Many schools say they are already full and have posted 'admissions closed' signs, even though the enrolment season has just started.
Scramble for school places in Dubai
DUBAI // It is only the start of enrolment season but the "admissions closed" signs are already up in many schools, causing a scramble for places among parents in the emirate.
A shortage of space and waiting lists of up to two years are mainly prevalent in the lower grades at international schools, where the academic year begins in September.
Anxious parents started applying several years in advance at multiple schools in the hope of securing a seat at the one of their preference.
"This is a manic situation," said Anthony Campion, a father from the UK. Mr Campion recently secured a job in Dubai and is now school shopping before he brings his family to the country.
"I have noticed that most parents take out a sort of insurance policy, where there is a first choice and then two others as security."
This adds to the long waiting lists posted by most schools and for parents here, it is like "holding onto a lottery ticket with bated breath", Mr Campion said.
"I hadn't anticipated it to be so difficult," he said. "The other frustrating aspect is that the school will not be able to tell me till the very end if my children have got the admission or not," said the father of two boys who will be joining Grade 1 and Grade 5 this year.
Mr Campion has his sights set on the Dubai English Speaking College (Desc), where he has paid a registration fee of Dh300, but they are already full, he was told.
Claire Poole, the registrar at Desc, said the college took in about 140 students every year and was already to capacity in most grades.
"We are seeing a lot of interest in the school but have a waiting list in our lower grades at the moment," she said.
"As we have just opened our sixth form we are accepting admission for those grades right now."
Deborah Lloyd, the principal of the Star International School in Mirdif, said spaces in the Foundation Stage were filling up quickly.
"Our admissions are open right up to September, but we have limited availability from Year 2 onwards," she said.
Ms Lloyd said the school had a capacity of about 350, but would open up more classes next year.
Christel Nurminen put her daughter Victoria's name down a year before she was eligible for school, to avoid disappointment.
"I am trying to get her onto a waiting list now because admission to KG1 is a daunting task," she said. "My application has been rejected by many schools and some said they have a waiting list of up to four years."
A spokesman for Raffles International School said there was a waiting list but the school would not accept admissions for the next year just yet.
"Some parents look for a school even before they have conceived, because getting a seat is quite hard," she said.
"However, we are not accepting admissions for 2012 now and priority is given to students from our nurseries."
Jane Drury, the founder of expatwoman.com, which hosted an education fair last week in a bid to ease some of the challenges for newly arrived expatriates, said parents had to plan in advance as there was always a pressure on the lower grades.
"A plethora of new schools have opened up but often parents are looking for a specific school and they do not always end up with their first choice."
Jo Baker, an organiser of the fair, said: "Capacity at good schools is a major concern for parents. The fair provided parents with a snapshot of the education options in the city and they can receive free advice from the exhibitors as well."
Federic P, a father at the fair who is originally from France, said he would turn down his job offer in Dubai if he did not find a school for his daughters soon.
"I am looking for a British curriculum school and most of them are saying they are fully booked," he said. "Most schools ask for a deposit to secure a seat but I do not mind that, as long as I know they are guaranteed a place."