As Saudi Arabia's formal centre of commerce and diplomacy, Riyadh has historically had a large expat community. As such, the city has a good selection of international schools to serve the needs of its foreign population.
While foreigners have access to Saudi government schools, the language and cultural barriers leave few expat families willing to brave the switch. This increases demand at international schools, resulting in limited places and often hefty fees. It's therefore important that expats apply to several schools as early as possible.
International schools in Riyadh
The requirements for securing a place at an international school in Riyadh vary from one institution to the next. Some schools may require written references from a child's previous schools while others require students to sit an entrance examination. While most international schools in Riyadh are not selective, others, such as the British and American schools, give preference to students according to their nationality. Although it is not necessary for children to attend a school sponsored by their country of origin, the logistical transition between systems tends to be easiest in this sort of situation.
A non-refundable application fee is standard procedure. Some schools also require parents to pay an extra seat deposit. In addition, parents often have to fork out for uniforms, textbooks and extra-curricular activities. It is therefore advisable for expats to negotiate a schooling allowance into their expat relocation packages wherever possible.
The school year in Saudi Arabia runs from September to June, and is normally divided into two or three semesters, depending on the school. The school week is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday being the weekend. School days are shortened during the holy month of Ramadan.
Homeschooling in Riyadh
Homeschooling is not generally recognised in Saudi Arabia and expats living in Riyadh may struggle to find resources. It's not illegal though, so many expats do take this option, even just temporarily until they manage to secure a place for their child at an international school or during a short-term assignment before going back home.
Special-needs education in Riyadh
With expats being largely reliant on international schools, there isn't one standard policy across schools with the result that some schools are better equipped than others to provide support for students with special educational needs – networking with fellow expat families and researching schools in depth can help determine which school is most suitable.
Tutors in Riyadh
Local families frequently employ tutors to help children become proficient in English as a second language. Non-English-speaking expat families in Saudi Arabia can benefit from doing the same, while those looking to learn or improve their Arabic should opt for a local Arabic tutor. Major upcoming exams and trouble subjects are also well served by tutors.