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Schools are attributing the demand for school seats to an increase in families relocating to Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Abu Dhabi: Schools across Abu Dhabi are seeing a huge rush for seats for the upcoming academic year, with operators at the most popular institutions in the emirate saying that more and more people are being added to admission waiting lists.

The surge in demand, brought about by families relocating to the emirate, has therefore prompted a number of operators to open new campuses for existing schools, even as they urge families to plan ahead when seeking admission.

“We witnessed a 9.5 per cent rise in student admissions across the schools we operate including Aldar Academies, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, and Al Shohub Private School. We currently have a total of 33,000 students enrolled across our network of operated and managed schools, and have received more than 4,000 applications since admissions opened in November 2022,” Sabrina Cherrati, group head for enrollment and marketing at Aldar Education, told Gulf News.

Sabrina Cherrati

The Abu Dhabi-based education provider has seen the majority of new admission requests for its primary schools, including Al Muna Academy, The Pearl Academy, Al Yasmina Academy and Al Shohub Private School. A number of these schools are also running at full capacity at the moment, and have an extensive waiting list for the next academic year.

“To address the rising demand, we are set to open two new campuses - for Al Yasmina Academy in the 2024-25 academic year and Cranleigh Pre-Prep Abu Dhabi in September this year - to support our growing learning community, and extend provision to a larger audience,” Cherrati said.

The UAE’s largest schools operator, GEMS Education, is also seeing strong demand for places at its facilities.

“Across our schools in Abu Dhabi, we have to date received some 12,000 applications for enrolment in September 2023. That compares to 9,000 by the same time in the previous academic year. [Eventually,] a total of 14,800 students were enrolled across GEMS Education Abu Dhabi schools in September 2022, compared to an expected 15,500 for September 2023,” said Kelvin Hornsby, senior vice president for education at GEMS Education, and principal at the GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi.

Kelvin Hornsby

The educator attributed the demand to an increase in families relocating to Abu Dhabi, both from within the UAE and internationally.

“We have waiting lists at many of our schools and spaces are filling up quickly at our two premium schools, GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi and GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi. The latter, my own school, moved to a brand-new campus on Al Reem Island only last year and we’re seeing strong interest among families from diverse backgrounds and geographies. There is also a higher retention of existing families,” Hornsby said.

Fee increases

The heightened interest in UAE schools follows a lean period brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools noted the departure of many families. The trend has reversed significantly however, and the emirate’s education regulator, the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek), has approved school fee increases for 2023-2024 after a three-year period in which fee increases were suspended.

Educators said the fee increase approvals testify to the quality of education on offer in Abu Dhabi.

“The solid rise in enrolments and strong interest in our schools is testament of Aldar Education’s reputation for academic excellence and our commitment to providing high quality and holistic education. In addition to our broad choice of curricula…, we offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, including sports and performing arts which help our students develop a range of skills and interests. We also bring the most advanced teaching facilities, equipped with innovative technology, creative labs and state-of-the-art sports facilities that provides students the opportunity to foster their diverse interests and talents. Most importantly, the quality of our teachers is one of the most significant drivers of growth in our student admissions. We take great care in recruiting and retaining highly qualified and experienced educators who are passionate about teaching and committed to the success of our students,” said Stephen Sharples, executive director of education at Aldar Education.

Stephen Sharples

The exact amount of the fee increase is determined by the inspection rating of each school. This year, 11 schools in Abu Dhabi have received the top rating of Outstanding.

Parents today also look for personalised education options that cater to each child’s individual strengths.

“At GEMS World Academy – Abu Dhabi, we are reimagining learning by encouraging enterprise to create future-focused thinkers who are empowered global citizens. Our advanced curricular approach that combines the International Baccalaureate and National Curriculum for England creates a world of personalised pathways for each unique child. We make every effort to know our learners, supporting them with their growth, helping them to learn, play and perform. All learners, their families and our staff have a voice, coming together to form a caring community full of opportunities. Our students are happy, balanced learners who know how to think for themselves and who are grounded by their values, attitudes and attributes,” Hornsby said.

Choosing a school

The educators shared a number of factors that parents should take into consideration when selecting a school for their child, or when moving a child to a different school.

Research and investigate: Research the schools in your area and find out as much as you can about them. Look at their websites, read their brochures, and talk to other parents who have children attending the school. Visit the school and observe the classrooms, facilities, and teachers.

Consider your child’s needs: Every child is unique, with their own strengths, interests, and learning style. When choosing a school, consider your child’s needs and preferences. For example, if your child is particularly interested in music or sports, look for a school that has a strong music or sports programme. If your child has special needs, look for a school that provides appropriate support and services.

Talk to your child: Involve your child in the decision-making process. Ask them what they like and don’t like about their current school, and find out what they would like to see in a new school. Make sure they feel heard and valued.

Consider the logistics: Think about the practicalities of changing schools, such as the distance from your home, the school’s hours, and the transportation options available.

Plan ahead: Changing schools can be a big transition, so plan ahead and give your child plenty of time to adjust. Talk to them about the change and help them prepare for the new environment. Encourage them to make new friends and get involved in after-school activities.

Stay involved: Once your child has started at their new school, stay involved and stay informed. Attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer at the school, and ask your child about their experiences. This will help ensure your child is getting the most out of their education and that you are fully engaged in their learning journey. Moving schools is a big decision, so ensure there are significant benefits and added value.