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Teachers at several major Dubai schools said many parents had pulled their children out of classes early to travel abroad on holiday.
School leaders lamented the trend to travel early to take advantage of low prices, while the need to undergo PCR tests only 48 hours before flying was a major factor. Several told The National that some classes were half empty.
The cost of long-haul flights last week was thousands of dirhams cheaper than it would be this week. Most private schools in Dubai finish at the end of this week.
Brett Girven, principal of Arbor School Dubai in Jebel Ali, said a number of pupils were absent on Sunday.
"We have seen an increase in the number of people departing earlier than we would usually expect to see at this time of the year," he said.
"We have made a distinction between those who are departing early, those who are sick and those who are remote-learning because of Covid-19. The remote-learning programme is designed to be offered to those who are remote because of Covid.
"Whilst that’s frustrating as a school leader, I can understand the position of parents."
James Monaghan, principal at North London Collegiate School, said it was regrettable that pupils did not finished the school year.
"Fortunately, not many families have taken early holidays. Most of the early leavers are missing a few days this week," he said.
"It is important pupils see the value of school and this is eroded when parents take their children out of school early in any situation.
"Of course this year has been extraordinary but the community is still something to consider when making our own personal family decisions.
"There are final assemblies and a celebration of achievements. Pupils should always be a part of these celebrations as this means a lot to them.
"The main reason is that they have travel plans and they do not want to risk their children being in contact with any positive cases in the days running up to travelling, particularly where a PCR test is required for travel," he said.
Laetitia Tregoning, whose son attends Foremarke School in Barsha, said only five out of 22 pupils attended class on Sunday.
“My son has only five pupils in his Year 3 class this week because so many parents have taken their children out early,” she said.
“It says something about the grasp that Covid still has on our lives, that parents are willing to take their children out of school, so as to make the most of the summer holiday.
“I understand that people have to take every opportunity to see family and it is so complicated now with the need to quarantine in countries like the UK.”
Under-18s do not need to be vaccinated to travel to most countries. Instead, children are generally required to undergo a PCR test 48 or 72 hours before boarding a flight.
Fiona Cottam, principal at Hartland International, said most families at her school would travel once the holidays start officially.
"The majority of pupils have not travelled and our attendance is still up," she said. "Very few families applied for extraordinary leave."
She advised parents that the last week of term was one of the best weeks for pupils.
"It’s a wonderful week as we have celebratory events and it’s important for young people to get closure," she said.
"If the pupils are not here, then they don’t get the sense of finishing something."