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 secondary school is its own community, with classrooms on the second floor of the building, a well-stocked library and dedicated ICT, language and STEAM classrooms. 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 away any prospective pupils (although they won’t exceed class-number limits). If you’re applying as an expat and have a complete CAT 4 test report, they will not require any additional testing. Many European schools only provide a tick-box report, in which case your child may be asked to complete a test. BISAD also holds informal virtual-discovery meetings during the admissions process. 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.
Key Stage 3 is based on the English National Curriculum and includes Arabic, French and Spanish as languages. Active learning, critical thinking and communication are encouraged through debates and presentations. In Year 10, students begin the IGCSE programme; Arabic is a core subject.
BISAD has an invaluable collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), offering children an innovative way to learn the STEAM subjects. Plus, each spring term students have the chance to visit MIT, meeting scientists, attending workshops and immersing themselves in problem-solving.
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).
Passionate about performing arts, the school has a collaboration with the Juilliard School in New York (the music, dance and drama studies are hand-selected and designed by them).
A member of the Abu Dhabi School Sports Association (ADISSA), the school has arguably the best facilities in the emirate, including an outdoor pool, shaded playing courts, a multi-purpose sports hall and expansive outdoor space and playing fields.
BookSmart is a brilliant opportunity to read books chosen from a wide range of international literature, which pupils can then discuss in book clubs.
One of the school-year highlights includes 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. There’s also Duke of Edinburgh, clubs and global-service projects on offer.
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.
Pupils 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.