Hundreds of teachers are ready to begin new roles as UAE schools prepare to reopen for the first time since March.
The new academic year gets under way on August 30 and will usher in the start of a new life in the UAE for many new overseas recruits.
Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, some schools put their recruitment plans on hold, while others press ahead with remote interviews and flights.
Taaleem, which operates 13 schools across the Emirates, is set to welcome 127 new teachers, 52 of which are international hires from countries such as the UK and US.
Kate Fisher, head of human resources at Taaleem, said all of its international hires were recruited before the outbreak.
“When the pandemic started we refocused our recruitment strategy to ensure that we secured more hires from staff that were already settled in the UAE,” she said.
“From the start of the lockdown, when borders were closed and we had no firm assurances of new overseas hires being guaranteed entry into the UAE, we commenced an alternative recruitment strategy to our normal global search.
“Any vacancies we had after the Covid-19 pandemic were interviewed for locally.”
She said they would process work visas for the new international hires once they have arrived in the country.
And unlike some schools in the Emirates, all staff, old and new, were reassured that their positions were secure and salary packages remained the same.
At the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) in Abu Dhabi, seven new teachers were recruited for the new academic year, including two international hires.
Mark Leppard, headmaster at BSAK, said his school has managed to get permission for teachers to fly in to the capital.
"The two teachers recruited from overseas are currently seeking approval to travel and will be arriving to Abu Dhabi this week," he said.
"We have had to do our staff induction through video calls, rather than in school, and we have started this earlier so that those coming into Abu Dhabi can self-isolate for at least two weeks before the school starts on August 30, as mandated by the government."
Primary teacher Megan Pankhurst, from London, will arrive in Dubai on August 13 to start work at Dubai British School – Jumeirah Park.
“I applied for the job in December, was interviewed in January and received an offer a few days later,” the 26-year-old said.
“There was a little concern about my job security when the pandemic started to progress globally, but I have friends that live in Dubai and things seemed quite under control as they acted quickly.
“I also received email updates from my new headteacher in Dubai who assured me that it was still their intention to get me out there, even if distance learning was still in place. That reassurance helped.”
Joining the same school, 27-year-old Eydom Shimeles is due to land in Dubai on Sunday. She secured her position as a primary school teacher in January.
“When the pandemic hit, I felt torn as life had been put on hold,” she said.
“I was also worried about moving to another country and getting sick while being so far from home, but I’m looking forward to it now.”
For months, she has been teaching children of key workers in the UK and said it will be daunting heading back to a socially distanced classroom.
“For the last four months in my school in London I’ve been teaching very small groups of children, loosely following the national curriculum.
“Going back to a class of 30 kids is going to feel very different for them and me, but I’m excited.”
The teacher recruitment season has changed significantly this year, said Diane Jacoutot, managing director at Edvectus, an international school recruitment agency.
“From April to July, we saw a 47 per cent drop in job vacancies and a 50 per cent drop in teacher registrations,” she said.
“Teachers we did place faced challenges getting their documents attested, as the state departments and embassies were closed.
“Uncertainty drives a lack of commitment from all parties.”
In terms of salaries, she said some schools in the UAE had cut offers by as much as 40 per cent, particularly schools that have moderate tuition fees of Dh18,000 per year and below.
“This has caused an exodus of teachers looking for a better package with or without their current school’s knowledge.”
In April, teachers who spoke to The National said they had no option but to quit work after being asked to take long-term unpaid leave with no guarantee of a job to return to.
Others had been informed of a significant cut in salary just days before being paid, with some of the reductions a permanent fixture.
Roddy Hammond, chief executive for Worldteachers Recruitment, said some schools in the UAE had continued to interview international candidates, but in reduced numbers.
“The usual recruitment we do with some government schools has been effectively put on hold with no interviews, no contracts being issued and no mobilisation taking place,” he said.
“Currently, we have around 50 government teachers from overseas ready to mobilise in August, it was more than 100 last year.
"One Dubai school we work with is mobilising 17 teachers from the UK next week.
“We have worked very closely with the school and the teachers, they have needed reassurance that their jobs are still safe."
For the first time ever, he said teachers were also offered contracts which were later cancelled, leaving teachers scrambling to find alternative employment.