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Modern Alternative Education School (MAE), Jumeirah

Modern Alternative Education School (MAE), Jumeirah

by July 8, 2016

MAE will offer something very, very special for Dubai and the Emirates when it opens in September this year. The school is now open to pre-register children from the age of 8 to graduation. Founding students and parents, in a school so centred on individual children, will play a formative role is establishing the school’s direction, culture and success.

Founded to fill the existing gap in high quality education between mainstream schools and special needs centres, Modern Alternative Education is a new school that we all have a stake in supporting, this despite the fact that it has been designed, ground up for children with Special Educational Needs – and more specifically, those children who have, until now, fallen through the cracks between mainstream schools, which do not have the resources to provide the quality and individual care those children need, and specialist SEN Centres – often so outside the mainstream that children’s life chances invariably become limited.

The school’s aim is to provide high quality education and specialized services for children with learning difficulties from the ages of 8 – 18 years old who are struggling in mainstream schools, yet whose impairment is not severe enough for them to fit within the more remote, non-mainstream Special Needs centres.

The school program will run from September to July, Sunday to Thursday, 8:30 am to 2:30 pm and all teaching faculty are Special Education Needs (SEN) qualified teachers and/or behavioral experts. Every child is promised an IEP, vocational training, life skills, tailored academic courses and social skills programs set in their daily schedule according to their functional level.  Staff: student ratios will vary between 1:1 and 1:6 according to need.

MAE represents potentially one of the most important new school/centre openings in Dubai since education began in the emirates. There are simply not the places currently for a significant group of children whose needs place impossible demands on even the most inclusive schools.

The story of the school begins with its founder, Rana Akkad Atassi, a mother of an autistic child, Jad, who faced the impossible challenge faced by so many parents of finding an educational home for their child that would offer as near to possible mainstream schooling, but with all the attention, love and expert care and educational development that the non-mainstream “separate” SEN schools offer.

Ms Atassi wanted her child to have the same life chances as all children should have, not outside society – but within it. “I faced the same problem so many parents face – I invested an arm and a leg for early intervention, travelled the world, did everything by the book for my child. But the options for children with high-functioning autism are just two – to either go to a centre for special needs or autism, all of which are great, but my son doesn’t belong there. Or travel to another country altogether because mainstream schools do not accept them or are not qualified to deal with them.”

By galvanising the great and the good in the UAE to help build a school that did not exist. Ms Atassi had an unwavering conviction that it could be done, and she has resolutely not given up in bringing the school to fruition. To date she has brought with her a who’s who of Emirates  philanthropists and companies ranging from Aramex to  Manara Capital.


MAE seeks to build fees that as far as possible based on parental circumstances – and individual child programmes based entirely on meeting every need of the student under their care. Ms Atassi quotes Ignacio Estrada as a guiding light of the school’s approach to teaching children.

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn. Ignacio Estrada, quoted by Rana Akkad Atassi, Founder, Modern Alternative Education School

Tellingly, unlike every other school in the UAE, Ms Atassi judges herself and her school on the ability wherever possible not to keep the children in her care within the school, but to see them enabled sufficiently to be able to return to mainstream education – with the tools that they need to thrive. Some considerable ambition…

Facilities and key features will include a full diagnosis hub with responsibility for the creation of Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) for every child; specialist classrooms with bespoke “fidgety items” and sensory input equipment; digital classrooms; sensory room(s) with specialist light, tactile and sound equipment; Occupational Therapy (OT) room and related specialist facilities for provision in physical, mental, or cognitive disorders; therapy activities including horseback riding; Art Therapy facilities; a dedicated educational psychologist; a guarantee that 100% of faculty will be recruited on the basis of specialist Special Educational Needs (SEN) or Behavioral training/expertise; a large, specially equipped outdoor play area; and, full kitchenette facilities to ensure each child’s food requirements can be prepared to meet their individual needs.

The school is affiliated with Clonlara School in the United States, from which its programmes draw significant inspiration. You can find more on the school and its approach here.

Clonlara has offices in Germany, Spain, Hungary and Portugal for delivery of its off-campus programmes and its  affiliate schools stretch from Mozambique to Costa Rica. It offers up to 150 courses that MAE can source according to the needs of each child. It makes little sense here detailing the provision  because the whole approach is individualised and child-centric. The key element that prospective parents should take away however, is the programme is quite exceptional in its breadth, quality and ability to engage children. MAE has invested considerably in sourcing a US partner with the quality and expertise to support its children.

Ms Atassi has conducted a number of interviews directed at an Arabic audience which can be found below for completeness, but prospective parents should note that this is an international school with an open role to all the children that need it. Again, MAE it is defined better in saying less about what the school offers and to whom, but more about delivering whatever each child needs, when they need  it.

Our view? It probably does not need any more said about the ambition underlying, and the importance of this school to many, many children . With all schools in planning, however, there are always risks. Ms Atassi is taking on a quite Herculean task. We wish MAE every possible success.



Details to consider
Type of school


WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review


Average Cost Per Year

Fees are bespoke to the individual needs of the child and family circumstances


Special Educational Needs (SEN)
(1) Bespoke academic and whole child curriculum according the the needs of the child

External Exam Boards

Affiliated to Clonlara School, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United State


Fully inclusive
(1) The school will only take children for whom mainstream schooling is not an option. Wherever possible, the founders believe that children will primarily benefit from a mainstream education
(2) All teachers are Special Educational Needs (SEN) professionals
(3) All Teaching Assistants (TAs) are fully trained behavior analysts
(4) All students have their own Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and modified programs to meet their direct individual needs, abilities and care requirements
(5) Full support is offered to children from across the Special Educational Needs spectrum, moderate to severe, as long as they are not accepted within mainstream schooling.
(6) The school offers specialist Gifted and Talented (G&T) programmes including those tailored to children with Autism who excel in major areas including Art and Mathematics

Waiting list


Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

School in planning

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:1 - 1:6 according to need

Largest nationality teachers

School in planning

Teacher turnover

School in planning

Year opened

Planned for September 2016


Jumeirah, Dubai

Student composition

School in planning


Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes (Kitchenette. Students bring their own meals which are prepared with the help of faculty)


Rana Akkad Atassi (founder and Managing Director)

Admissions Telephone

Not published

Web Address

• A specialised school that plans to meet the needs of a defined group children with SEN to a standard, breadth and quality of tailored individual attention not currently available in the Emirates
• A new approach to education designed to support and empower children in returning to mainstream education at the soonest opportunity
• Extraordinary richness and breadth of course provision from its US partner Clonlara
• Support from philanthropists and industry
• Accomplished, personally committed and impressive founder with the tenacity and the personal investment to ensure that children are cared for to an exceptional standard


• Inevitable risks of any school in planning phase
• Until a school opens, critique is limited to the ambitions of the school, its partnerships and founding leadership. There are many areas that any review cannot determine without provision being in operation.

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• An exceptionally important school for an important group of vulnerable children offering parents the hope that their children can be returned to mainstream education, rather than being marginalised outside it.

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About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]

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