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A Family’s Journey Relocating to Dubai – Part 5

There’s no doubt that relocation comes with issues, problems and adjustments initially. There is always a storm before the calm. There is always a downsizing of dreams and expectations. I am well traveled I never expect it to be plain sailing. That said I have to say the schooling issue which appears to be widely known to many has completely floored me. I am angry and very disappointed. It’s very obvious to me that many companies relocating expats to Dubai are being remiss in glossing over the information we parents require when deciding on whether Dubai is the place for us.  There is a distinct possibility that we wouldn’t have come here had they told us that the Schools were full. Some with waiting lists of up to two years. Others have completely shut their registration and some are extremely and disgracefully elitist. Choice is a bonus certainly. Here, however for me it’s turning into desperation.

Most English speaking and English educated families would understandably want to continue in this system.  I understand it is the same for all families of all nationalities. Repton Dubai is supposedly classically English with a desert twist. The Head of Prep at Repton actually knew my daughter’s ex Head and knew her school and back ground very well but still she was turned down. Siting that she wasn’t academically up to their standards. At 9 years old there is no hope for my daughter who has many other qualities to offer a school like Repton but these qualities are not required. It’s a one tier system. Doesn’t matter if you are good at a sport, musical, an amazing debater or in fact just a good all round egg. These qualities are not required at Repton and there are no special needs or indeed options to improve with extra help. I even offered for her to go back a year although my heart wasn’t in it. It can be socially difficult for a child to move back a year. Repton were monumentally brutal about Helaina. Final decision and anyway ‘we are now full’. I have to tell you it was not my finest hour telling my child that she didn’t get a place and that was the end of that. Repton was our first choice but we weren’t to realize that those few precious places they had were really our only choice. After 20 odd more phone calls to various schools I realised the extent of the problem. The lack of places in schools for expats is a ticking time bomb.

How many entrance exams does my child have to take? How many times does she have to get turned down? What exactly do these schools think happens when a child is turned down?  There are others that will take her? No there are not and that is the blunt truth. Dubai has a school crisis.  Who do you turn to when your child is left without a school? The saddest thing of all is my daughter loved Repton and felt very comfortable there. It was obviously a familiar environment for her. Im sure she would have equally appreciated the British School but they are also full. I want my child to be in an English speaking school and an English curriculum. Why? Expats move here and there and the more you mix up a child’s education the harder it can get for them to achieve. There’s always the chance at some stage in the future that we may return to the UK and it is my job to ensure that she is able to slip right back in.

Another thing that irks me is that if I was stupid enough I would run around placing applications and making payments in lieu of an application and assessment of around AED 1500 at every school I could think of! However I’m not that daft. I rang twenty schools. The news was extremely disheartening and negative. All are full or have closed registration and there is little hope. Meanwhile my child is out of school. She is desperate to make friends and get on with it all. She’s well aware that she’s missing out. I am no teacher and I loathe the thought of home schooling but we can’t pretend we are on holiday forever!

Make no mistake the competition for places are fierce and demoralizing. I do not believe the schools should be allowed to build up waiting lists and take payment or deposits when the chance of a space for your child is highly unlikely. Is this a problem unique to Dubai?  I’m not sure yet and I am sure this topic will set the cat amongst the pigeons for those that now are very privileged to have school sorted and those like me that are now facing a trip home to UK.  I am taking my daughter for educational psychology testing and should the outcome be a mild learning difficulty I will be knocking on my husband’s employer’s door and asking them exactly what they expect me to do?  I will be forced like many I am sure to consider either UK boarding school or indeed leaving my husband here and returning to the UK permanently. In my opinion my child isn’t ready for boarding school and there is also a cost issue. The cost of a boarding place is 4 times that of the company ‘local’ school allowance.  I hope these companies have deep pockets because if these problems continue and let’s face it there is no sign of any improvement for the near future. This issue is phenomenally important for my family. My husband is supposed to be settling in to his job but this issue is overtaking us. Let’s face it as soon as the Wife and children are settled and happy the rest all falls into place.  Decent and appropriate schooling for the children is fundamental to the family’s happiness and ability to settle.

There is no doubt that this is a tough time for my family. We have had tears and many moments were I wonder what on earth we were thinking. There are many unfinished developments here and many more plans to build mega complexes worth Billions of Dinah’s. I do hope sincerely that a lot of thought goes into where these children are going to go to school! For me the glossy exterior that is Dubai is quite tarnished. I would welcome a chat with the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile to all those parents with tiny tots do get down to the school of your choice and register!  My next quest is to find out if there is also a lack of special needs in main stream school? I think I already know the answer to that question sadly.

Donna Holland is from Lincolnshire, England. She is a home maker and mother of three children Ash 21, Beth 18 and Helaina 9. Donna is an ex British Army wife and is a very well traveled expat. She has been married for 22 years to her husband Phil who is a professional engineer. The family is currently based in Sydney, Australia and have lived there for just one year. The family has previously lived in Germany, France and Bahrain. Donna’s family is currently on the move to Dubai and she will be blogging about her family’s experience.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Donna and her family’s journey to Dubai!
If you missed the fourth installment click here.



One Response to “A Family’s Journey Relocating to Dubai – Part 5”

  1. Chris says:

    My children have attended Repton Dubai since it opened five years ago, therefore I feel qualified to comment on your article. The fact that your daughter was refused a place is sadly unsurprising but typical of the Primary school. My children have enjoyed their time at Repton and are now starting their senior years there however, your experience, unfortunately, is all too common. The school is rife with double standards and hypocrisy when it comes to who is deemed a suitable candidate. Just to give two examples – there are countless children at the school who are barely able to conduct a basic conversation in English and others who are special needs, although there is no special needs facility. While there are many reasons for these inconsistencies, what certainly did not help was that the Head that you met was never up to the role and this has finally been addressed. One can only assume that he was employed because he had some Middle East experience, however essentially he lacked a genuine understanding of the ethos of a Prep school combined with less than adequate intellectual and social sensibilities. It is a great shame that a more experienced candidate was not chosen but hopefully the new Head will bring a more professional and mature management approach to the Primary school. I have no doubt that it is Repton’s loss that your daughter was not given a place.


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