With demand for school places at English speaking schools in Dubai so high, a school assessment can be a daunting process for both parent and child. FS1 assessments are particularly nerve-wracking because children are so young and parents are not only concerned about how their child will cope with being separated from them but also whether they have done enough to secure a place.

So what is expected from your child? Souqalmal.com has spoken to five of Dubai’s top schools to understand the assessment criteria and compiled a list of tips to help worried parents prepare. First, here’s what to expect from different schools:

1. Jumeirah Primary School (JPS)

  • The session: Children are invited to a casual play session with 9 other children where their behavioural and social skills are observed. Your child will have a selection of activities that have been laid out in the classroom to choose from.
  • What they are looking for: JPS stresses there are no expectations and says the session is informal. If a child does not choose an activity to do of their own accord, a teacher will guide them but ultimately children are left to make their own decision.

Parents are not allowed to stay in the classroom with their children, however if a youngster gets upset, the parent is invited to reassure the child and calm them down to continue the session. If the child continues to be upset, the parent and child are invited to another assessment on another day.

2. Jumeirah English Speaking School – Arabian Ranches

  • The session: Children are assessed in groups for up to an hour.
  • What they are looking for: The school is looking for children that know a couple of colours and shapes and can speak English. Parents will be told that their child must be toilet trained by the time they start school in September.

If a child gets very upset during the assessment, the parent can stay with their child. It all depends on the child and the school understands that all children are different and therefore tailors the observation on an individual basis.

3. Horizon Primary School

  • The session: The assessment is carried out in a group setting in a stress-free, child-centric environment with children offered different activities to do such as play dough or puzzles.
  • What they are looking for: The school wants to assess a child’s readiness to attend school in September. While they do not expect a child to be toilet trained at this stage, the child needs an understanding of toilet habits with the expectation the child will be trained by the time they start school.

If a child is clingy, the parent can stay in the room or the assessment will be rescheduled for another time.

When it comes to language, as long as they are fluent in their own language and can communicate with a parent then being able to speak English is not a priority.

4. Repton

  • The session: Assessments of 30 to 45 minutes are carried out in FS1 classrooms in a play setting in groups of five or six children.
  • What they are looking for: Children are assessed for developmental milestones that are age appropriate. The school has the child’s date of birth and will take that into consideration when assessing a child.

If a child is unsettled, a parent is invited to come in and wait for the child to settle. If the child can’t be consoled, the child is asked to return for a session at a later date. Parents are also advised to attend a school tour before the assessment with their child to ensure the school is as familiar to the child as possible.

5. Dubai British School

  • The session: The 30-minute assessment includes other children and parents are urged to settle their child quickly and hand them over to the foundation staff so that they can observe the child interacting with other children and engaging in activities.
  • What they are looking for: The school analyses several criteria. These include how well the child separates from the carer as well as the response to another adult, eye contact, playing appropriately with equipment, ability to listen to a story and communication.

So how do I prepare for those assessments?

After speaking to multiple schools, there are very specific points and advice we think are important to follow.  We understand how hard it can be as all of us really want our child to do well but making them nervous will only make it stressful for them.  So here you go:

  • Do not stress: The school is not expecting a child of this age to have a vast vocabulary, know the whole alphabet or even to be able to count to 10. The assessment is more about judging your child at the stage they are right now so there’s no point trying to teach them time tables or all the colours in the run up to the assessment.
  • Let your child be themselves: The assessor is more interested in your child than you, so if you are present during the assessment don’t try to direct them.  This will stress your child and stress you.  Just let your child be themselves and interact the way they are most comfortable.  The focus of the assessment is to see how your child interacts with other child in the group session as well as adults other than their parents.
  • Don’t fear the tears: If your child won’t settle and refuses to separate from you, don’t panic. Schools expect children of this age to be clingy and while ideally they want to see how a child interacts with other children and adults without you there, they will generally make exceptions. Another assessment can be scheduled, or the school may consider observing your child with you present in the room.
  • Listen to advice: Schools are looking for children that are ready to come into school rather than the next Mensa candidate. If they feel that your child is not mature enough for a school environment that demands longer hours and more focus, they may advise you to keep your child in nursery for another year and join school in FS2 instead. Take this advice on board and keep your child where they feel most comfortable to allow them time to mature
  • Nappies are okay: Most schools will expect your child to be toilet trained by the time they start school but it is not critical to have them dry at the assessment.  For example some schools will give you an offer with the condition that your child is toilet trained by the time they start school.
  • Your child’s age is considered: Younger children, i.e. those that will only turn three towards the end of the academic year, will be assessed with their age taken into consideration. A teacher will not expect the same from a child who turned three in September and a child who turns three the following August.
  • English is important but not essential: To secure a place at an English speaking school, a child will often be expected to have a basic understanding of English. But if they are comfortable speaking in another language at the assessment, this will be accepted too.
  • Don’t beat yourself up: If your child doesn’t secure a place at your favourite school, don’t be hard on yourself. Remember demand for places in Dubai is sky-high and teachers have to make quick decisions in the assessment.  Remember that sometimes your child may not get a spot not based on the assessment at all but just for the fact that there are not many spaces and all of them went to siblings, so don’t beat yourself up and do not make your child feel inadequate.

If you are still confused about the school you want to send you child to, you can compare over 200 schools in UAE on souqalmal.com and get information from fees, teachers to kids ratio, curriculum, location and much more.