There are not enough private primary schools in the emirate to cater for the growing number of young children in Dubai, a new report has found.
The annual education landscape report, released today by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), said schools would need to offer double the number of places by 2024 to cope with demand.
The growth fears were underlined by this year's enrolment figures – 14.7 per cent more children were registered for kindergarten classes. The KHDA said it expected the increase to continue growing by 7 per cent a year.
"Dubai's private schools have more students in junior grades than in senior grades due to a number of factors," said Dr Abdulla Al Karam, KHDA's director general. "Firstly, the growth in the general population and secondly, some families leave Dubai when their children get older."
Last year, private schools in Dubai had a gross revenue of Dh4.1 billion.
Ninety per cent of all available spaces in private schools were already being used, the report said. "There is significantly higher capacity utilisation, meaning fewer spare places, at the junior phases of school compared with the more senior grade levels," the report noted.
Private schools in Dubai have enough space for an additional 26,000 pupils, the KHDA said, but there was already a perceived shortage because of parents' preferences and because some registered their children at multiple schools.
The few schools that have built a strong reputation and were rated Outstanding and Good in school inspection reports have long waiting lists every year.
"There is much debate about how waiting lists are managed," said Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem, a private education provider with four highly rated schools. "It is true that the situation is exacerbated by parents who make multiple applications."
Whether the shortage is perceived or not, Patricia Marinelli, whose daughter will begin at a nursery this year, said authorities should step in and address it.
"Finding a school here is difficult," she said. "For me, the reputation of the school, the curriculum it follows as well as it being a not-for-profit are key selection points."
Her 20-month-old daughter will not be starting school for a few years, but Ms Marinelli said she knew she needed to plan in advance.
"New parents have to visit several schools and then register for at least two or three schools to make sure they get a place," she said.
Dovecote Nursery in Jumeirah has started a primary-stage class to help ease the space issue at their affiliate school, Repton Dubai, which received a Good rating in the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau's evaluations this year.
"The school has a long waiting list," said Mena Press, the manager at Dovecote. "To support parents we decided to add a foundation stage class at the nursery."
Children from Dovecote are usually directly admitted to Repton once they are of school-going age, but space is at such a premium Ms Press said they plan to add another class this year.
Some operators have announced plans to open new schools to meet the demand. Gems, the largest education provider in the country, will be opening two schools in Al Khail in September.
The Gems Wellington Academy will offer the UK system and will have space for 2,900 pupils from KG to Year 13. The Gems International School, which will follow an International Baccalaureate programme, will be able to accommodate 2,000 pupils up to Grade 12.
Taaleem will open the next phase of its Uptown School campus this year to help alleviate the high demand in primary and middle school sectors. Next year, the group hopes to open an Early Years Foundation School in Jumeirah Island and a UK curriculum school in Jumeirah Park.
"Good and Outstanding schools will always be oversubscribed," Mr Pierrepont said. "This is not a phenomenon that is unique to Dubai or the UAE.
"Once these projects are complete they should add several thousand new places. The schools will certainly provide parents with greater choice."