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The Choice between New and Established Schools
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In recent years, a significant number of new schools have opened – particularly in Dubai – to meet the increasing demand from families relocating to the UAE and the desire of Emirati families to place their children in international schools. This trend is now being seen in the other Emirates. Whilst a welcome relief for parents who have struggled to find places for their children in the past, there is often some concern as to whether these new schools can match up to the more established ones.

The good news is that owners and operators of all new schools go through a rigorous application process to prove their suitability prior to receiving approval to open.

Experience, funding and accreditation are key requirements and operators are expected to take fully into account the nature of the UAE and to ensure that they adapt to local culture and educational expectations.

Requirements for staff are also demanding.

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all teaching staff must have relevant professional teaching qualifications and a minimum of two years teaching experience. Elsewhere in the UAE, staff must all have a Bachelor’s degree in the subject they are teaching and increasing requirements related to teaching qualifications are being implemented.

Staff applying for more senior positions must have proven experience and Principals are interviewed by the Regulator prior to approval being granted for their appointment. It is unusual for a Principal to be appointed who has not had recent, direct experience in the same position.

New schools – due to the increased competition in the market – tend also to have excellent facilities and infrastructure, with the latest technology already installed in their state of the art building. What may seem to be missing, of course, is the experience and reputation that can only be gained over a period of years.

Even this perception is not entirely true. Many schools that have opened in the UAE are associated with established schools overseas or local operators with previous experience. Even if this is not the case, the requirements in relation to investors, owners, management and staff are such that, in reality, all will have proven their experience and ability.

The nature of a new school is often one where staff are potentially more committed and enthusiastic, as they work together to build a reputation for the school and develop their own skills in a new environment. Often, they also have more involvement in establishing policies, curriculum delivery and resourcing, being able to have access to the “latest”, unlike in an established school where this is likely already to be in place or where budget constraints may prevent the investment in the most recent developments.

There can be a sense of ownership and excitement in a new school that is more difficult to find in an established one, many of whom, in our experience, can become somewhat complacent. This commitment is frequently reflected in a more enthusiastic approach from staff and, therefore, a more engaged response from children.

Due to the restrictions placed on established schools in increasing fees (which have to be approved by the Regulator, based on the school’s performance during the inspection process), new schools have tended to be more expensive for parents.  The additional fees are driven by the cost of developing the school, staffing it and resourcing it, but also through ensuring sufficient income for the initial 2-3 years before the initial all-important inspection, during which time increases are not permitted.

With greater availability of places has come a new initiative, whereby new schools routinely offer Founders’ Fee discounts in the first year or more. In some instances, there are even guarantees that the fees will remain the same throughout the child’s time at the school, irrespective of any approved increases after inspection.  These discounts can make a substantial difference!

There has also been a recognition by some schools that the market is changing and that many parents are looking for more affordable schooling options.  SchoolsCompared.com breaks down schools into Value Schools, Mid Range Fee Schools, Premium Fee Schools and Premium Plus Schools.

There have been several new school openings in the past year where fees have been within the AED 20,000-30,000 range and this is a trend we expect to continue.  However, to achieve this, schools are inevitably having to make savings and this is most likely to be in facilities, and more importantly, in staff:student ratios where classes of 30 (the maximum permitted) are becoming the norm.

If you have a child at a critical time in their education (particularly later Secondary or High School), it is almost inevitable that you will want your child to attend a school that has the experience at this especially demanding time. The Regulators recognise this by generally preventing new schools from opening beyond Primary/Elementary or lower Secondary and Middle School until such time as the school has established itself and proven itself academically. As such, a new school is less likely to be an option.

However, the benefit of being in the initial cohort of graduating students who have developed with the school is often that there will have been a unique opportunity to benefit from smaller class sizes and greater staff involvement. New schools do not usually fill all classes from day one, and will generally open an additional class in the same year group or grade when the original class is probably at around 2/3 capacity.

This often means that children benefit from a lower staff:student ratio with more individual attention as a result. The downside may be a reduction of subject options – and in environment where perhaps a new curriculum is being offered in the final two years – a possible lack of direct experience of the staff involved in delivery.

There have been a few exceptions to the rule for new schools opening to graduating classes – notably for schools that are long-established and experienced in their home country and have shown that there will be strong and direct academic and management ties to the Home-based school. In Dubai, both Kent College and North London Collegiate School have been given approval to open directly to year 12.

For the majority of parents, seeking to place their children in school in the UAE, joining a new school can be a very positive way in which students can get involved in a new community which will grow together. It is also often the ideal way for parents to make new friendships, as they tend to be more involved in working with the school and the students in establishing the community feel.

We would encourage you to be open-minded about the options available to your child and visit both old and new before making your decision.

 

In this series:

MY CHILD DID NOT GET A SCHOOL PLACE. WHAT CAN I DO?
APPLICATION AND ASSESSMENT – WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
CHOOSING A SCHOOL – WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL THE RIGHT ONE FOR MY CHILD?
MOVING TO THE UAE WITH CHILDREN: RULES AND REGULATIONS YOU SHOULD KNOW
THE SCHOOL VISIT CHECKLIST – WHAT YOU NEED TO LOOK FOR… 
THE CHOICE BETWEEN NEW AND ESTABLISHED SCHOOLS 
UAE SCHOOL ACCREDITATION: WHAT TO LOOK FOR, AND WHY? 
WHEN DO I START TO LOOK FOR A SCHOOL?
WHICH SCHOOL CURRICULUM SHOULD I CHOOSE? 

About The Author
Lyn Soppelsa
2 Comments
  • March 30, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Really interesting analysis. Seems to come down in favour of new schools, but surely more established schools will have more robust processes, a settled culture, a history of successes, know how that cannot be bought or imported….

    From a parents perspective, the benefits of an established school like JC, DC, GEMS Wellington, Jess, Kings’… is that they are a known quantity… in a way a new school, no matter how enthusiastic, is not…

    True?

    • March 30, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      HI Sim,

      Indeed, your argument is an entirely valid one. For students joining Secondary School or Middle/High School, there is no doubt that the additional experience and expertise (especially in the university counselling and application process) is important – especially for students applying to university outside the UAE.

      To some extent this is recognised by the Regulators who would not usually permit a school to open beyond Primary/Elementary initially and then have a further “breakpoint” at year 9/grade 8 (so pre-Senior/HIgh School) to ensure that all the key criteria in terms of academic standards, governance and staffing are in place. By the time a student joins year 10/grade 9, a school will have been operating for at least 3 years if not longer.

      This is not a long time compared with many schools overseas, nor with some of the oldest established Not-for -profit schools in the UAE, who have been here for anything between 20 and 50 years. But if you take into account the newer schools that are deemed to be performing at an Outstanding level in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, most are still only 10 years old or thereabouts.

      However, it is the organisations behind these schools that are often involved in the newer ones and are using their experience to ensure delivery of a high quality education very early on in the development of a school. What the schools lack directly in the settled culture and history of successes, they seem to be making up for through the transfer of those processes and the experience of the key staff they employ.

      Of course, families will tend to target schools with the history, the experience and the results, but where access to such schools is not an option, I would suggest that there are newer schools that can offer other benefits (excellent staff, smaller class sizes, more up-to-date facilities, resources and methodologies) that can provide a very high quality of education.

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