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Pricey schools in Dubai indifferent to new parents, shows survey

Mystery shoppers say high-end schools generally indifferent to needs of parents seeking children’s admission

Gulf News

Dubai: Premium schools in Dubai are generally not bothered about the individual needs of parents seeking to enrol their children, a new report suggests.

The findings came in Tuesday’s report by the Education Intelligence Group (EIG), whose mystery shoppers reviewed the school websites, social media channels, quality of telephone interactions, school tours and appointments.

Over two-third (67 per cent) of the mystery shoppers would not recommend the schools to a friend based on their experience of enquiring and interacting with the school staff.

Less than half of the mystery shoppers thought the schools focused on their individual needs when they made enquiries to register their children in the school.

Shaun Robison, director of EIG, told Gulf News that this is the first time its first mystery shopper survey results are being made public.

He said a mix of 18 British and American schools — all with fees starting at a minimum Dh40,000 for Foundation Stage One — were visited by the mystery shoppers last month.

Survey feedback

The identities of the surveyed schools and mystery shoppers were not revealed. However, Robison confirmed to Gulf News that none of the mystery shoppers was someone actually seeking a seat for a child in the schools.

Describing her experience on a school tour, a mystery shopper said: “They never asked my child’s name, year group, or what they enjoyed doing. So, as a parent, I have no idea what they could offer my child.”

Another said “the registrar was informative but never asked for my contact details”, while a third said “I spoke to admissions directly and none of my questions were answered and I was told to check the website”.

Customer service

The report draws attention to the quality of customer service provided by schools to prospective parents looking to register their children. Robison described it as “a timely reminder that the education sector needs to review its admission processes and its approach to prospective parents as the market is too competitive to accept complacency”.

Dubai has seen a record 15 new schools opening this academic year — more than double the number of new schools that opened last academic year. As a result, competition has heated up between schools.

Citing publicly available figures from the advertising industry, Robinson said the EIC report notes that school marketing budgets in the UAE have doubled since the last year, when schools spent over $14.6 million (around Dh53.8 million) on advertising, excluding digital spending.

Lacklustre’ attitude

Tuesday’s EIC report pointed out that “interestingly, the new schools fared much better in the survey compared to the most established schools. In some cases, the educational messages were exceptional and very convincing”.

“The more established schools were judged as lacklustre and the parents were not convinced about their persuasiveness and communication due to their lack of professionalism and lack of streamlined processes.”

Robison explained that the schools were grouped in three categories — new schools (open for less than two years), those running for two to five years and “established” schools (open for more than five years).

Two of the highest performing schools in the survey were new schools and the next two were those open for less than five years. Robison said established schools were given the lowest ranking by the mystery shoppers.