x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Education officials weigh proposal to save Dubai school from closing

Parents with children in Westminster School are hopeful as education regulator considers bid to avoid closure without fee increase.

Parents have been rallying to keep Westminster School open since the closure announcement was made last December. Razan Alzayani / The National
Parents have been rallying to keep Westminster School open since the closure announcement was made last December. Razan Alzayani / The National

DUBAI // A proposal to keep open a British school with 5,000 pupils is being considered by education authorities.

Westminster School was to close by next year after its operator, Gems Education, said it could no longer run it for annual tuition fees of Dh10,000 a student.

Yesterday, Gems said it had scrapped its closure plans and was awaiting a decision by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai’s private schools regulator.

Gems is seeking a way to keep the school open without raising its fees.

“Gems Education has submitted a proposal to the local authorities to keep the Westminster School open,” said a spokesman for the group. “We would like to acknowledge the tremendous support from parents, students and the broader community.”

Mohammed Darwish, chief of the authority’s regulations and compliance commission, said it was looking into the proposal.

“Gems has submitted a request to KHDA to keep Westminster School open with its existing fee structure,” said Mr Darwish.

“Bearing in mind the students’ best interests, the request is being looked into.”

Bushra Ali, a member of the school committee, said it was expecting an announcement soon.

“We are waiting patiently for feedback from the KHDA and Gems to decide our next step,” said Ms Ali. “We are very hopeful. It looks like they have taken into consideration the number of families this will affect.

“The fact that people will have no place to go if the school shuts, I believe, will make them take the right decision.”

Parents have been rallying to help keep the school open since the closure announcement was made last December.

Last month, Gems sent the KHDA a proposal to increase fees after reaching an agreement with the parents. Most parents agreed to an 80 per cent fee rise spread over four years to allow the school to regain financial stability.

The authority’s fee framework links increases to inspection results and inflation rate in the sector.

Having received only an “Acceptable” ranking in the past four years of Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau evaluations, the school has only been allowed to increase its fees by 3 per cent.

Gems has argued the framework is detrimental to the efforts of low-cost schools, which need financing to maintain and improve standards.

It also said its data did not correspond with the Dubai Statistics Centre’s inflation rate, which claimed there was deflation in the education sector this year.

“In 2012 alone, we increased wages across all our schools by a range of 5 to 10 per cent,” said a spokesman for Gems. “We have also seen increases in rent and utilities.”

The father of a six-year-old boy who attends the school said he was depending on a resolution as he had no other alternative.

“I have already paid for the next year,” he said.“So I am staying put. Education is a business, but now it has to be looked at as a matter of principle where so many children are concerned.”

He said his son had refused to move too. “I was trying to prepare him for a shift but he was shouting and crying.”

Sadia, the mother of two primary school pupils, said looking for another school in her price range was a daunting task in the emirate. “It took me two years to find this school,” she said. “It is not possible to find another school so soon.

“But honestly, I had faith the management would resolve the matter and keep the school open. So I didn’t even try looking.”