Nearly 200 children at the British private school Sherborne Qatar did not attend classes yesterday, following a last-minute announcement that their new building had failed to obtain Civil Defense approval.
The news has flummoxed many parents who say they are having trouble arranging childcare this week – and possibly beyond, as school staffers are unable to say when the facility will be officially ready.
As it expands to accommodate increasing demand, Sherborne has been working to convert a building in Al Rayyan into a new pre-school and pre-preparatory wing for three- to eight-year-olds.
The school was expected to open on Sunday, but parents were emailed late Thursday afternoon and told the building still needed more fire safety checks.
This is the second time that pupils at Sherborne Qatar have not been able to start the year due to delayed Civil Defense approvals.
In September 2012, pupils in Years 7-9 missed the first two days of school while their new senior school building was waiting to get signed off on by the authorities.
Letter to parents
In a letter sent to parents and posted on Sherborne’s website, officials explained that they had initially been “unaware that the school had no fire fighting equipment or fire escapes from the first floor.”
Installing the appropriate fire detection equipment and emergency exits had put back the renovation works which took place over the summer break, said Prof. Richard Hodder-Williams, vice-chairman of the school’s Board of Governors and chair of its education committee.
Despite working closely with Civil Defense and the Supreme Education Council to try to open the school on time, he said the final inspection did not take place as planned on Sept. 4.
To mitigate the inconvenience, the school has told parents that fees for the days missed this term would be offset against next term’s fees.
“We are obviously disappointed that, after the tremendous efforts put in by our builders to complete all the necessary changes, we have been unable to open on time; and for this we can only apologize.”
The headmaster of Sherborne Qatar’s senior school, Michael Weston, told Doha News that “fewer than 200” pupils had been affected by the delay, as not all of the 330 pre-prep and pre-school pupils were due back yesterday.
“The delay is to make sure that everything is spot on and that all the (fire and safety) requirements have been met. Civil Defense, quite rightly, takes fire safety extremely seriously.”
He added that he did not advise parents earlier of the situation as he had hoped the necessary last inspection would take place on the scheduled day.
“We are as disappointed as everyone,” he said.
The announcement has upset some parents, who are also annoyed at only finding out about the situation at the last minute and so have been unable to make alternative arrangements.
One parent of a girl who was due to start Year 3 told Doha News that her daughter was “heartbroken” at not being able to go off to school with her older brother.
“Her enthusiasm and excitement has been shattered. She was crying buckets of tears. This is not the way I wanted her school year to begin.
This is very unprofessional and I feel sad for the new students. What a horrible impression for first time parents,” she said.
In response to parents’ concerns about children missing out on work, Weston said that the school would be contacting families to “advise what work they might be missing.”
However, he assured parents that the children would be able to catch over over the coming term.
Speaking to Doha News, another parent of a Year 3 pupil said that while she was disappointed that her son had not started school yesterday, she understood the school’s position. Gill continued:
“It is unfortunate. My ideal would be to have him (my son) at school now. But it is Doha. I have some sympathy for the school. They have done all they could to get the building open on time.”
Sherborne Qatar is a sister school of Sherborne School in Dorset, one of the UK’s premier private schools.
As of this year, it will take children from age 3 to 18 years. Prep and senior school pupils (8-18 years) remain in the school’s existing campus in Bani Hajer, near Education City.
When it opens, the new pre-prep site will cater for 330 pupils across five year groups, up to Year 3 and which will also include a new pre-school intake.
In addition to classrooms, its facilities will include a dining hall and assembly hall, library, IT suite, art and design-technology room and sports pitches.
Has your family been affected by the delayed start? Thoughts?