How do Dubai schools support special education needs?

According to UNESCO, 90% of children with disabilities around the world do not attend school. Comparative studies on disability legislation show that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws[1]. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among this very small group of countries with its National Strategy for Empowering People with Disabilities launched in 2017. Through this strategy, the UAE redefines persons with disabilities as persons with determination – a testament to recognizing a person’s strength of character, perseverance and courage as opposed to their limitations only.

Aligned with national policy directives to empower people of determination is the Dubai Disability Strategy which aims to making Dubai a fully cohesive and inclusive society by 2020. Strengthening Dubai’s aspiration to be a fully inclusive city is the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework launched by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) which guides education providers and other stakeholders to respond to the needs of children and young people who experience a special educational need and disability (SEND).

Among the areas of focus, the policy includes guidance on fostering a culture of inclusive education among schools in Dubai. An inclusive classroom is one that values the contributions of all students. It recognizes that every learner is unique, builds on differences in language, culture and ability, and identifies and removes barriers to achievement. Inclusive education is not a project or an initiative, but rather the progressive development of attitudes, behaviors, systems and beliefs that enable inclusivity to become a norm that underpins school culture. 

In this KHDA Chatter, The Winchester School – Jebal Ali, Al Ittihad Private School, Kings School – Al Barsha, Safa Community School, Raffles World Academy and Uptown School share specific ways in which they foster an inclusive learning environment.

Safa Community School (Safa). Safa’s philosophy for inclusiveness is driven by the belief that children learn to appreciate diversity when they are exposed to differences in school that are representative of the real world. Safa’s inclusion model is based on personalized learning. The school’s Inclusion Support Team implements its inclusion model by working with teachers to personalize learning while identifying and removing barriers to learning. Families are often involved in the process which allows for a deeper understanding of students’ needs.

Safa’s Pastoral Team partners with counsellors at kidsFIRST, a local medical center providing special needs services to children, to provide provision for children who have difficulties with self-regulation and social interaction, or to provide one-to-one counselling for students requiring emotional support. 

Students at Safa are monitored and evaluated on their emotional, sensory and cognitive development based on identified “learning qualities” that align with the school’s overall inclusion philosophy. Teachers across disciplines maintain regular communication about students’ development to ensure that support structures are consistent, firmly embedded and ongoing.      

The Winchester School – Jebal Ali. At Winchester, inclusion means that every student receives what they need to maximize their potential. This philosophy is carried into the classroom as Winchester aims to ensure that teachers create a classroom culture that makes personalized learning possible for all students. Special accommodations for physical disabilities are made to ensure that learning is accessible. Learning programs for enhancing skills and fostering technical and vocational skills are made available to leverage differences in learning and create opportunity to work on areas of need. 

Winchester staff include an Inclusion Champion, Governor of Inclusion and the Inclusive Action Team which collectively hold school leaders and teaching staff accountable for ensuring personalized learning for students of determination. Teachers work with inclusion staff to ensure that students of determination receive an Individualized Education Program with appropriate learning targets identified. Students’ progress is tracked on a daily basis and assessed at the end of each term to ensure that learning is moving closer to age expectation and level of independence and social skills are improving.

Kings School Al Barsha. At Kings, the process of supporting a student starts with the admissions procedure where a student is assessed holistically. Based on students’ needs, Learning Inclusively at Kings (LInK) Department ensures that strategies are implemented to help students reach their potential. Students with long term barriers to traditional academics are provided with a wide range of support depending on their individual needs. Teachers and staff work together in multi-disciplinary teams to support students academically, socially, and emotionally. Students of determination are monitored on specific targets based on their individual learning plans.

As well as working closely with external agencies and other schools in the region to share resources and knowledge, continually develop professionally and improve resources, Kings’ has in-house specialists such as: Specialist Teachers, Specialist Assessors, Speech and Language Therapy, Dyslexia and Autism Provision, Counsellors, Pastoral Teams, Foundation Stage, Primary and Secondary age, and subject specific support.

Raffles World Academy: Raffles developed its School Strategic Improvement Plan on the basis of inclusion. The Head of Inclusion provides professional development to all teachers at Raffles to implement teaching strategies to support an inclusive learning environment. Students with determination have an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) developed collaboratively by the classroom teachers, support teachers, parents and students, themselves. Data from standardized testing, formative assessments and teacher observations inform specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely (SMART) targets to be included in the ILP. Student progress is measured against the SMART targets every 6-8 weeks.

A team of Learning Support Assistants work collaboratively with the classroom teachers to ensure ILPs are implemented. They provide in-class support and / or pull-out intervention sessions depending on the individual needs of student. Raffles provides students of determination with afterschool clubs where they work on their skills in a fun environment. Raffles nominates a Student Leader for Inclusion who works to raise awareness on inclusion throughout the school.  

Al Ittihad Private School – Jumeriah: Al Ittihad believes: “Every leader is an Inclusion Champion and every teacher is a Special Education Teacher.” Teachers and staff at Al Ittihad further believe that students of determination learn better and faster when included in the mainstream classroom. Al Ittihad seeks to develop all students as Inclusion Champions as they learn and grow together. While students in the lower grades learn and grow together, students in the upper grades receive awareness building workshops to ensure inclusion. School facilities have been renovated to increase student accessibility.

Students of determination at Al Ittihad engage in support programs that feature specially-tailored curricula, small group support, one-on-one support, and co-teaching. Under the supervision of the school’s Inclusion Head, learning support teachers and assistants work together to identify assistive technology and special teaching resources to support student learning. They also work with Heads of each department to monitor students’ development progress.

Uptown School: Uptown has a team of specialists that coordinate support and provision for students of determination while maintaining close ties with families and outside agencies to further develop inclusive practice. However, each and every member of the teaching team has a central role in ensuring an inclusive ethos throughout the school.

Uptown promotes individualized learning. Each student has an Inclusion Passport which identifies their individual needs and how to accommodate them in curriculum lessons. Student progress is monitored and assessed, and feeds into a graduated approach, which continually reviews and refines teachers’ understanding of the students’ needs to help them to secure positive outcomes. At Uptown, social and emotional outcomes are equally important to academic ones in ensuring that students are well equipped for their journey as lifelong learners.

All-Inclusive Approaches to Celebrate Determination. To promote an inclusive learning environment, a school needs an “all-inclusive approach” that garners all hearts, hands and heads in the learning process. The Dubai schools featured here certainly illustrate that with coordinated efforts between and among teachers, parents, students, specialists and local experts. Collective efforts towards personalized learning celebrates a student’s determination.


[1] United Nations. Fact Sheet on Persons with Disabilities. 

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