Part of the Nord Anglia group, the wonderful British International School Abu Dhabi (or BISAD, as it’s known) opened in 2009 and has a truly global community.
A short drive out of town in Mohammed Bin Zayed City, BISAD is perfectly located for anyone living off-island (it’s a 15-20 minute commute from many of the expat compounds). The campus is vast – it’s one of the biggest plots for a school in Abu Dhabi – but the primary school has its own community, with classrooms on the first floor of the building (early years and secondary are on the other levels), its own well-stocked library and a colourful, shaded playground. As is tradition in Abu Dhabi, at 7.45am each day, the bell rings and all primary children stand up in line in their classes and sing the UAE national anthem (everyone, including parents if they are at the school, is expected to stop what they are doing and observe this moment). Plenty of parking at drop-off and pick-up.
Patrick Horne joined in 2014 and was previously principal at Nord Anglia’s British International School Shanghai, so he has much experience of expat education. Well-respected and very visible, he takes time to talk to parents during morning drop-off.
The school is not restricted by space, so it tries not to turn anyone away (though they won’t exceed class-number limits). If you’re applying as an expat and have a complete CAT 4 test report, your child will not require any additional testing. Many European schools only provide a tick-box report, in which case children may be asked to complete a test. For Year 1 and up, BISAD also holds informal virtual-discovery meetings. If a child has a specific interest (such as science), the school will invite the relevant senior leaders to join the call, allowing prospective pupils and parents to ask questions about the academics.
Scholarships or bursaries are not given out at BISAD but the school will look at individual cases that are brought to their attention or try to support a family if their circumstances change.
BISAD offers the English National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 in primary. For Key Stage 1 the school uses Read Write Inc, a phonics-based approach to literacy and practical play in maths. In Key Stage 2, children begin to branch out into subjects such as science and languages.
Abu Dhabi and the Middle East are rather behind the curve on inclusion, but BISAD is well known for its SEN offering and very open about the fact that it will go above and beyond to cater for children’s needs, including one-to-one support. In our experience, the staff are very kind and caring in their assessments, and proactive in their help. (Note that within the UAE, one-to-one support is an extra cost for parents).
The performing arts and sports are both excellent here. A member of the Abu Dhabi School Sports Association (ADISSA), the school has arguably the best facilities in the emirate. For the primary school, this means a dedicated heated pool with adjustable flooring that can be raised up for smaller children. There’s also a sports hall and expansive outdoor space and playing fields.
One of the school-year highlights includes, from Year 6 onwards, a stay at a purpose-built camp in Dibba, where children can have a go at kayaking, orienteering, rock climbing, mountain biking, trekking and dhow trips to snorkel along the coast.
Pastoral care is taken very seriously at BISAD, which has two counsellors and round-the-clock security.
There are more than 80 nationalities throughout the entire school, and this is celebrated on International Days. The active PTA hosts events to engage families: coffee mornings, cinema nights, welcome tours for prospective parents (we found these to be very honest and useful). Parents can also meet in The Hub café at the start and end of the day.
Children are allocated to a house (Oak Eagles, Elm Lions, Ash Dragons and Willow Sharks) and we love that once or twice a year, all ages come together in house groups to work on a project – it’s a real bonding, community effort.