Some Dubai private schools said they have seen higher teacher turnover this summer, as homesick staff pack their bags and return home.
Travel restrictions and quarantine rules mean many expat teachers have spent more than 18 months separated from loved ones.
Principals attribute the departures to homesickness, while teachers say the prolonged absence from their families made them reassess what was important in life.
But many schools reported "record demand" for jobs from teachers in the UK eager to escape travel restrictions there.
During peak hiring season this year, job portals advertised as many as 500 teaching posts for private and public sector schools.
"I think the pandemic made everyone evaluate their lives," said Suzanne, a British teacher in Abu Dhabi who has spent three years teaching in the city.
"The UAE handled the pandemic well and I feel safe here. But really what matters is family. I am definitely going back home."
At Sunmarke School in Dubai, 20 teachers out of 137 are returning to the UK – a higher number than in recent years.
"The pandemic has been a trying time for many people," said Neil Hopkin, executive principal.
The UAE is on the UK's "red list" and travellers are required to enter an 11-night quarantine at a government-approved hotel, even if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
"Of the teachers who have decided to move on, the proportion that is returning to the UK is much bigger than what we would normally see," Mr Hopkin said.
"That’s a direct result of the pandemic. Perhaps they have elderly parents and relatives in the UK."
James Monaghan, principal at North London Collegiate School in Dubai, said that of the teachers leaving the school this year, 85 per cent were returning to their home country because of the pandemic and the uncertainty over travel restrictions.
He would not provide annual figures but said many were concerned about family emergencies.
"There are teachers who have not travelled home since the summer of 2019 because of all the restrictions and the lockdowns," he said.
While recruiting staff, Mr Monaghan said the movement from the UK was not at the usual level of interest compared with pre-Covid levels.
He said issues of travel between the UK and the UAE could have played a role.
"Yes, there are teachers moving from the UK to the UAE. I have seen a reduction in the number of quality applications coming from the UK since the start of the calendar year," he said.
Teachers generally relocate to the UAE for promotion, new experiences and to fulfil other commitments. Many are on short-term contracts of about two years.
Some schools declined to provide annual statistics on recruitment but a 2015 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that UAE schools can experience high teacher turnover rates, while a World Bank report, Collaboration Road: Dubai's Journey towards Improved School Quality, published in March 2019, showed that some schools had an annual staff turnover of 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
Kate Fisher, head of human resources at Taaleem, Dubai's second-largest school group, said a healthy turnover of teachers internationally was commonly accepted at about 10 per cent to 20 per cent.
In February, it was reported that more than 500 new teaching roles were on offer at schools across the UAE during the traditional recruiting period.
That has fallen to 109 jobs in Dubai and 224 across the UAE, indicating strong interest in jobs in the country. Some head teachers said the pandemic actually led to a surge in interest from applicants from the UK.
"Many British teachers are looking to remain in the UAE and others are looking to relocate here because they are frustrated with life and lockdown in the UK," said Alan Williamson, chief executive at Taaleem.
“This year we have had a record numbers of UK teachers looking to join our Dubai British School cluster of schools.”
Rashmi Nandkeolyar, principal at Delhi Private School Dubai, said teachers were keen to stay in the UAE because of the outbreak in India.
The school has 295 teachers, and typically had an attrition rate of 12 per cent. Last year, this dropped to 6 per cent.
"This year the turnover is lower than past years because most people want to stay in the UAE because they feel it's safer here," Ms Nandkeolyar said.
“They can easily get access to medical care here. Many teachers are going to travel during the holidays to take care of their parents or elderly relatives."
India is facing a deadly second wave of Covid-19, with fatalities having crossed the 389,000 mark.
Teachers' pay in the UAE: What you need to know
Pay varies significantly depending on the school, its rating and the curriculum. Here is a rough guide as of January 2021.
Top-end schools tend to pay Dh16,000 to Dh17,000 ($4,350 to $4,630) a month, plus a monthly housing allowance of up to Dh6,000. These tend to be British-curriculum schools rated "outstanding" or "very good", followed by American-curriculum schools
- The average salary across curriculums and skill levels is about Dh10,000, recruiters say
- It is becoming more common for schools to provide accommodation, sometimes in an apartment block with other teachers, rather than handing teachers a cash housing allowance
- Some strong-performing schools have cut back on salaries since the pandemic began, sometimes offering Dh16,000, including the housing allowance, which reflects the slump in rental costs and demand for jobs
- Maths and science teachers are most in demand and some schools will pay up to Dh3,000 more than other teacher wages in recognition of their technical skills
- At the other end of the market, teachers in some Indian schools, where fees are lower and competition among applicants is intense, can be paid as little as Dh3,000 a month
- In Indian schools, it is also common for teachers to share residential accommodation, living in a block with colleagues