School waiting lists grow in Dubai South as popularity of area surges

New Al Maktoum International Airport terminal location drives surge in demand for places

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Schools in Dubai South have reported a surge in admissions, as more families arrive in an area undergoing a major transformation.

Dubai South could become one of the most desirable locations in the emirate, after it was announced this year that it would be home to a new Dh128 billion ($34.8 billion) airport terminal.

When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced the project in April, he said “an entire city” would be built around the airport.

It was announced last year that the Palm Jebel Ali project near by was being revived – adding about 110km to Dubai’s coastline and providing 35,000 families with beachside residences, green spaces and other amenities, as well as 80 hotels.

The sprawling Expo City Dubai is also close by, providing another draw for the fast-developing area.

It's actually crazy. We are enrolling around 20 new pupils every week for the last two months
Leigh Girvan

Greenfield International School has been enrolling about 20 pupils every week for the past two months, with a newly built primary school on the way, while Gems Education has announced an new British curriculum school in the area.

“We've opened up more classes, because we've got the new building coming, which will allow us to cater for up to over 2,000 pupils in the coming years,” said Leigh Girven, principal at Greenfield International School.

“The number of pupils and families that are enrolling and coming for assessments and tours, is higher than the school has known. It's crazy. We enrolled around 20 new pupils every week for the past two months.”

Expansion plan

Greenfield International School's new building has 18 classrooms and will be ready in August.

The school is in Dubai Investment Park, not far from Al Maktoum International Airport.

Greenfield International has 1,600 pupils and enrolled 250 in 2023, while it is expected to open with about 1,800 pupils in August.

“When I joined the school two years ago, the enrolment was sitting around 1,100 and had for many years,” Ms Girven said. “Already we've seen growth of about 700 pupils and we think that that will rise probably by another 200 for the next two years.”

She said they did not have any classes that were oversubscribed as “we have opened new classes in most of the grade levels to allow for the increased enrolments”.

She said, the school was previously considered to be on the outskirts of Dubai, but the development, new infrastructure and housing developments around Dubai South, as well as areas such as Town Square and Damac Hills, have made the school more accessible.

It was not the only school expecting to be at the heart of new communities in Dubai South.

“We opened with just over 1,000 pupils in August 2023, and we have had a 40 per cent increase,” said David Flint, principal at South View School.

“We're just under 1,400 pupils now, and we're expecting to open slightly north of that [in August 2024]. We've got a lot of enrolments, and particularly, we've got waiting lists in lower primary, but also in lower secondary.

“The demand for middle and upper secondary has been noticeably growing in the last few months."

The school has a capacity of 1,600 pupils. Mr Flint said the school improved its credentials and was an accredited member of the Council of British International Schools.

He said the accreditation, coupled with the announcement of the new airport, led to an increase in admissions.

“We're also seeing a rise in the number of people moving to this area and we've had people who have bought property off-plan who are applying to us,” said Mr Flint.

“Certainly, the admissions that we're enjoying at the moment are above average for this time of year.

“We are very much a community school, so we focus on the area of Dubai land and Dubai South and 85 per cent plus of our applicants are from this area.

“In our case, from the very outset, the school has been geared to be part of the community, and the ethos of the school is very much about understanding the child and the child's family circumstances, and as far as possible, tailoring the education experience to that child.”

He said that many pupils cycled, took scooters and walked to school, which helped to cut traffic in the area.

Mr Flint said that “noticeably the property prices are driving up” as people were driven out of “the more traditional areas of Dubai”.

New school opening in 2024

Gems Founders School – Dubai South will open in August. Matthew Burfield, executive principal of Gems Founders School, estimated the new school would open its doors with about 500 pupils.

The school is to offer the UK curriculum initially to pupils in FS1 to Year 8, and would be built across 23,255-square-metre campus. The school will have capacity for 2,500 pupils.

Within the first hour, the school received 54 calls from parents seeking admissions, he said.

It will have a focus on teaching logistics, operations, and enterprise.

Rents on the rise

Dubai South has experienced a surge in popularity thanks to developments nearby.

Shruti Krishnan, an estate agent and homeowner in Dubai South, said she noticed more people shifting their focus from small studios to houses.

“There has been an overall development. I moved to Dubai South two years ago, there was no school, there was no coffee shop, there was no cafeteria, suddenly, we are seeing a boom of all of that and we see a lot of families move here,” said Ms Krishnan.

“Our traffic has increased significantly, but it's not so bad. There was always a demand. But now the demand is increased for families.

“Initially, I used to get a lot of inquiries for studios. But now I get a lot of inquiries for one-bedroom or two-bedroom houses, which means families are moving in.”

She said rents in the area had gone up since last year.

She said she had rented out a one-bedroom apartment (795 square feet) for Dh38,000 last year, while an apartment of the same size was available to rent for Dh60,000 this year.

In December, she sold a one-bedroom apartment in the neighbourhood for Dh550,000, while now the selling price for the same apartment is Dh700,000.

Pupils walk and cycle to suburban schools

Away from Dubai South, schools are being built in other suburbs. Dubai British School Mira is set to open in September 2025.

Sam Truman, chief operating officer at Taaleem, said admissions opened in May and there was much interest and demand.

“We do believe that its location within Mira will allow families to have the option, if the students are at the age where they can ride a bike, that they or they can cycle or walk to school when the weather permits. That was always in our planning.

“We do always want our schools to be part of the community.

“When we're planning and designing, we're always considering community participation from within our school.

“We want the schools to be used after hours by the communities. So that's always our aspiration and goal, that they are true community schools.”

Updated: June 12, 2024, 12:37 PM