Special Educational Needs in Dubai, Start Here

Special Educational Needs in Dubai, Start Here
By C Hoppe
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Welcome to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's ‘Definitive Guide' to special educational needs (SEN) in Dubai, and more generally the UAE.

A child is considered to have special education needs if they find learning more difficult than other children of the same age.

Since the 1990s the number of children diagnosed with SEN has been increasing. In 2013, both the UK and US noted figures of approximately one in five children with special educational needs.

While medical professionals remain divided as to the causes, theories fall in and out of favour. To date we’ve had environmental factors and over-diagnosis, to the mercury content of vaccinations and issues during fetal development.

Although Dubai has no official figures for those diagnosed with SEN, it’s estimated to be around 20%. What we do know, is the unique cultural mix, divergent school systems and wide variation of linguistic capabilities entering schools- together with variable child rearing styles. This means SEN are at times missed, confused with other issues and even willfully ignored.

It became apparent early in our research that it was impossible to discuss SEN inclusion in mainstream schools without first addressing the diagnosis and assessment process. In an effort to dispel the myths, highlight best practices and ultimately assist every parent seeking a diagnosis we asked some of Dubai’s most experienced psychologists, paediatricians and psychiatrists for their advice and opinion.

The decision to not include parents at this point was not an easy one, but one we thought important. For the initial stages, we removed the personal and naturally very emotional dialogue and attempted to get to the foundations of service, assessment, programming and teaching. For parents who do have a personal story to tell, or who would like to advise or assist others, we will shortly have the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com SEN Survey running concurrently with this report. We really do want to hear what you have to say!

While the 2014 figures showed only 52 mainstream schools in Dubai accepted applications from children with special educational needs, over the past two years, things have changed.

In 2013/4 the KHDA added additional emphasis on SEN provision to their Inspection Handbook, reiterating their commitment to improving SEN in mainstream schools. The authority expanded their framework to include more ‘richness’ of curriculum and a focus on improving the progress of those diagnosed with SEN.

The KHDA's continued emphasis on inclusion combined with the education market moving from an under-supply to over-supply has meant almost all schools (and especially new facilities) now accept children with special educational needs.

However, it should be noted at this point that the quality of SEN services available; the resources, staffing and expertise can vary wildly across the Emirate.

Some schools such as Dubai College, DESC and Oaktree Primary offer impressive care and services, yet at the other end of the spectrum- there are schools which frequently accept children with SEN yet offer absolutely no additional support what so ever. 

Say what you will about those working in SEN, but they’re nothing if not committed and deeply passionate about improving the lot of those living with special educational needs. Sadly though, not all were given the voice, as some schools decided not to take part. Those that did though welcomed us with open arms. More interestingly, it was not necessarily the ‘top tier-big-names’ which were the most open about or even progressive in their provision.

Many mainstream schools prefer to keep tight lipped on their individual SEN policy and provision, keeping their numbers and admissions policy confidential. It’s interesting that while Dubai might attract some of the biggest names in myriad of industries, the business of special educational needs provision is yet to truly flourish.
Given the current climate, it would seem unlikely that any increase in children with SEN could be admitted to mainstream schools without a great deal of work with parents, students and teachers being done first. And, for this would require considerable investment and time.

Presently, the cost of educating a child with SEN is over 60% of a child who doesn’t require special educational needs. Considering almost all parents who recently took part in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Fees Survey said they felt the ‘financial pinch’ meeting their children’s school fees, it would seem educating a child with SEN is often too significant a financial burden for all but the highest earners.

Unfortunately given the current environment, it appears to be a classic chicken and egg situation. For SEN provision to improve and advance, more children are required to bring the cost down. However, while fees remain prohibitively high for all but a few this is exceedingly unlikely to happen.

It would seem, the only option presently for improved provision is for policy makers to spread the costs. Whether that would be amongst the school’s population or incurred by the schools themselves, both of which would are not only unlikely but would presumably be wildly unpopular too!

Although we view this report as merely a foundation on which to expand and update over the next year and beyond, we do hope it will be of value to those making educational decisions. As it develops, expect many more additions, both from us and our burgeoning panel of experts. And for those who would like their say, don’t forget to take a moment and be part of our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com SEN survey!


Dubai Special Educational Needs - Start Here
Dubai Special Educational Needs - School Inclusion, Is it Working?
Dubai Special Educational Needs - What are they and How to Spot Them
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Diagnosis and Assessment
Dubai Special Educational Needs - A Q and A with Diagnosis Specialists
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Occupational Therapy Q and A
Dubai Special Educational Needs - What is ADHD?
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Applied Behaviour Analysis
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Speech Therapy
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Specific Learning Difficulties
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Downs Syndrome
Dubai Special Educational Needs - Autistic Spectrum Disorder

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