UAE private schools see boost to January pupil intake
Some private schools in the UAE have reported a rise in new pupil enrolments for January. Reem Mohammed / The National Numbers of pupils enrolling at some private schools across the Emirates for the start of the January term have risen by almost a quarter, new figures suggest.
Schools said the bulk of the new intake consisted of children from families arriving in the country for the first time for the New Year.
In recent months, an increasingly competitive private sector has seen schools offer substantial discounts on fees in a drive to continue to attract pupils.
But despite greater choice for parents, a number of private schools in the UAE said demand for places remained strong, with reputation a key factor in decision-making.
Alan Williamson, chief executive of Taaleem, which runs 10 schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, said pupil enrolment had risen sharply.
“Taaleem is currently looking at a 20 per cent year on year increase in new enrolments for January,” he told The National .
“This is attributed to our recent ‘Make Their Big Dreams Happen for Less’ campaign that has both raised awareness of our broad curriculum offering as well as responding to current market conditions.”
In August, Dubai’s education regulator announced eight new private schools would open in the emirate by September 2020.
Officials from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority said this would add 13,000 new places for pupils in an already competitive sector.
As a result, schools in the emirate have become increasingly creative to help retain existing pupil numbers and attract new students.
Discounts for siblings attending the same school has been one tactic employed by schools, along with significant tuition fee reductions for early enrolment.
“We have seen a huge uptake in admissions across Aldar Academies in 2019,” said Stephen Sharples, director of education for Aldar Education, which runs eight schools in Abu Dhabi.
He said enrolments for January had soared this year, with an “an eight-fold increase in new enrolments for term 2 compared to January 2018”.
“The vast majority of students are joining us from overseas [or] outside of Abu Dhabi and demand has been very high, leading to the addition of extra classes in some academies to accommodate this,” he said.
After recently moving from the UK to Dubai, Charli Wylde, a mother-of-one, said she had found the transfer experience “easy and stress-free”.
“The school was always in contact, they communicated with [my daughter’s] previous school in the UK to complete her entry exam,” she told The National .
“I found the process easier than it is in UK schools. Our daughter is in Safa Community School in Dubai and I couldn’t recommend them enough.
“Yes, you have to pay a deposit [to secure a conditional offer] but you also have to do that in the UK.
“And like any deposit it’s non-refundable if you choose to not place your child in that school.”
According to WhichSchoolAdvisor, an international schools guide that surveyed UAE parents in December, a low teacher to student ratio was seen as the top factor in choosing a school.
A ‘happy school’ as well as the ‘qualifications of teachers’ were seen as the second and third most important elements for determining choice.
Speaking to The National last year, Judith Finnemore, an education consultant, said getting the right curriculum was important to parents too.
She said the International Baccalaureate, widely offered by Taaleem, was often considered the most suitable for those children likely to be schooled in multiple countries.
Rita Begum, a mother-of-two, said she had recently moved to Dubai from the UK and had registered her daughter at Horizon English School.
“I pretty much enrolled my daughter before we came,” she said. “I paid the deposits without even visiting, it was stress-free.
“It’s a good job we loved the school once we did visit. My daughter is only four and would have started reception at home in the UK so it will be her first taste of ‘big school’ and in a foreign country.”
Samantha W. also recently arrived in the UAE from the UK and enrolled her two children at Safa Community School on Sunday.
She said she found the process “relatively easy” and that pupils were invited in before the start of term to meet their teachers to help them settle.
“We have 22 [pupils] joining in all [and it is] a definite mix,” said Sally Ryecroft, the school’s admissions manager.