x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai schools' lobby group in disarray

Attempts to form group to represent schools' interests falters as schools originally listed as founding members now say they are not part of group.

Plans by Dubai private schools to form a lobby group were in disarray yesterday after a number of schools named in releases as founding members of the organisation disavowed any connection. It was announced on Tuesday that the schools were forming a group through the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to represent their interests.

Sunny Varkey, chairman and founder of Gems, the largest private school operator in the country, called last month for the formation of such an umbrella group. His call came amid a dispute between Gems and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which oversees Dubai schools, over caps on fee increases. In a statement yesterday afternoon, the Dubai Private Schools Group (DPSG) named what it said were its "founding members".

However, in a later statement one of the names was removed and other schools on the list have since denied they are members. The name redacted was that of the ESOL group, which owns two Dubai schools. Bassam Abushakra, regional director for ESOL, said his company was not involved in the formation of the group. He said his chief financial officer had attended one meeting, and after that "we decided not to any other meetings, nor participate in the group, until it was up and running".

The Dubai English Speaking School was also named as a founding member. David Hammond, head teacher, said: "I've heard about this group but I have never discussed this with anybody." Other schools that were named but denied they were members included the American School of Dubai and Dubai College. The list also named the International School of Choueifat, the Regent International School, Al Mawakeb School and Dubai Scholars as founder members.

A DPSG spokesman said the schools named in the release were those represented at the initial meeting, who were not necessarily members of the group. "Since the group is under formation they technically do not have any members yet," he said. "However, the group is confident that it would represent a substantial majority of schools in Dubai." Sanjay Mankani, a director of the Regent International School, said the group would help bridge the divide between schools and the government.

"We thought it was important to band together," he said, adding that there was currently no "constructive dialogue" between school owners and the KHDA, "just a one-way sort of street: this is a directive, thank you very much". Several private schools protested last month after it was announced that their fee increases would be linked to the results of inspections, with the lowest-rated facing a seven per cent cap.

Dr Abdulla al Karam, director general of the KHDA, said in a statement that he supported the formation of the group. "We want a sophisticated platform from which school owners, principals, teachers and parents can all talk to eachother," he said. klewis@thenational.ae