Part of the Taaleem group, one of the UAEs largest education providers, Raha International School (also known as Raha or RIS) is the first school in Abu Dhabi to be fully authorised to offer all three IB programmes. It has also been rated Outstanding by the Abu Dhabi Department of Knowledge and Education (ADEK) for the sixth year running.
The site is based out of town, in Khalifa City. The original Gardens Campus opened in 2006; just a few kilometres away, Khalifa City Campus opened in 2020. Gardens Campus is located next to a large expat compound, Al Raha Gardens, where many families live (this means that they can walk or cycle to school – a real luxury in the UAE). There are in fact many expat compounds close to the school, so most parents will have a very short drive.
Raha offers 3 IB Programmes, PYP, MYP and DP, which is split into four sections: Early Years (up to Grade 1, ages three to six), Primary Years Programme (Grades 2 to 5, ages seven to 11); Middle Years Programme (Grades 6 to 10, ages 11 to 16); and Diploma Programme (Grades 11 and 12, ages 16 to 18).
Nicola Neethling, who also oversees education across all UAE IB schools in Taaleem. Parents tell us that rather than being stuck behind his desk, he is often seen around the school, from greeting pupils at the gates in the mornings to reading stories to the early years.
Ninety per cent of the admissions team are parents – a deliberate move by the school to ensure that the process is as personable as possible. Early Years children have a ‘play date’ to interact with others in the school setting. Grade 1 pupils participate in a classroom-based Meet and Greet. Grade 2-6 students sit an inCAS assessment and Grade 7+ a CEM assessment. RIS requires the most recent school reports. The launch of the second campus means that the school has been able to welcome more pupils, so almost all recent applications have been accepted.
The school follows the IB curriculum all the way through. One family we spoke to said they chose RIS because it follows the IB curriculum, which, for families who move around the world, allows their children to slot into different education systems.
In early years, the emphasis is on innovative and engaging child-initiated learning. This is reflected in the play areas, which have been designed in collaboration with occupational therapists. Maths, science and language development are taught through role play, construction and sensory zones, enhancing the learning experience so it feels spontaneous and exciting. All children from Grade 1 to 5 must have an iPad, which is not provided by the school.
We hear mixed reports on the SEN provision. One mother said her son had received twice-weekly occupational therapy sessions for a year, but the following year was offered no support at all.
RIS has a thriving performing arts programme, including an annual theatre production and several choirs and choruses. It is a member of the International Schools Theatre Association (ISTA) and Association for Music in International Schools (AMIS). Caroline Kelly, the performing arts director, is deeply passionate about theatre and musicals.
Team try-outs for competitive sports are held at the start of each term. Team members are expected to train at least once a week, as well as attending a fixture. RIS belongs to the Abu Dhabi International School Sports Association (ADISSA), through which tournaments and competitions are organised. Facilities – which include three gyms, an outdoor pool and two tennis courts and football pitches – are used by external sports teams at weekends.
Extracurricular activities fall into four categories: sports, culture (such as Arabic calligraphy, indigenous art and Japanese club), visual and performing arts (comic creators, contemporary choir and dance) and general (chess, computer club and robotics).
At RIS there are 80+ nationalities. Parents we spoke to said that this diversity means there are no pupil or parent cliques.
Staff describe RIS as a “large school but a small family” and that is very much the impression we get from chatting to parents too. For children in early years, the ‘home room leaders’ are the main point of contact for wellbeing and they take the role very seriously. There are pastoral leaders for all other year groups and counsellors available for anyone who requires support.
RIS is developing its alumni association: currently, it has a network of alumni who have offered career workshops, advice and work placements to senior-school students. As so many schools are relatively new in the region, this is a real bonus.
There are brilliant parent groups available, organised by class reps and school-year reps – these are viewed as a lifeline for many, especially those new to Abu Dhabi.
The school meets monthly with the Parent Team to discuss any pressing concerns. Many parents also catch up in Raptors Nest, the coffee shop on the Garden Campus.
For those looking for an all-through IB education, this is a strong contender.