Children must be 3-years-old to start school across the UAE, says Ministry

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Children must be three-years-old to start school across the UAE, according to recent guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education.

The move standardises age requirements across the country, which previously varied depending on the emirate.

The rule was already in place in Abu Dhabi while private schools in Dubai could offer some flexibility, allowing children who turned three before the end of the calendar year to join FS1 (British system) or Pre-KG at the start of that academic year in the autumn.

For example, a child turning three on November 27 could previously join FS1 in August 29. Now they must be three on or before August 31.

Studies have shown that delaying the start of formal teaching is beneficial for children’s development.

According to research in New Zealand, cited by the University of Cambridge, earlier introduction of formal learning may even be damaging.

The study compared two groups of children, who started formal literacy lessons at age five and seven. By the age of 11, there was no difference between reading ability level between the two. However, children who started at five developed “less positive attitudes” to reading, and “showed poorer text comprehension” than the children who started later.

Parents in Dubai welcomed the move.

“I think it’s infinitely better they have realigned the start date for FS1 to match that of the UK,” said Emma Lawrence, a mother of three children aged five, four and two.

“It means the reception start date is aligned, so children start FS2 in the year they turn five, rather than having what must have been difficult for teachers, which is the British schools tended to take pupils from September 1 onwards, so they would have as much as a 16-month disparity between the eldest and the youngest in the class.”

The change will be applicable from the start of the 2021/22 academic year in September 2021, said the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Dubai’s private school regulator.

“For schools that start in April, this change will be applicable from the start of the 2022/23 academic year in April 2022.”

Children can join FS1 or Pre-KG at schools in April as long as they are three years old on or before March 31 of that year, it said.

The change will affect children up to six years-old who are enrolling in school for the first time.

Pupils must have turned four by August 31 to start school on August 29 in Foundation Stage 2 or KG1; five to join Year 1 or KG2; and six to start Grade 1 or Year 2, and so on.

“The Ministry resolution stipulates that all students currently enrolled at private schools in the UAE are not affected by the change,” said KHDA.

“This includes students who enrol for the final term of the 2020/21 academic year,” it said.

The application of any child who was enrolled to start in FS1 this year but withdrew and waived to 2022 will be affected, said KHDA.

A child who turns three this September and was due to start FS1 this year will have to enrol in FS1 in the next academic year.

“[A child] must have formally finished the previous academic year in order to enrol in the next one,” the authority said.

Anyone who has already paid for the deposits of children who will be affected by the new cut-off date will receive a refund.

There will be no exceptions to the cut-off dates “under any circumstances”.

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Published: February 25, 2021 07:00 AM