Head teachers at new schools in the UAE say they have enrolled more pupils than expected for the start of the new academic term.
In some cases, demand for placements has risen by 50 per cent compared to figures that were forecast before they opened.
One new school in the capital even had to add a kindergarten class because of high demand.
Eoin Bolger, managing director of Gulf Education, helped to establish the Italian International School in Abu Dhabi.
He said there would be around 200 pupils at the school by the end of the enrolment cycle, more than was expected for the first year.
“We still have admissions coming,” he said. “In fact, we just opened up an extra kindergarten one class due to demand.
“We have seen quite a mix of Italian families who are joining the school and we also have other expatriates and Emiratis who are who are joining.
“There's actually a huge appetite amongst all of the different demographics looking to join the school.”
Schools get creative
School leaders said in an intensely competitive market, private schools need to think outside the box and constantly create new offerings to attract pupils.
A new school that opened this week hired a nutritionist to design meals for pupils. Another allowed parents to pay tuition fees using cryptocurrency, and a third has introduced later start and finish times.
Back to school — in pictures
The creative ideas seemed to have paid off. Many of the new campuses reported higher enrolments than expected, with pupils still on the admissions list for September, after term had started.
Tracy Moxley, principal at Citizens School in Dubai, which was launched on Monday, said it started with 200 pupils and expected to have between 250 and 300 by the end of September.
“I think we'll have to, to some extent, stop recruiting and focus on the pupils we have in school and open recruitment again potentially in January,” said Ms Moxley.
“Dubai is a very competitive market. It drives anyone opening a new school to really look at the offerings and really think about what the current climate needs.”
She said her school had caught the imagination of parents who were looking for a different way of educating their children.
“We are focused on using technology as a vehicle for pupil learning and using technology to support learning, like artificial intelligence programmes.”
The school will offer a project-based curriculum, and allows parents to pay in Bitcoin and Ether. To date, only a few parents have opted to pay fees using cryptocurrencies.
Later start attracts pupils
Bloom World Academy in Al Barsha South expected to start with 250 pupils but will soon have more than 300 enrolled.
John Bell, principal at the school, said he was delighted with the numbers.
“I think that we always expected that number of youngsters because of what we're offering, but it's a delight that we have so many,” he said.
“Most schools, in my experience in Dubai, only open with probably half that number.”
With a 9am to 4pm school day, the IB curriculum campus will be the first in the city to offer a later start, with lessons getting under way more than an hour after most schools in the emirate.
Mr Bell said the late start at the school had proved popular with parents.
“It seems more than I thought that most parents do really want the 9am start so that's what they're going for at the moment,” he added.
“I think the market is saturated and it's saturated with a lot of British schools offering a very similar product to children and families.
“So consequently, that's why we're offering what we're offering, which is this IB plus international curriculum.”
Mr Bolger, of Abu Dhabi’s first Italian school, said opening any school right now was extremely competitive and required the owners to “think outside the box”.
He said the “outside the box” approach was one that many schools were adopting.
“We've hired a catering company who are providing all of the meals in the school,” he said. “It's super nutritious food and has all been planned by a trained nutritionist.”
All the meals in the school are very low in gluten, sugar-free and, in some cases, dairy-free.
Each pupil will have Italian classes through the week. The goal is that all pupils should be able to read, write, and speak Italian by the end of their school life.