x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Regulator defends US-run Dubai school's suspension

Dubai American Scientific School defied an order to stop enrolling pupils after it failed seven rounds of inspections, and apart from two or three teachers its entire staff is unlicensed.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority has suspended the operating licence of the Dubai American Scientific School.
The Knowledge and Human Development Authority has suspended the operating licence of the Dubai American Scientific School.

DUBAI //Education regulators explained yesterday why they suspended a school’s licence to operate and advised parents of its 125 pupils to find other schools.

Dubai American Scientific School defied an order to stop enrolling pupils after it failed seven rounds of inspections, and apart from a few teachers its staff is unlicensed – including the principal.

"When they refused to cease admissions we had to suspend their licence," said Abdulrahman Nassir, executive director of customer relations at the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

The school’s principal, Amy Robertson, described the accusations as baseless.

Ms Robertson was hired as principal of the school last year, and given the task of turning things around after it failed the authority inspections.

But the private-school regulator claims Ms Robertson is not even licensed to work as a principal, and has told parents of 125 pupils who enrolled at the school this year that they must move schools or risk paying for an unaccredited education.

Over the course of seven inspection cycles at the school, the safety of pupils, attendance rates and teaching quality were all rated unsatisfactory.

After repeatedly failing to improve the situation, the school was told in August that it could not enrol any new pupils until it had resolved its issues.

But the school ignored KHDA’s warnings and enrolled 125 new pupils for the 2012-2013 academic year.

“Only a few of the teachers at the school are permitted to work there,” Mr Nassir said. “A big chunk of the faculty is working illegally.”

Private school teachers must apply for KHDA accreditation to receive a teaching-specific labour card from the Ministry of Labour. During the accreditation process, the KHDA checks teachers’ qualifications and background to ensure they are fit to be in the classroom.

Several teachers at the school have either not been accredited by the KHDA or have failed to register with the Ministry of Labour, which may mean they are teaching without any work permit.

Mr Nassir said the school put off accreditation, claiming their teachers had been “hired on a trial basis”.

Ms Robertson denies this. “We have followed every procedure required by the authority,” she said.

She said all of the teachers held US qualifications and had the relevant legal documents to work at the school. “I took all those documents to the KHDA but they were rejected,” she said.

Ms Robertson said she personally holds a Ministry permit to work at the school. The authority insists she does not.

“The issue is being tackled by our board members and legal department and we expect it to be resolved in the next 48 hours,” Ms Robertson said yesterday.

“We have also addressed all the safety issues that were mentioned in our inspection reports.”

The KHDA says it has had to deny equivalency certificates to a few pupils leaving the school because they had not made the appropriate subject choices to qualify for matriculation.

“There is no counselling mechanism at the school,” said Mr Nassir. “So the pupils take subjects like arts, PE and other subjects together that do not add up to a certificate. Unfortunately, we had to ask them to repeat a year.”

One mother of two young children at the school said she had registered complaints with KHDA about the school. After her child attended kindergarten there, she was unable to enrol him anywhere else because he could not pass assessment tests to grant him access to Grade 1. “He did not learn a thing,” she said.

Several teachers taught at the school on a “temporary basis” and left, she said. “First there was an American teacher and within a week she was replaced. The next teacher had no experience teaching children and they told us she was a temporary hire. The kids did not learn anything.

“The third teacher was actually a banker and, again, we were told she was temporary.”

The KHDA has begun to offer assistance to parents in finding new schools. Among them is an Emirati mother who enrolled her two children at the school this year.

“I withdrew both of them this morning,” she said. “The reason I enrolled them there was because it was the only school in my area that agreed to give them space.”

Her children, who have yet to find new schools, are spending their days at home. “I am anxious now,” the mother said. “But the school has so many issues that I could not let them continue there. I am counting on the KHDA to help me out.”

She paid Dh50,000 in fees but has been promised a refund this week.

aahmed@thenational.ae