x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

New British school gets a place to call home

Government pledge of land brings hope for frustrated parents.

ABU DHABI // Hope is on the horizon for parents struggling to find a classroom place for their children after the Government pledged a plot of land for a new British school. The site for the school - which will be called the British College Abu Dhabi - has been allocated near Abu Dhabi Golf Club in Khalifa City A, although its size is still being discussed, said Nick Cochrane-Dyet, chairman of the working group formed to implement the project.

Due to open in Sept 2010 to children from kindergarten age to Year 6, the school will expand over five years until it has 2,000 pupils, aged from three to 18. The application for a licence is being processed and funding still needs to be put in place. The aim is to provide a "world-class school that is well-located, offering state-of-the-art educational, sporting, cultural and artistic opportunities for children of all ages", according to the proposal brochure. The school will offer the International Baccalaureate and have computing, arts, music and media facilities. It will operate as a community school on a not-for-profit basis.

The working group, led by Edward Oakden, the British ambassador to the UAE, was formed more than a year ago, as the need for a new British curriculum school became more acute. While the Government sees education as a priority, strong population growth means that 10 or more applicants now vie for each place at the most sought-after schools. All the British curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi have waiting lists and it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain entrance.

The shortage of school places is deterring foreign workers with families from moving to the capital. "From my company's perspective it's very difficult to persuade people to come out here with the schooling situation as it is," said Julian Snell, a member of the school's working group and director of Dascam, an international training company with offices in Abu Dhabi. "They do research on the internet and see the schools have waiting lists and that puts them off coming. A lot of them who are here have to live in Al Ain and commute to Abu Dhabi."

Schools have not kept up with the UAE's expansion in population, which nearly doubled from 2.4 million to 4.1 million in the 10 years to 2005. "The pace of growth in the Abu Dhabi economy has seen a corresponding increase in the British population," Mr Cochrane-Dyet said. "Unfortunately this has been combined with inadequate investment in schools and, as a result, there is currently a shortage for UAE and British children of good quality British curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi."

It is anticipated that the building of the school will be financed through a combination of debentures, donations and grants. Debentures will provide companies and individuals with guaranteed pupil places in return for financial support. The project needs to raise about Dh400 million (US$109m) and a fund-raising event will be held at the British embassy in Abu Dhabi tomorrow. The event will also be in aid of expansion and renovation work at the British School Al Khubairat.

lmorris@thenational.ae