ABU DHABI // The influx of expatriates that sent Abu Dhabi property prices soaring a year ago made finding school places just as difficult as finding somewhere to live.

But with new schools set to open in the capital this autumn, the scramble for places has become noticeably less frenzied.

“Our clients are finding it easier to place their kids in schools and that is in large part due to viable supply,” said Paul Retchless, the sales and marketing manager for the Abu Dhabi office of Crown Relocations, which specialises in international moves.

Daphne Harris, a partner at Exiles Real Estate and Relocations in Abu Dhabi, agreed: “It was very hard to get children into Grade 1 and 2 in particular a year ago, but it is easier now.”

Demand for places, however, remains healthy.

At this time last year, private schools in Abu Dhabi were turning away scores of children and parents were forced to put their names on long waiting lists, settle for their second or third choices, or postpone relocation to the UAE entirely. When Aldar Academies, a wing of the property developer, opened registration last year for the two schools it runs in the capital, more than 500 parents queued up on the first day.

But the addition of two new British schools has created more than 1,000 new places, while a handful of existing establishments have expanded in response to the demand of the past several years.

Administrators say demand has remained strong despite the softening economy.

In September, Aldar Academies will open Al Muna school, its third in Abu Dhabi. “Enrolment has been healthy,” said Ronnie O’Connor, management adviser at Aldar. Jim Harvey, the head of educational development at the company, said: “We have had a massive number of applications. As far as I could see, there are more people coming in [to Abu Dhabi] than going out.”

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A total of 750 additional places will open at the three Aldar schools – Al Muna, Al Yasmina and The Pearl – and Mr Harvey said he was not worried about filling them. Aldar has already closed applications for some year groups. “In addition to families moving into Abu Dhabi there are still quite a large number that want to transfer across to us.”

“I think part of the reason for that is last year The Pearl was new, Al Yasmina was new, but now there is a lot of confidence so we’re getting even more applications. We are particularly delighted by the number of applications received from UAE nationals.”

Nord Anglia, a privately owned British education firm that owns nine schools in China, South Korea and eastern Europe, and manages a number of local state schools, is opening its own campus this year in Abu Dhabi, its first in the Gulf. Raza Khan, the director for Middle East operations at Nord Anglia, said he was confident about opening a school despite the current economic climate; he expected to start with 500 pupils and eventually reach 2,000.

A number of existing schools have made new places available. Raha International School, which opened in 2006, will take another 200 children next year.

More established institutions, such as the British School – Al Khubairat and the American Community School, confirm that demand remains strong: ACS has waiting lists for nearly every grade in the school, while Al Khubairat will add another 70 school places next year, bringing the total to almost 1,800.
klewis@thenational.ae

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