x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Parents question opening of Starbucks in Dubai primary school

Some worry about the implications of the corporate giant opening a franchise in the reception area of Jumeirah Primary School.

The Jumeirah Primary School administration says the Starbucks coffee shop is a trial aimed at gauging the response from parents.
The Jumeirah Primary School administration says the Starbucks coffee shop is a trial aimed at gauging the response from parents.

DUBAI // Plans to open a Starbucks coffee shop at a Dubai primary school have sparked debate among parents, with some voicing concerns about the security, health and ethical implications. Parents who face long waits for their children at the GEMS Jumeirah Primary School (JPS) had for several years called for a coffee shop, they said, but opposition emerged when the school's headmaster, Stephen Chynoweth, announced a deal had been struck with the US-based coffee giant.

"The whole thing doesn't make any sense," said a mother who wished to remain anonymous. "Many schools have cafeterias and community rooms where parents can meet, have coffee and a chat, but there is no need for this to be so public." The issue of advertising and branding in schools is a global one. In the UK, companies spend an estimated £300million (Dh1.62billion) targeting classrooms, according to the National Union of Teachers.

The British government has taken a hands-off approach, allowing headmasters to approve advertising within their school. In Scotland and Wales, branding on school vending machines, which is claimed to raise up to £40,000 a year for larger schools, has been banned. While some JPS parents were pleased to have somewhere comfortable to wait for their children, others are worried about how staff will control access to the shop during busy times.

The Starbucks branding, they said, is clearly visible to passers-by and the temporary shop has taken over a sizeable portion of the school's reception area. "The principal has admitted improvements could be made to the school's security," said a father of another pupil. "By making Starbucks' presence very visible to the community, it could attract unwanted guests to the school." The school's administration said the shop is a trial aimed at gauging the response from parents. It is to be used only by parents and staff, with a separate entrance and security in place.

In a letter sent to parents last year, Mr Chynoweth said "all security systems have been reviewed and tightened" and an additional security cabin would be introduced in "the next few weeks". Staff at the shop have been "vetted and approved to work in a school environment", he said, and a security officer would be stationed outside the coffee shop at peak times. The school will share in the shop's profits, Mr Chynoweth said, and they will be ploughed back into school initiatives such as enhancing the outdoor play areas.

Some remain unconvinced. One father asked what would happen when a shop patron needed to use the toilet. "Would they be granted a visitor's pass?" He added: "I'm worried about my daughter." Concerns about the health implications of selling coffee, sugary drinks and snacks have led to the menu being edited to ensure only healthier options are available. No muffins or doughnuts will be allowed and children will be granted access to the coffee shop only when accompanied by an adult.

Several parents said a it would have been better to have an independent shop that promoted healthy eating and the use of local, organic or fair trade produce. Mr Chynoweth wrote that those options were the long-term aim if the concept proved a hit. "We wish to learn how to effectively run a coffee shop so that, long term, if the demand is there, we can provide the service ourselves," he said. A survey has been devised in collaboration with parents to determine how they feel about the new service, and it will be made available to patrons on launch.

No date has been given for the opening. Some, though, are excited at finally having somewhere to meet and wait for their children. Numerous parents have posted messages the popular community website www.expatwoman.com expressing support for the coffee shop. GEMS's marketing director, Richard Forbes, also said he was "aware of the very positive feedback from other parents". Mohammed Darwish, the chief of regulations and compliance at the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority, said the JPS decision to partner with Starbucks "is an internal matter within the school". He said the authority had not received any complaints from parents.

loatway@thenational.ae