Arabic as their medium of instruction.

Fortunately, expats don’t lack options. You can easily find an international school in Dubai that matches your preferences and fits your requirements. 

According to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the government agency in charge of private education in the emirate, you have 216 private schools to choose from.

The rich educational landscape of Dubai doesn’t stem only from the large number of schools available in the emirate. The highly diverse mix of ethnicities in private schools is a contributing factor. Data indicate that 90% of private school students are non-UAE nationals.

Additionally, international schools in Dubai offer a variety of curricula. There are 17 curriculum options available in Dubai, with the British and American curricula as the top two.

British Curriculum

Also known as the U.K. curriculum, the British curriculum is Dubai’s most popular international school curriculum. Eighty of the 216 private schools and 36% of the 326,001 private school students in Dubai are on the U.K. curriculum.

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Core Subjects 

The British curriculum is essentially the National Curriculum for England, so it has the same compulsory subjects:

  • English
  • Maths
  • Science
  • History
  • Design and Technology
  • Geography
  • Music
  • Art and Design
  • Computing
  • Physical Education
  • Ancient and Modern Foreign Languages

Where modifications are allowed, Dubai schools have adjusted and adapted the National Curriculum for England to suit the UAE context. For instance, British schools (like all other international schools) in Dubai have incorporated the following compulsory subjects into their curricula:

  • Arabic language
  • Islamic education (required for all Muslim students)
  • Social studies and moral education

Education Blocks 

The British curriculum is organised into education blocks.

  • Early Years Foundation Stage

The Early Years Foundation Stage or EYFS has two levels, Foundation Stage 1 (FS1 or nursery) and Foundation Stage 2 (FS2 or reception). Children must be three years of age by the first of September to enrol in FS1.

  • Key Stage 1

Key Stage 1 encompasses Years 1 and 2. These are for children aged five to seven.

  • Key Stage 2

Key Stage 2 is for children aged seven to 10 years old and spans Years 3, 4 and 5.

  • Key Stage 3

Key Stage 3 includes Years 7, 8, and 9 for children aged 11 to 14 .

  • Key Stage 4

Years 10 and 11 comprise Key Stage 4, which is for students 14 to 16 years of age. It is at this stage that students take their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) subject exams as well as other national exams (e.g., Business and Technology Education Council or BTEC Firsts and Tech Awards).

  • Key Stage 5

Key Stage 5, also known as post-16 education, is for students 16 and older and includes Years 12 and 13. During this time, students sit for their Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS Level), Advanced Level (A Level) or BTEC Nationals exams.

Read Also: Exploring Your Child’s Primary Subjects at a British School in Dubai


British schools in the UAE may get the following accreditations:

  • British Schools Overseas (BSO), a school accreditation and inspection scheme by the U.K. Department for Education (DfE) for British curriculum schools overseas
  • The Council of British International Schools (COBIS), a membership association of British schools worldwide

These accreditations reassure parents that a British school can equip their children with the skills and qualifications required to enter/re-enter the British educational system wherever they may be.

American Curriculum

The American Curriculum is the second most popular international curriculum in Dubai. Forty schools offer it, and 15% of private school students in Dubai are on it.

The American curriculum is based on the United States educational system. It typically uses the U.S. English Language Arts and Mathematics Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards.

This curriculum is characterised by ongoing internal (teacher) assessments and project-based learning. It has a broad, holistic approach and provides a framework of standards against which students’ progress may be assessed.

The American curriculum is designed to create well-rounded students, emphasising the significance of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Core Subjects 

American curriculum schools have the following core subjects:

  • English language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social studies
  • Physical education
  • Arts

In Dubai, American-curriculum schools also teach the MoE-required subjects: Arabic language, Islamic education, and social studies/moral education.

Secondary school students (from Grade 9 onwards) can take elective subjects to personalise their educational paths. Typical options include Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and the humanities and arts.

Read Also: Deciding on the Ideal IB Schools in Abu Dhabi: 7 Key Considerations

Education Stages 

The American curriculum has 12 grade levels: Grades 1 to 12, excluding pre-kindergarten, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2.

  • Pre-Kindergarten: from three to four years of age
  • Kindergarten 1: from four to five years of age
  • Kindergarten 2: from five to six years of age
  • Elementary School: from six to 11 years of age, from Grades 1 to 5
  • Middle School: from 11 to 14 years of age, from Grades 6 to 8
  • High School: from 14 to 18 years of age, from Grades 9 to 12 (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior)

American school students generally do not need to take external assessments. Their teachers and schools grade them based on their academic performance and school projects.

However, depending on the school, students may be subject to Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Iowa testing to assess their progress in English, maths, and science.

In high school, students may take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and AP exams in Grade 11 or 12, although students may take them earlier. 

AP courses are not required for a student to be able to take the AP exams, and AP testing is optional. However, students voluntarily sit for AP tests to demonstrate their mastery of specific subjects and improve their university admission chances.

Students may also take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT), a prerequisite for those applying for admission into a U.S. university.


American curriculum schools in the UAE may subject themselves to the accreditation process of the following organisations:

  • American International Accreditation Association
  • Middle States Association-Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Accrediting Commission for Schools-Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Cognia (previously AdvancED)

British and American Curriculum Schools in Dubai

Dubai is an excellent place for private education, with more than 200 private schools and 17 curriculums. The British and American curriculums are used in 120 of these schools, and 51% of private school students are enrolled in these establishments.

If you’re moving to Dubai with school-age children, British and American curriculum schools will be among your top options.

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