Thousands more children with disabilities being taught in Dubai schools, report finds

Latest school inspections highlight an improvement in provision for disabled children

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 14, 2019: General views of Delhi Private School. Rahhal programme is in its second phase and heads of schools are discussing the challenges it faces. Thursday the 14th of February 2019 at The Gardens, Jebel Ali, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Thousands more children with disabilities are studying in Dubai's private schools, a new report has found.

The number of disabled pupils enrolled in the emirate's schools increased by more than 3,500 in the past year, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority revealed.

The results of the 2018-2019 inspections by Dubai's private schools regulator, released on Sunday, revealed that pupils with physical and intellectual disabilities account for six per cent of the 278,794-strong school population.

Inspections also revealed that 71 per cent of schools provide a good or better quality of education for disabled pupils, also referred to as 'people of determination' by the UAE government.

The report indicated that an increased emphasis on inclusion is a major driver of the rise in numbers of disabled pupils.

All private schools in Dubai must be able to cater for special needs children by 2020, according to new guidelines released by the KHDA.

This year, 70 per cent of schools were judged to be good or better, compared to 66 per cent last year. Nine out of ten schools have improved in more or more quality indicators such as students’ outcomes, school’s provisions for learners, and leadership and 18 schools improved overall.

“KHDA’s efforts to promote inclusive education was also reflected in the progress of students of determination," said Fatma Belrehif, chief executive officer of the Dubai School Inspection Bureau.

“71 per cent of schools provides a good or better quality of provision for students of determination which represents an increase of five percentage points compared to last year," she said.

Sara Boomsma, interim director at the education consultancy, Gabbitas, said the findings indicate a shift towards a more inclusive culture in schools.

“The increase in the number of students of determination in Dubai’s private schools over the last year could be a result of a number of factors. With the KHDA’s clear expectation that all schools will be fully inclusive by 2020, it is likely that more pupils with identified special needs are being accepted into these schools.

“While many schools across Dubai have had an inclusive culture for a long time, others will be looking at their admissions policy to ensure they are compliant with the latest regulations."

She believes the increase could also be down to better identification of special needs where more students are getting diagnosed, leading to early intervention.

“In schools that make a difference, they prioritise staff professional development to ensure quality-first teaching happens in every classroom. In addition, leaders should work in partnership with parents and the wider community to support the needs of these students."

Andrea Allen, 45, a learning support assistant and a mother of a 12-year-old who is on the autism spectrum, said there has been a change in attitude in schools, but there is still work to be done.

“We have definitely seen a change in that schools are accepting children with more challenges, however they are still very much cherry picking.

“We are still seeing an awful lot of children who need one to one support being rejected.

“It’s not that they are not doing enough. The problem is that the schools haven’t yet got the training for teachers and a lot of the schools have insufficient learning support staff.

“Families like mine end up leaving the school because our children are not getting the support they need and they are becoming anxious and distressed."

Ms Allen has had to move her son from one school to another and even home-schooled him for a year.