Choosing Between British and American Curriculums in the UAE: What’s Best for Your Child?

Sunmarke Blog > Education > Choosing Between British and American Curriculums in the UAE: What’s Best for Your Child?

When it comes to educational systems in the UAE, an interesting trend has emerged, say experts. According to a report released in 2022 by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the British curriculum is the most popular choice in Dubai, with 36% of students attending British curriculum schools. The Indian curriculum follows with 26% and the American educational system is chosen by 15% of students, predominantly from Emirati families. With top-rated institutions like Sunmarke and Regent International adhering to the UK model, it is easy to see why many parents choose this option for their children.

American  Curriculum Vs British Curriculum: What’s Best for Your Child?

The ultimate decision regarding the curriculum your child follows should be based on what suits them best. However, to make an informed choice, it is essential to understand the nuances, differences and benefits of each educational system.

Features of the American Curriculum

In the UAE, American curriculum schools largely follow the US Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards for science. The American curriculum is known for its flexibility and emphasis on a broad-based education, allowing students to explore their interests and develop critical thinking skills which makes it a preferred option for many families.

Structure of the American Curriculum

  1. Elementary School (Grades K-5): Spanning from kindergarten (ages 5-6) to fifth grade (ages 10-11), this stage focuses on foundational skills in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. Art, music, physical education and sometimes foreign languages are also introduced.
  2. Middle School or Junior High (Grades 6-8): Building on the elementary foundation, students explore more specialised subjects and elective courses in areas such as technology, computer science and foreign languages.
  3. High School (Grades 9-12): Preparing students for college and careers, the high school curriculum includes core subjects and a variety of electives, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses, honours courses, vocational education, fine arts and extracurricular activities.
  4. Post-Secondary Education: Students may pursue further education at colleges, universities, technical schools, or vocational institutions.

American Curriculum Exams

  1. SAT Exam: The SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) is typically taken in the final year of high school and is required for admission to many universities in the US and abroad. It assesses skills in English reading, writing and mathematics. Do note that the SAT is often not recognised in most Arab countries as equivalent to a high school diploma. However the UAE allows you take this exam which is again a huge advantage for families residing in this country.  
  2. AP Exam: Overseen by The College Board, AP (Advanced Placement) exams are more comprehensive than the SAT and require thorough preparation.
  3. ACT Exam: Administered by the ACT organisation, this exam assesses English, reading, mathematics and science for university admissions in the US.
  4. IB Diploma Exam: Although not an American exam, the IB DP (International Baccalaureate Diploma) is an internationally recognised qualification.

Features of the British Curriculum

The British curriculum, widely adopted in British schools in the UAE and beyond, is known for its structured approach and comprehensive subject range. It aims to provide a well-rounded education that equips students to face a competitive world. 

Structure of the British Curriculum

  1. Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS): For ages 0-5, this stage focuses on seven areas of learning, including communication, physical development and mathematics, emphasising play-based learning and exploration.
  2. Key Stage 1 (KS1) & Key Stage 2 (KS2): The primary years are for ages 5-7 (years 1-2) and 7-11 (years 3-6)  respectively with core subjects including English, mathematics, science and computing alongside foundation subjects like art, geography and history.
  3. Key Stage 3 (KS3): For ages 11-14 (years 7-9), the curriculum introduces more specialised subjects such as history, geography, modern foreign languages and design and technology.
  4. Key Stage 4 (KS4) – GCSE: For ages 14-16 (years 10-11), students take exams leading to GCSE qualifications in core subjects and chosen electives.
  5. Post-16 Education – A-Levels and Vocational Qualifications: Students can pursue A-Levels or vocational qualifications like BTECs, providing pathways to universities or specific careers.

British Curriculum External Exams

Students in British system schools begin taking external exams, such as the IGCSE at the end of Year 11, with preparation starting in Grade 9. These exams, issued by bodies like Cambridge and Edexcel, assess a range of subjects and are key for further education and employment.

American Curriculum Vs. British Curriculum: The differences  

While both educational systems aim to provide quality learning for children, they differ in several key aspects:

  1. The core structure:
    • American Curriculum: Known for its flexibility and decentralisation, it follows a K-12 structure with a wide range of electives and extracurricular activities.
    • British Curriculum: More centralised and standardised, it provides a structured framework with prescribed learning objectives and subject content.
  2. The basic philosophy:
    • American Curriculum: Emphasises individualism, innovation and student-centred learning, focusing on holistic development.
    • British Curriculum: Reflects a traditional and academic approach, prioritising knowledge acquisition and intellectual rigour.
  3. Subjects & Specialisation:
    • American Curriculum: Offers a wide range of electives, encouraging students to explore diverse subjects.
    • British Curriculum: Emphasises core subjects and specialisation, with a prescribed set of subjects for all students.
  4. Assessment & Evaluation:
    • American Curriculum: Utilises varied and holistic assessments, including standardised tests and project-based evaluations.
    • British Curriculum: Relies on standardised external examinations like GCSEs, determining students’ progression and qualifications.
  5. Post-Secondary Pathways:
    • American Curriculum: Offers multiple pathways, including four-year colleges, community colleges and vocational schools.
    • British Curriculum: Primarily leads to A-Levels or vocational qualifications, recognised for placements to top universities in the world.

American Curriculum Vs. British Curriculum: Which is Better? 

Deciding between the British and American educational systems depends on several factors, including your child’s personality, learning style and future plans. Here are some aspects to consider:

  1. Student’s Personality and Learning Style:
    • If your child thrives in a structured environment with a clear path and regular assessments, the British curriculum may be a better fit. The emphasis on academic rigour and mastery of core subjects can provide a strong foundation for higher education.
    • Conversely, if your child benefits from a more flexible approach that allows them to explore a broad range of interests and develop critical thinking skills, the American curriculum might be more suitable. The variety of electives and extracurricular activities can help foster a well-rounded education.
  2. Educational and Assessment Approach:
    • The British curriculum’s structured approach and focus on external exams can be beneficial for students who excel in traditional academic settings. This system’s emphasis on discipline and respect for authority may also align with some families’ educational values, especially here in the UAE. 
    • The American curriculum’s emphasis on student-centred learning and holistic development can be advantageous for students who prefer a more personalised education. This system’s flexibility in assessment methods, including project-based evaluations and teacher assessments, can cater to different learning styles.
  3. Ability to Handle Exam Stress:
    • The British curriculum involves significant external examinations at various stages, particularly the GCSEs and A-Levels. Students who manage exam stress well and perform consistently in high-pressure situations may find this system rewarding.
    • The American curriculum, with its varied assessment methods, may be less stressful for students who prefer continuous assessment over final exams. This approach allows students to demonstrate their abilities through diverse means, including projects and class participation.
  4. Family’s Plans for University Education:
    • If your family plans for your child to attend university in the UK or other Commonwealth countries, the British curriculum’s A-Levels are widely recognised and respected. This pathway can provide a seamless transition to higher education institutions in these regions.
    • If your family aims for your child to attend university in the US or prefers a flexible approach to university preparation, the American curriculum’s emphasis on college readiness and the availability of AP courses can be advantageous.
  5. Quality of Education and Competence of Teachers:
    • Regardless of the curriculum, the quality of education provided by the school and the competence of its teachers are paramount. Visiting schools, meeting with educators, and understanding their approach to teaching and learning can help you gauge whether the institution aligns with your educational values and expectations.

Further Considerations

When choosing between the two curriculums, it is essential to consider not only the educational philosophy but also the practical aspects of each system. Here are a few additional points to reflect on:

  1. Cultural Fit: The cultural environment of the school can significantly impact your child’s educational experience. British curriculum schools may have a more formal and traditional atmosphere, while American curriculum schools might offer a more relaxed and diverse environment. Consider what type of school culture would best support your child’s growth and development.
  2. Extracurricular Opportunities: Both curriculums offer extracurricular activities, but the range and focus may differ. American schools often emphasise sports, arts and film or drama clubs, providing students with numerous opportunities to develop interests outside the classroom. British schools also offer extracurricular activities but may place more emphasis on academic clubs such as debating societies, science group, mathematics clubs etc. Evaluate which type of extracurricular environment would best suit your child’s interests and needs. Of course, these are not hardened rules as many British curriculum schools in the UAE like Sunmarke offer a great balance between academics and extra-curricular activities as well as boast of excellent infrastructure to promote the arts and sports equally.  
  3. Language and Communication: If your family plans to move or travel frequently, the American curriculum’s emphasis on English language arts and communication skills can be beneficial. This system’s focus on developing strong reading, writing and speaking skills can help your child adapt to different educational settings and environments.
  4. Global Recognition: Both the British and American curriculums are globally recognised, but the extent of recognition may vary by region. British qualifications like the IGCSE and A-Levels are widely accepted in Europe, Asia and the Commonwealth, while American qualifications like the SAT and AP are recognised primarily in the US and Canada. Consider your family’s long-term plans and the regions where you may live or work in the future.


Choosing the right educational system for your child involves weighing multiple factors and understanding the unique characteristics of each system. The British curriculum’s structured approach and emphasis on educational rigour bodes well for higher education in the UK or Commonwealth countries. On the other hand, the more free-flowing and broad-based structure of the American curriculum encourages critical thinking, a questioning mindset and holistic personality growth. The subject range and subjects and assessment methods may be useful for considering higher education in the US or Canada.

Ultimately, the best curriculum for your child is one that aligns with their learning style, strengths and future aspirations. By carefully considering the factors discussed above, you can make an informed decision that supports your child’s academic and personal growth. The key is to find a learning environment that not only challenges and engages your child but also nurtures their individual potential and prepares them for a successful future.

What makes Sunmarke one of the best British Curriculum schools in the UAE? 

The UAE offers plenty of choices for parents, but if you are looking for an institution that offers the best of all worlds, Sunmarke is a good choice. The school has distinguished itself as one of Dubai’s top international schools offering a British curriculum through diverse coursework, an inspiring value-based education and a forward-thinking approach, embodying the spirit of its slogan – Where Amazing Happens. 

While it has retained the core of the British educational system in its structure, assessment and stages of education, there are several factors that that elevate the education offered to make it truly global. For instance, the unique Signature Programmes that focus on the physical and mental development of a child. Secondly, Sunmarke is one of the few schools in the country to offer both, the IB and A-level curriculum pathways as well as BTECs. Over and above, the school has numerous programmes to ensure children grow to become global citizens, including language lessons, a dynamic creative arts programme, sports infrastructure, an unparalleled STEAM and design thinking programme, high-tech labs and industry networking opportunities.

Influenced by the legacy of Fortes Education, renowned for its educational achievements, Sunmarke is guided by the philosophy of Positive Education that believes that truly outstanding education is not just about academic and personal achievements but also about the development of character, values and wellbeing. Consistently rated ‘Very Good’ by KHDA, the definitive authority of education in the UAE, as well as ‘Outstanding’ by the British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection report in 2023, Sunmarke is a leading choice in private education offering British curriculum in the region.

Schedule a tour to experience the facilities firsthand and learn more about the admissions process. 

Note: This article offers general insights into the benefits of a private education and does not serve as an endorsement by Sunmarke School.