New rules that would stop schools from enrolling new students halfway into the school year are under review following protests from parents and educators in Qatar.
The restriction, which was implemented after the Supreme Education Council (SEC) issued a circular in March, means that children in Qatar or coming from abroad would not be allowed to take up places in a new school after January, unless they are granted an exception by the SEC.
The ruling appears only to apply to schools that operate on a September to June school calendar, such as those following American and British curriculums. Indian and Filipino schools remain unaffected.
Why this rule was introduced remains unclear. Speaking to Doha News, principals from several well-known schools have suggested two possible motivations – firstly, to introduce more stability for students and teachers, and secondly, to allow the SEC to consistently update its global registry of students in Qatar.
Whatever the reason, school leaders have said that the new rule is causing considerable confusion and frustration, particularly for expats who have moved to Qatar halfway through the school year.
Speaking to Doha News, Niall Brennan, Director of Park House English School (PHES), said:
“We are an expatriate community and people come and go all of the time. Due to the extraordinary shortage of school places parents are taking anything they can, but they must be allowed to move their children if a better option presents itself, and they must be able to move quickly. The parent must decide what is right for their child.”
Brennan added that the situation has been made worse by regulations that deem it illegal for schools to register children who don’t have residence permits, meaning that families are unable to secure places for their children before leaving their home country.
One British mother, who asked to remain anonymous, told Doha News that her family had moved to Qatar just after the January deadline this year. She has been homeschooling her children ever since, and is unsure if she will be able to find them a school place by September:
“Are we expected to keep kids out of school for the whole year? We did not come from a home country where we would have the option of riding out the school year.
A few friends have asked about moving to Doha and my advice has been a categorical ‘don’t do it.’ The only way it will work for families is if they are willing to be separated from their father for a year. That is how long it has taken some people I know to find a place.”
Parents have also told us that they have been confused by patchy implementation of the ruling, because some schools have chosen to ignore the circular, awaiting further clarification.
It seems likely that schools will receive this clarification soon. Principals have told Doha News that they have been impressed by the ministry’s response to their concerns:
“The SEC is moving quickly on this issue,” Brennan said. “It has already listened to our concerns, reacted by forming a working group of school leaders and we have already met; all of this has happened in three weeks. We have been told that there will be some clarity and direction on these issues. They have definitely heard our concerns, and the system is working.”
Meanwhile, the headmaster of a prominent international school, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he feels this consultation signals positive changes at the SEC:
“This is a good move, and perhaps signals a different approach from the SEC and the Minister of Education’s office” he told us. “We are hopeful that some of the feedback in the consultation will lead to some changes in the regulations.”