As the Supreme Education Council (SEC) advances on plans to unify the Spring Term break across Qatar’s private schools, parents have been complaining about significant disruption to their childcare and holiday plans.
Last year, the SEC informed international schools that they must align their breaks, generally scheduled for late February, with a new January break for independent (government-run) schools. In November, several schools announced plans to do so, shifting their holidays up so that the mid-term break fell from Jan. 26 to Feb. 6.
Some schools were granted exceptions, but others were not. Late last week, for example, Compass International emailed parents to inform them that its appeal to the SEC was not successful.
Thus, the school, which operates three school campuses in Doha and has some 1,100 students, added an additional week’s holiday to its calendar in February. Taking into account its planned two-week break later in the same month, students would have a three-week vacation.
In a letter to parents, Compass headteacher Nigel Archdale apologized for the short notice. He said that the school had considered reopening a week earlier than originally planned, but decided this was impossible because many families and teachers had already booked vacations that could not be canceled on short notice.
To make up for the extra week off, Compass management will add an additional hour to the school day for five weeks to make up for lost teaching time, the email explains. The school’s extracurricular activities would be suspended during this period to accommodate the longer school day.
Speaking to Doha News, Archdale said that the calendar change was a “situation over which we have no control.” He added:
“As a school, we are as disappointed as our parents that we have had to change our term dates at such short notice.”
Compass is the latest in a series of international schools to announce changes to their schedules made at the order of the Supreme Education Council, which has been working to harmonize the school calendar across Qatar.
When most schools chose to reschedule their original mid-term break, parents expressed frustration about additional costs, as many had already booked holidays.
The mid-term shift is just the latest in a string of adjustments made by the SEC, who have previously announced a unified summer holiday for all schools, both public and private, and a last-minute amendment to Eid holidays, also affecting all school sectors.
Parents with children attending Compass Schools have expressed frustration both at the late notice of the change, and at the length of the now three-week-long midterm break.
The change has caused childcare problems for many. There are also concerns that younger children would have trouble coping with the extended school day. Speaking to Doha News, one parent requesting anonymity said:
“A lot of the kids are very young, and I think they won’t be learning anything for that last hour of the day. By the time we pick them up at the end of the day they’re exhausted.”
Another parent said that many are disappointed that the school’s extra-curricular activities have been sacrificed to make way for an extra hour of teaching, pointing out that children will miss out on an important part of school life.
Meanwhile, parents who were given more of a head’s up about the schedule change said they are still grappling with the fallout.
Some, for example, have decided to continue with planned family holidays, making the difficult decision to take their children out of school during term-time, or face expensive cancelation charges.
Gemma, a parent with a child at Doha British School, told Doha News:
“Finally after three years in Qatar, the company my husband works for gave us our first choice for holiday dates, a school half term.
“Then, the half-term dates were changed, for a reason we still don’t understand. After having a long chat about what it best for our daughter, we have decided to take her out and spend quality time as a family. As parents we still feel guilty, hoping she won’t miss anything, and that we are doing the right thing.”
Parent Rene Juncker has also decided to take his children away on a holiday that had been booked in conjunction with their school’s original mid-term break. He said that the SEC should have given schools more time to adjust to the changes:
“I don’t think the decision to change the date is inconsiderate, but I do however think the timing of the implementation of it was inconsiderate. Moving a holiday cannot be so important, that they can’t give people proper notice, and implement the rule from next school year.”
Despite the SEC’s general ruling, some schools were allowed to keep their existing term dates this year, including British embassy-supported establishments Doha College and DESS.
Other schools which confirmed their schedules remained unaffected included the American School of Doha (ASD), the Ideal Indian School and the Philippine School Doha.
It appears, however, that these exceptions may not be applied from next year. Last week, the Peninsula reported that some Indian schools may have to move their traditional late December holiday to January to accommodate the requirement – a move that may upset Christians, many of whom would wish to travel to celebrate Christmas at this time of year.
Have you been affected? Thoughts?