A Hands-On Guide To School Curricula

Deciding on a curriculum is one of the most important decisions you will make when looking for a new school for your child or even if you’re looking to change schools. In Dubai., around two thirds of schools offer either the American, British or International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula, but what are the options, benefits and qualifications pupils can expect from these three different curricula? Here is our brief guide of what stands out when choosing the curriculum that fits best for your child.

Curriculum Overview

British: The compulsory national curriculum subjects are the ‘core’ and ‘foundation’ subjects. Core subjects are English, mathematics and science, while foundation subjects are computing, physical education and citizenship. Schools must also offer at least one subject in the areas of art, design and technology, humanities and modern foreign languages.

American: The US curriculum is based on American Common Core State Standards for English language, arts, mathemtics, history and geography, science, social studies and physical education.

International Baccalaureate (IB): The IB has three key programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP), which are designed to build on each other as a spiralling framework. Mirroring a student’s human developmental stages, while ensuring key themes, shared language and skills, are built upon in each stage.


British: Secondary school students work towards taking GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education). In higher education, they can take AS-Levels, A-Levels, GNVQs, BTECs or other such qualifications.

American: The high school diploma is awarded to students who graduate from secondary school. Additionally, the General Educational Development (GED) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are certificates recognised in the US. College Board Advanced Placement (AP) allows secondary school graduates to earn undergraduate credits for first-year university courses.

International Baccalaureate (IB): Students are awarded the IB Diploma, working towards a maximum of 45 points.

How Work Is Graded

British: For GCSEs, a grading scale of nine down to one is used, with nine the top grade. Assessment is mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills.

American: For the General Educational Development, students can earn a score between 200 and 800 for each section of the test. The minimum passing requirement is an average of 450 points in all content areas, and a minimum score of 410 in any of them. SATs are scored between 200 to 800 points per content area, with total scores between 600 and 2,400. 

International Baccalaureate (IB): Each subject is graded from one to seven, while a further three points are available for the CAS (creativity, action, service) element, for a maximum of 45 points.

Here’s What School Heads Have To Say About Their Own Schools Curriculum

International Baccalaureate (IB):
Focus on emotional intelligence
Glen Radojkovich, Head of School CEO, GIS (GEMS International School) says, “A students’ emotional intelligence is as important as their academic understandings, the IB recognises this. It ensures all community members use a shared language (the Learner Profile) to foster a set of values, designed to make our students, caring, highly successful young people, and later in life positive contributors to society. These attributes are both modelled and used as the learning language for our learners to develop.“

Practical approach to learning 
“Running parallel to the Learner Profile are the Approaches to Learning. Not what we learn but how we learn it. A deep dive into really understanding communication, research, self-management, social skills and thinking skills. These skill sets enable our students to collaborate effectively and share perspectives. The realisation that how we work with others and convey ideas, is as important, if not more so than retaining and accurately recounting knowledge sets or problem solving”, adds Glen Radojkovich, Head of School CEO at GIS.

Dean Pyrah, Executive Principal at Victoria International School Sharjah says, “Unlike other courses, teachers taking IB subjects are required to undertake regular professional development and training in their specific subject area and programmes are regularly evaluated through a robust quality assurance regime. This well-rounded approach and the lack of grade inflation over the years, means students with an IB Diploma are highly sought after by universities around the world irrespective of the country they may have studied in.”

International Community - International Curriculum

Christopher Bromham, Principal of Uptown School Mirdif says, “What makes Dubai one of the most exciting cities in the world, is the melting pot of cultures living harmoniously under the auspices of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Our children can learn as much from each other, about different customs and cultures, as they can learn from their teachers! The International Baccalaureate Curriculum takes this diversity into the classroom. In history, students do not just learn about British history but world history; in literature, students do not just study western classics but classic works from around the globe. Being an international school should not just be about flags, festivals and foods (as enjoyable as this is!). Being an international school should be about developing an intercultural understanding through studying how others live and think, what their art portrays and how their language expresses their identity. The IB curriculum is the only truly international curriculum.

Andrew Mitchell , Head of Primary at Greenfield International School says, “The IB has international mindedness at its core. Students are able to critically appreciate their own culture and personal history, as well as the values and traditions of others. As the world of work becomes more globalised and the need to be able to work in new and diverse environments our IB students are equipped to excel.”

Janecke Aarnaes, Head of School, Dwight School says, “ The IB programmes, the PYP, MYP and DP, provide a strong framework for educating critical thinkers and problem-solvers who become internationally minded, culturally agile global citizens positioned for success in today’s global marketplace. The IB teaches students to think critically, creatively, ethically and globally to develop a lifelong love for learning. Recognised worldwide as the “gold standard” in pre-university preparation, the comprehensive IB curriculum focusses on intercultural awareness, which is a particularly important feature in the UAE, where the history, culture, beliefs and traditions of many nationalities live in unison with that of the host nation. No other curriculum fits better with the UAE and Dwight’s vision of educating the next generation of innovative and culturally aware global leaders than the IB.” 

UK Curriculum

Give Access To Global Educational Institutions 
“With more than 3,700 international schools offering the English National Curriculum, British education is truly global. The GCSE and A-Level qualifications are highly regarded around the world and recognised as valid entry qualifications into all forms of further education. Likewise, the developing BTEC programme is now widely recognised by higher education institutions internationally. Students studying at British international schools can feel confident that their schooling will provide them with access to degree and career opportunities anywhere in the world”, says Simon Jodrell, Principal of Dubai British School. 

A Broad Curriculum

Brendon Fulton, Principal of Dubai British School Jumeirah Park says, “The English National Curriculum is broad; one that gradually becomes more specialised as students mature. Whilst in the younger year’s students develop skills and understanding across all learning areas, there are choices for GCSE subjects when students get to Year 10. Depending on the school, students normally choose up to 10 or 11 subjects from an offering of at least double that. At Dubai British Schools these options include, aside from the cores of English, maths and science; psychology, photography, food technology, music, and many more interesting and varied subjects. This range of options allows students to personalise their career paths towards their considered career options.” Critical Thinking

Wayne Howsen, Principal at The Aquila School tells us, “A variety of approaches and strategies such as group work and enquiry-based learning are used to encourage children to think independently and creatively. Rather than follow more traditional ways of teaching such as using worksheets and pre-planned lessons, teachers are empowered to tailor their teaching to the interests and learning needs of their children. The Aquila School is enabling children to think for themselves, and to be responsible for their own learning.”

American Curriculum

Michael Cipriano, Principal at Nibras International School says, “The benefit of an American curriculum education is the development of the whole student into a well-rounded young adult with the required 21st century learning skills that will ensure their success in the future. 

Extracurricular activities and international enrichment opportunities are a strong part of NIS commitment to students’ development. Our students have opportunities to participate in events such as the Model United Nations, the Global Future Leaders Conference, and the ISP Buddy Exchange Program. These unique opportunities enable students to explore a diversity of cultures and develop cultural sensitivity and awareness and provide a unique NIS student experience .” 

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