Admissions Secrets from Dubai's Top Schools

Over the past year it feels almost like a new school has opened every week, yet no matter how many new schools seem to launch in Dubai, there are some which remain as impossible as ever to secure a place.

Over the past year it feels almost like a new school has opened every week, yet no matter how many new schools seem to launch in Dubai, there are some which remain as impossible as ever to secure a place.

Regardless of how long you might have lived here, if you have children of school age, you will have the likes of: JESS, JPS, Dubai British School, DESS, Wellington and DC, imprinted on your brain.

But just what does it take to ‘score’ a seat in one of the ‘Big Names?’ Is it really as impossible as many people make out?

We speak to GEMS Jumeirah Primary School (JPS) principal Catherine McKeever, GEMS Wellington International principal Mrs R Burke and Taaleem’s Dubai British School (DBS) principal Mark Ford to find out why their schools are so popular and what they look for when allocating their much sought after seats.

What makes your school so difficult to secure a seat in?

C McKeever- JPS: GEMS Jumeirah Primary School is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary giving the school a long history of excellence. With this proven track record as a school of choice for parents seeking a British education at the primary level, and with an Outstanding rating from KHDA since 2010, there are waiting lists at the school every year, but Dubai’s transient nature allows us to ensure that we do take on some new students every academic year. We are not a selective school but all students are assessed prior to offering them a school place and this is to ensure appropriate placement.

Mark Ford- DBS: DBS is a well-established British curriculum school in a very popular area of Dubai. We have an extensive waiting list because over the last 10-years we have built a reputation as a school that provides a world class education in a warm, caring and nurturing environment. Our KHDA rating has been consistently Good and moving towards Outstanding, whilst we recently achieved an Outstanding rating by BSO (British Schools Overseas) in all 8 areas covered by the school inspection process. Parents look out for these benchmarks of quality and DBS works hard to maintain the high standards necessary.


Mrs Burke- Wellington International: GEMS Wellington Schools have a strong reputation for delivering outstanding learning opportunities for students from the age of 3 to 18. All aspects of child development are expertly provided for, through a range of curricular and extra-curricular experiences. The emphasis on high quality learning and teaching, combined with great teachers who really care about their students, results in very high attainment and progress.

The commitment at GEMS Wellington International School, ensuring the best for every child is the reason that our school is so highly sought after.  The outstanding ratings in DSIB inspections over many years  validates the great work taking place in our school.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (UK) programme is followed in the Foundation stage, The National Curriculum (UK) is followed up to GCSE level; post 16 we offer the International Baccalaureate, IB certificate, IB Career Programme and B.Tech courses. The pathways through secondary school are varied; the introduction of IBCC in Media last year has further contributed to our wide repertoire of options.

In addition, the extensive international make up of our school and the harmonious, productive and ambitious learning culture that exists within all areas of school life is particularly special.

Why do so many parents want a place at your school for their child?

C McKeever- JPS: Parents want a place for their children at our school because it delivers excellent education, in a friendly and welcoming environment, for an affordable price. Jumeirah Primary School has an atmosphere of being a large school with a small school feel and this is something that all parents comment on during tours. There is a huge emphasis here on the appointment of the highest quality of teaching staff and this is immediately evident when visiting our classrooms. Also since Jumeriah Primary School is one of two primary schools in Dubai to retain the Outstanding status from KHDA for so long, and because our school has been closely linked to Jumeriah College, we are often the first choice for parents.

Mark Ford- DBS: For many of the reasons mentioned in the previous question, but also for the warm nurturing environment of the school. Parents often comment on the “community feel” of the school which immediately makes them and their children feel like it is a place where they can belong – to be a part of the community. Our most important benchmark, however, is our academic results, and DBS ranks amongst the top schools in Dubai for academic results across the school. We offer parents the assurance that their children will flourish whilst in our care.

Mrs Burke- Wellington International: High levels of care and support and a fully inclusive learning environment is one of the things that sets us apart from other schools. At GEMS Wellington international school, we seek to ensure all children are known and catered for as individuals with a great deal to contribute to their school community. In addition, Parents as Partners is taken very seriously; communication with our families is paramount and opportunities for parents to be involved in the education of their children abound. Besides being a part of the GEMS Network that has been a trusted choice for parents for 55 years, our central location, wide range of extra-curricular activity and superb facilities are all major drivers in our school’s success. Beyond that we feel that ultimately the relationships that exist between students, staff and parents and the emphasis on quality learning experiences is what attracts so many families to our school.

Can you describe the ideal student you are looking for at your school?

C McKeever- JPS: At GEMS Jumeirah Primary School we are looking for a student who has a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn. The students here are true enquirers, who look for more than one way to approach a problem. They are complimentary of all their peers and work collaboratively to learn in the most active way.

Mark Ford- DBS: We accept any student with the drive and ambition to become a positive member of the school community and society in general. Although academic ability is important, we want well-rounded students who look to contribute in a variety of different ways.

Mrs Burke Wellington International: Families and students who are seeking the highest quality of experiences across academic, sport, performing and creative arts, student leadership and vocational training will thrive at GEMS Wellington International School. Opportunities to participate and contribute are extensive in our school. Our students are happy individuals with a thirst for learning. Talents and passions are developed, nurtured and showcased and students are supported in becoming resilient, creative and solution-focused.

What is the best route into your school for parents determined to secure a place?

C McKeever- JPS: Most children gain admission by filling out our online registration form on our website and completing our assessment process. Although there are waiting lists, our transient population does allow for successful placements at points across the academic year. The benefit of applying to Jumeirah Primary School is that you are applying to a GEMS School and this means that we are always able to help you find another suitable option for your child if we are unable to offer you a place right away.

Mark Ford- DBS: Our admissions office reviews all applications and we are particularly interested in positive comments from previous schools. Academic performance is of course important, but we also look for substance and character to attract students that become positive ambassadors for the school.

What can you tell us about the entry assessment at your school?

C McKeever- JPS: We have many different assessments for entry into our school; these are administered year round, as and when required.

In the Foundation Stage our students are invited in small groups to an informal play assessment which allows our teachers to gain the best insight to their abilities. Key Stage 1 students are invited in for a more formal assessment led by members of our Middle Leadership Team. In Key Stage 2 the children sit a CATS assessment to look at potential of each child academically.

Mark Ford- DBS: The school engages in multiple levels of assessment, including ability testing, one-on-one interviews and reviewing existing reports and comments from previous schools. All of these elements are used to determine whether a student is likely to have a positive experience accessing our curriculum.

Mrs Burke- Wellington International: All students are assessed to ensure that their needs can be expertly catered for. At the age of 3, school readiness is important, but as we all know children develop at different rates so your child’s full developmental needs will be taken into account when we meet with them. Through primary and into secondary, literacy and mathematical skills are assessed and for our post 16 assessments vary depending on the pathway opted for.

In short- options, diversity and choice are paramount at all GEMS Wellington Schools; there is no one size fits all any aspect of provision, assessment or experience.

 Source: WhichSchoolAdvisor