x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Behind the closed gates of St Andrews

The school accepted Years 1 to 9 pupils (aged 5 to 15) with conditions including autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

DUBAI // St Andrews was able to operate in a villa, despite a government ban on such premises housing schools, because it catered to special-needs children.

It came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Affairs, not the education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), as it was licensed as a child-development centre rather than a school.

Dozens of villa schools have been closed in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the past few years, and St Andrews was believed to be the last one running in Dubai.

Not all of its neighbours in a backstreet in Al Safa, near Al Wasl Road, would be sorry to see it shut.

The head teacher Barbara Blake said there were often complaints about the noise made by the children as they played.

The school accepted Years 1 to 9 pupils (aged 5 to 15) with conditions including autism, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

It operated under the UK's International Primary Curriculum. But parents wishing to move their children into mainstream schools have faced problems as the certificate issued by St Andrews is not generally recognised.

The school employed therapists as well as teachers, and typical salaries were in the range of Dh14,500 to Dh16,000 a month.

St Andrews was operated by the British Institute of Learning Development (Bild), of which Christopher Reynolds was managing director.

It opened in Sharjah 10 years ago before moving to Satwa and then, in 2007, to Al Safa.

Five years ago Dr Reynolds made extravagant claims about research carried out on pupils by Bild, which he said showed a child's ability to learn could be improved.

It is generally believed that the level of this ability remains constant.

"The findings are fantastic," he was quoted as saying. "This is world-shattering stuff."

Dr Reynolds says on his CV on the St Andrews website that he has a Master of Arts degree and a doctorate in governance from America's Claremont Graduate University, and that he worked on a number of projects at the White House.

csimpson@thenational.ae