The WSA 2017 Special Needs Guide - 3 years on

In 2014, published its definitive Guide to SEN for Dubai. This new update is designed to provide further information and updates to the original guide, taking into account changes within the education scene, the Regulatory environment and new resources available to parents and children. We have also expanded the information related to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. A lack of published reports in other emirates has limited our additional data to Sharjah only.
The WSA 2017 Special Needs Guide - 3 years on
By Lyn Soppelsa
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When we started writing this update, we asked contacts in the SEN community whether they felt that the situation had improved since our original guide was written.  In general, the feeling seemed to be that whilst there is more provision available, it is still a major challenge to find school places for children with SEN, and where these are available, the additional fees can be significant.

Among the comments received, Cody Claver from iCademy Middle East said

“What I would say is that since I have been in Dubai (March 2012), there has increasingly been more attention brought to the need for helping students with learning difficulties. What I am encouraged by is the continual identification of the need to address this issue for kids. The KHDA have made steps to ensure that schools are actively addressing these student needs. Schools are increasingly investing in people and resources that are aimed at meeting the needs of learning disabled students. Those are all good things. With that said, there is a long way to go. What I don’t see yet is a common framework around which students are assessed and identified for their learning disability.”

Cody’s comments were supported further by other educators. Joanne Nolan, Head of SEND at iCademy said:

“There is undoubtedly much greater awareness of SEN; many schools are striving to be more inclusive; many schools are developing well- resourced SEN departments; and there has been a proliferation of learning centres set up to cope with students with moderate to severe SEN. However, despite greater moves towards inclusion, we still find that students are leaving large mainstream schools or are being referred by SENCOs who appreciate the student’s need for a different type of educational provision, particularly once the students have left primary school.

"The question of identification, assessment and provision of support is still difficult, as schools can only undertake certain standardized assessments in a school setting, and cannot, for example, diagnose autism. Just as elsewhere, diagnosis of certain issues requires the involvement of qualified professionals, educational psychologists, psychiatrists, Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Therapists etc. and this in the private sector here has to be paid for by families. Therefore, in practical terms, the international private UAE schools cannot oblige a parent to have their child assessed and it requires parents to both accept the necessity of the assessment and pay for it. This can be a huge stumbling block if parents are in denial about the nature or degree of their child’s SEN, do not consent to it and/or cannot afford it.

"There is also a particular difficulty with assessment of SEN in this region where so many students are bilingual and are often being assessed in English (which is not their native tongue and the tests were designed and normed on a different population base e.g. the UK or US rather than the MENA region). It can be very difficult to find professionals who can undertake assessment in a student’s native language given the range of nationalities in Dubai.”

Whilst the issues related to assessment seem some way from resolution, little did we know that the regulator in Dubai – the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) was about to announce major changes to the regulations related to SEND provision for schools which are designed to address the inclusion of Children of Determination in mainstream schools. Full details of the announcement can be found here - KHDA announces sweeping new send framework.

Key among the new regulations are that schools will now be required to provide a minimum level of SEND provision without raising fees. They will also NOT be allowed to turn children away. In more serious cases, where additional support is required, schools should not make a profit on those services.

Alison Phillips, Head of Inclusion at Dubai British School and the lead for Inclusion for the Taaleem Group of schools stated:

“Inclusion has really been brought to the forefront of the education agenda in the UAE over the last few years, which has culminated in the new Dubai Inclusion Policy. This framework will provide leaders with clear guidelines relating not just to provision, but the all-important task of creating an inclusive culture throughout school communities. To truly understand inclusion, educators need to consider the experience from a families’ perspective and promote it as the responsibility of the whole school, from staff to students and parents - by working together we can remove barriers to learning for our students with SEND.”

In Abu Dhabi, the Special Education Policy and Procedures Handbook issued by ADEK in 2012 and the Private Schools Policy Guidelines from 2014, provide detailed instructions in relation to the acceptance of students with SEN in Abu Dhabi Public and Private schools. Key among these are that

“Special Education Needs students should be treated without discrimination and similarly to their peers. Everyone shall be given equal educational opportunities. Students who require special education shall not be denied access to a full education programme that meets their learning needs. Schools should admit, without prejudice, students with mild to moderate special education needs, and shall further provide them with equal educational opportunities as compared to their peers”.

Schools in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are mandated to “Provide all students with the opportunity to access the full curriculum within the regular setting, establish a Learning Support Team (LST), develop, monitor and review the IEP and ALP for special needs students”. Schools are restricted from charging additional fees of more than 50% above the approved fees.

There has undoubtedly been a change in the level of provision and resources available for children with SEND since 2014, but there is clearly still much to do.

This update provides information about schools, centres, clinics, support groups and activities in support of students with SEND that have largely been established or or have developed further since 2014.

Our update focuses on the following information:

  • New schools and those existing schools with a specific focus on supporting children with SEND.
  • A full list of all Abu Dhabi schools rated Acceptable and above, that are offering at least Acceptable support and above to students with SEND, together with comments from the most recent ADEK inspections.
  • A full list of all Dubai schools rated Acceptable and above, that are offering at least Acceptable support and above to students with SEND, together with comments from the most recent KHDA inspections.
  • Specialist centres that have opened or developed their provision since 2014.
  • Clinics, Support and Therapy Groups that have established or developed their provision since 2014.

Details of available resources may be read in conjunction with our original Guide from 2014 - Guide to Special Needs Education and Recommended UAE Special Needs Resources



The WSA 2017 SEND Guide - 3 years on

SEND 2017 - Dubai Schools SEND ratings

SEND 2017 - Abu Dhabi Schools SEND Ratings

SEND 2017: UAE Centres offering SEND support

SEND 2017: Clinics, Support & Therapy Groups

New Schools with Specialist SEND support

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