x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Good idea to test UAE school contracts

The number disputes between parents and schools indicates that a new approach is needed.

Six schools in Dubai will explore a new way to reduce the number of disputes with parents, The National reported yesterday, with an experiment in which both parties will sign legally binding contracts.

Normally, parents and school officials are expected to cooperate to ensure that children receive good teaching and appropriate services, and where there are disagreements they can be worked out in a reasoned fashion.

That's the theory. In practice, emotions can run high and problems can grow. The number of such disputes indicates that a new approach is needed. It remains to be seen if formal contracts are the best approach. A limited pilot project, carefully evaluated, should answer that question.

As we reported yesterday, the schools taking part in the test will need to specify every detail of their policies in the contract, including fees, refunds, admission rules, and health and safety practices.

Parents, on the other side, will need to furnish the schools with accurate medical, psychological and educational assessment records of their children, and must agree to pay school fees on stated dates.

Contracts are nothing new for either parents or private schools in Dubai, but most of those agreements are not legally binding and provide only the basic details about the responsibilities of each party.

The uniform contract that this project aims to create will focus on this grey area by offering parents a clearer understanding of their rights and duties. It is also reassuring that contract terms have been designed according to global standards, which should leave little room for debate.

But this idea also has a potential downside. Such a contract, for instance, may not offer the easiest way to settle disagreements. An enforceable agreement means a problem can be taken to a court for a decision; inevitably, some will go to court - a process that can be both time- consuming and expensive.

In many cases schools no doubt already have lawyers, which makes it relatively easy for them to push a dispute to court. But for an individual, hiring a lawyer and pursuing a case can become a daunting undertaking, and so could have a chilling effect on some parents.

On balance, then, a pilot project is just the right way to introduce and test this new approach. A lot of people will be watching with interest.