While Dubai is well served with schools, one of the great challenges is trying to get your child into a secondary school/college of your choice. In general terms, key decisions have to be made at the time you put your kids into primary school as the most popular secondary schools - JC, DESC, DBS, etc (all the major schools in Dubai seem to be known by acronyms) - use related primary schools as "feeders" ie children at DESS have priority for entrance at DESC although they all still have to do an entrance exam. If there is no spaces available at the time you want to put your kids into primary you either have to move your child from the school that you have been able to get into at a later date if a space becomes available at the "feeder" school for your preferred secondary or you take your chances that there are spaces left after the feeder school pupils, siblings etc. (all of whom are usually higher up the priority pecking order) have had taken up their places in Year 7 of the target secondary school. In the case of the popular schools (all of the above-mentioned) this is easier said than done given the pressure on places (there is one selective school - Dubai College - which does not have a feeder school but again pressure on places is intense and as there is no sibling priority either there is obviously a risk of families with more than one child ending up with different school runs and non-matching holiday timetables).
When we arrived in the desert finding schools with places for two children in separate years was extremely challenging and in the end we had very few options. As it turned out we were very fortunate as the school where we secured places worked very well for us. However, although the owners (GEMS) had a recently opened a secondary school for which it was a feeder, we were a little concerned about sending A. to it - mainly because of the size of the secondary (something like 4,000 pupils once at full capacity) so we had to take our chances through the entrance exams for are preffered schools which basically started in October last year (with DESC) and lasted until the New Year. It was quite interesting to compare the testing process with the 11+ in some parts of the UK. My Sister's daughter had taken her 11+ at the beginning of Year 6 and there were some similarities between the types of 11+ questione she was being asked and the questions in A.'s entrance tests - quite a lot of non-verbal reasoning and "qualatitive" testing as well as some of the more traditional English and Maths based comprehensions. Moreover, the entrance applications for all the schools were fairly complex affairs (requiring examples of their academic and sporting success and details of the child's personality) so the whole application process was very stressful. Fortunatley A. came through it all with his usual aplomb and seems to have settled into his secondary schoolwell. Having been able to move V. to the "feeder" school to the college A. is now at, hopefully the next time we have to do this will be considerably less stressful!