| Dubai, United Arab Emirates


Choosing the right school for your kids

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With all the recent talk of new schools and the potential parental choice this brings, Time Out Kids spoke to education expert, Lyn Soppelsa of whichschooladvisor.com about why now is the perfect time to start looking at new schools, whether you’re new to the city or just planning an educational upgrade

Until recently, conventional wisdom stated that parents should just be grateful to have their kids in school- ANY school, however since September- the rules have changed. With new schools and new KHDA policy, the education landscape has finally began to swing in parental favour- hurrah!

What Changed?
In total 11 brand spanking new schools opened in September, creating a staggering 22,000 new places. According to Lyn, new schools fall into three broad categories.

The new contenders- unknown names, which are as yet, somewhat unproven

Those that are part of a known local group- Groups like GEMS, Taaleem and Kings, know what they’re doing and do it well, these new schools generally ‘hit the ground running’

The BIG brand names- These boast a tried and tested international formula, that many parents (especially those from outside the UAE) already know and trust.

She goes on to explain, “New schools are good news, they offer a new, fresh environment for everyone and often with classes still to fill, the teacher: student ratios are very favourable.”

In addition, the KHDA has softened its policy on when children already registered in Dubai can change schools. Previously, this could only happen before November (for International curricula) and January for UK curriculum. However, they’ve now announced kids can move between curricula at almost any-time, depending on availability and assessment.

But what does this really means to Dubai’s parents? And, how can we take best advantage of it all?

Lyn suggests when choosing a new school look for an established group, whether that’s international or local. Bear in mind though, for the former, always check that there is direct input from the “Home” school team and that this is not just little more than a local franchise.

It’s worth noting that new schools jump through many hoops before getting approval from the KHDA. “There’s a rigorous process and the authority needs to be sure the school has adapted suitably for the local environment; what works for a small prep school in the South of England, requires significant re-tuning to be relevant in Dubai, schools cannot simply be transplanted,” she says.

Lateral movement
With 22,000 new places today, and the KHDA’s plan to add a further 80 schools by 2020, for the first time in the city’s history, parents are in the driving seat, with supply outstripping demand.

While schools in Dubai differ in their admission and application times, January is still a great time to start the process, Lyn tells us. Research is essential. Start by checking out whichschooladvisor.com and the KHDA websites. Think about contacting your chosen school for a ‘tour’ and ask other parents about their experiences.

Secondary secrets
If you’re currently in a primary school without a secondary attached, then Lyn suggests year 4 is the ideal time to start applying for the secondary you really want. “It’s important to check potential schools accreditations, as not all are currently accredited to the relevant bodies,” she says.
If you want British, you also need to think about exams- GCSE or IGCSE at 16 and IB Diploma or A Levels are all options. She says, “Many schools also have stronger proportions of some nationalities and may give priority to these and/or corporate reserved places, so do your research before applying.”

Special Educational Needs (SEN)
Now more than ever, the KHDA is pushing for adequate SEN provision. While some schools are better geared up for this, Lyn advocates disclosure of any testing parents might have had done or worries they might have, as non-disclosure WILL lead to issues later down the line.

Lyn feels strongly that parents should stay away from additional help in preparation for admission exams, unless it’s to address minor gaps. “Parents can do a disservice with intensive tutoring, as it might get kids through the entrance exam, but what happens when they join the class and just can’t maintain the pace?” she says.
And she isn’t alone, “several of the outstanding schools are now researching changing their exams to fit around lateral thinking and problem solving skills, rather than the traditional English and Maths entrance exam. This means kids can’t prep like they did before,” she says.

Did You Know?

Approximately 10-15% of school places open up throughout the year.

Foundation, years 6-7 and GCSE years are the hardest years to find places.

Dubai’s 12 ‘Outstanding’ schools are - not surprisingly- the hardest to find places.

Traditionally parents have been advised to apply to 3 schools; however research has shown they often try for significantly more.

By Time Out Dubai Kids staff
Time Out Dubai,

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