x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Parents angry over lost school charges

Parents hoping to get their children into Dubai's top private schools spend thousands of dirhams in multiple application fees.

DUBAI // Parents hoping to get their children into some of the leading private schools in Dubai spend thousands of dirhams in multiple application fees, despite efforts to ban schools from demanding the payments. Last year, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KDHA), which oversees schools in Dubai, warned them not to impose registration fees of more than Dh500 (US$130) .

However, the charges are not illegal under existing federal bylaws, and this year there has been no warning statement from the KDHA. The fees have become an expense on top of basic costs for instruction. Because many schools are oversubscribed, many parents take the precaution of applying for multiple schools. Otherwise, these parents fear, they risk failing to secure a place for their child anywhere.

"Parents are paying this fee because they are terrified of missing out on a place for their child and having nowhere to go," said one parent of a child going into secondary school. Like many parents, she did not want to be named for fear of harming her child's chance of a place. The fees are a particular problem for parents whose children attend British primaries that are not attached to secondary schools. This means that, unless they secure a place, their 11-year-old child could be left without schooling.

"Parents are hedging their bets by putting their children's names down at multiple schools, which fuels the frenzy that your child may miss out on a place for year seven," the mother said, referring to the first year of secondary school. Most British secondary schools had hundreds on waiting lists for year seven, she said. Before a new set of Ministry of Education bylaws was introduced in 2008, regulations limited "registration" fees to Dh500 and prohibited schools from taking deposits.

The subject is not addressed in the current, 2008 bylaws. Once an offer has been made, many schools also demand deposits, which are usually non-refundable, to secure the place. Another Dubai mother with a child going into secondary school said: "My problem isn't so much with paying a deposit, it's the timing. Not all of the schools are offering places at the same time. "Our first choice isn't offering places until the end of this month. Other schools are offering them before then.

"It's very unsettling. If we don't pay the deposits for the second- or third-choice schools we might not have a place." She said the deposits came on top of application fees. Allan Forbes, the head teacher at the English College in Dubai, which requires a Dh4,000 non-refundable deposit, defended the fee. He said he was awaiting clarification from the authorities on whether schools were allowed to charge deposits above Dh500.

Peter Daly, the head teacher at the Dubai English Speaking College, suggested that parents should not be allowed to register their children at multiple schools. "Imagine if 50 of those children don't turn up in September and we've recruited staff," he said. He said the not-for-profit school was "not making money out of this". He added: "We want to do it so we can guarantee our places for next year. Especially in this climate we want to know: have we got our numbers or haven't we?"

Jumeirah College charges an optional Dh5,000 fee to secure a place. The fee goes toward class instruction if the child enrols and is fully refundable if he does not. Richard Forbes, the director of marketing and communications at Gems Education, which owns the school, said it was very difficult "to manage waiting lists efficiently because the school operators are unable to differentiate between parents who are on their waiting lists as an insurance policy", and those who are genuinely committed to their school.

One mother pointed to the difficulty caused by schools making their offers at different times. Dubai College, one of the most selective British schools in Dubai, will not make offers until the end of this month. "The differing deadlines of the offers make it difficult to make a decision, particularly where payment of a sizeable non-refundable security deposit is involved," the mother said. Another mother said she had put down Dh900 for two application fees.

"It's very stressful," she said of the last few months trying to get her child into a secondary school. She was more philosophical, however, about the deposit she lost because her child was accepted to her first-choice school. "I think the schools do have a right to ask for a deposit," she said. "It just needs to be a little more flexible." klewis@thenational.ae

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