New rules force Abu Dhabi schools to cancel field trips ‘until further notice’

Abu Dhabi Education Council has also told private schools that they can no longer submit applications for excursions or field trips as of February 24.

ABU DHABI // Private schools have had to make last-minute cancellations of field trips because of new rules banning pupils under the age of 12 from travelling outside of the city limits.

Abu Dhabi Education Council has also told private schools that they can no longer submit applications for excursions or field trips as of February 24 “until further notice.”

“They’ve put a moratorium on us being able to get approval on any extracurricular activities,” said a senior administrator with a private schools operator who asked not to be identified.

“Anything new that’s coming in that we want our students to take part in, then we need Adec approval, we can’t put in, which means we can’t get approval for any extracurricular activities for our third term right now.”

Since January 2015, Adec has required any private school wanting to take pupils on excursions or field trips within the emirate to submit a lengthy list of documents to Adec for approval at least two weeks prior to the planned event, according to the four-page schools activities and trips policy.

The policy outlines rules for trips “in the city” and another set of rules for “excursions, trips, activities” that are “abroad.” It doesn’t define “abroad.” For these trips, schools must apply for permission to Adec two months in advance.

“All of a sudden there was a start to require even more things,” said another senior administrator at a private school.

She said Adec would ask schools to submit copies of pupils’ IDs and passports, risk analysis forms for the trip and letters of no objection from parents.

Then Adec “started requiring even more materials and that has slowed down the process significantly” meaning schools were “overwhelmed with the number of requests for approvals that they’re getting”.

Jessica Sinnott, the mother of a nine-year-old whose trip to ChoirFest in Dubai was abruptly cancelled because of the age restriction, said Adec’s policy “seems like quite a drastic measure.”

“I think they should trust schools to make their own judgments about the maturity of the children,” said Mrs Sinnot.

“Obviously there are school trips in terms of educational value trips that they’re going to miss out on too. Whether it’s to see the flora and fauna of the desert in other emirates.”

She said there was an adventure sports centre in Dibba where primary school children would regularly attend. “That kind of thing is now closed off to them as well,” she added.

According to Adec’s policy, the “abroad” trips is also restricted to students ages 12 to 18 years. However, no such policy exists for public school students, said Adec’s section manager for P-12 policy.

“Policy 7430 on Field Trips does not have an age restriction,” the manager said in a statement to The National. “All students enrolled in Adec public schools (Kindergarten to Cycle 3) are permitted to participate in field trips if their parent/guardian provide a written consent.”

The field trip policy for public schools, which has been in effect since March 2014, also “has no geographical restrictions” for public school students.

“The list of approved Field Trip Sites includes locations outside of Abu Dhabi emirate. Adec public schools may plan field trips to approved sites included in List of Approved Field Trip Sites,” according to the Adec manager. “Any proposed field trips to locations that are not on the list of approved sites require approval from the Executive Director of School Operations.”

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which regulates schools in Dubai, has a one-page long field trips guidelines it issued to schools in 2011.

For international trips, schools need to supply the KHDA the name and number of a contact person on the trip, the list of all students and supervisor on the trip, the duration of the trip and the school’s local contact at least three days before the trip. The guideline doesn’t list age restrictions for any travel.

“As long as schools adhere to the requirements in the guidelines, specific permission for every trip is not required,” said Amal Belhasa, the KHDA’s acting chief of regulations and permits commission.

Adec did not reply to questions about the moratorium on field trips applications from private schools or about the age restriction on private school students.

rpennington@thenational.ae