It’s no secret that Dubai’s most popular schools are oversubscribed – many have already closed their waiting lists for the 2012 academic year, and for some there’s little chance of even getting a coveted place for the following year. For parents hoping to get their child into a school where they can thrive, the application process can be confusing, worrying AND expensive. It’s not uncommon to fork out for several registration fees to ensure that they’re accepted somewhere, even if it’s not your first choice.
‘Some schools that feel there are administrative costs to recover, choose to charge a registration fee while some others just don’t,’ explains Mohammed Darwish, Chief of Regulations and Compliance Commission, KHDA. ‘However schools who choose to charge this fee must have had the KHDA’s prior approval for the same. As the registration fee is just an administrative cost recovery it normally doesn’t guarantee a place in the school.’
‘Reputable schools will only accept your registration fee if there are places available or there is a good chance that you’ll get into the school if there is a waitlist situation,’ says Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem. ‘Unfortunately there do seem to be some operators who do not subscribe to this practice and will keep taking applications regardless of the availability of places. Good schools have written admissions policies which will have a section on how they prioritize their wait lists. Beware of schools that will not provide you with a copy of their admissions policy and will not discuss their wait lists.’
When it comes to getting a coveted place, applying online and hoping for the best is not enough, says Elmarie Venter, Director of School Enrolments and Customer Care at GEMS Education. ‘Be very clear on what curriculum you would like to select, then you need to physically visit and look around. If you’re applying for the British, American and International terms that are beginning in September 2012, I’d say it’s important to choose three schools to be in with a chance of getting a place, because everywhere’s so oversubscribed.’
While certain year groups, particularly kindergarten and foundation years, are oversubscribed across the board, some are easier to get into. ‘In our most popular schools, the seats that are still available are in years 5 and 6, then years 8 and 9,’ says Elmarie. ‘Even so, that’s relative, by March we’ll be full for those year groups, too.’
The rule of thumb is that the earlier you apply, the more likely your child will secure a place, dependent on factors including the assessement and whether the school is selective. ‘It depends on when the school opens their admissions,’ says Elmarie. ‘If a school opens their admissions two years before, obviously that’s the best time.’
After going through the admissions process, which generally involves filling in a form, providing passport copies, visa pages, photos and a Dhs500 registration fee, the child will be put on a waiting list. While some schools choose to disclose your position on the wait list, many do not. ‘There can be so many changes, your position on the list is no guarantee that you’ll get a place or not,’ says Elmarie.
Before a child is granted a place, he or she must undergo an assessment, which will vary according to the child’s age. ‘If your child is visiting a school for an assessment; a parent’s attempts at preparation can raise anxieties in their child causing them stress on the day,’ advises Clive. The assessment of younger children is usually to check that their development has followed the normal path and that they are socially well adjusted. Teachers of young children are usually very adept at observational assessment and will usually look at three areas, motor skills, concepts and language development so that they can prepare for their arrival in class.’
And if you still don’t have a place as the new school term approaches, never fear. ‘Access to education is part of KHDA’s mission,’ says Mohammed Darwish. ‘While the demand for school seats is more in some schools and in some curricula than in others, there are schools that begin the academic year with spare capacity. There will always be a school in Dubai that will accept your child. Parents can admit their child in this school for a year and in the meantime continue to seek admission in the school of their choice.'