School principals across UAE ask for clarity on changes

School heads confused about what is expected of them and push for a say in recruiting teachers and how budgets are allocated and spent.

Pupils at Al Rams Secondary School for Boys in Ras Al Khaimah. The school’s principal is pushing for involvement in hiring his teachers.
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DUBAI // Education authorities are granting state schools more autonomy in the coming academic year, but principals say they still do not know what that means for them.

Responsibilities are to be delegated to state school heads by the Ministry of Education, and in the capital by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec).

Principals, however, say they do not know much about what their new responsibilities will be.

"Teachers and staff selection, their salaries, books, water and electricity and transport are among the things principals will not have a hand in," said Ali Al Suwaidi, the assistant under secretary at the Ministry of Education.

Mr Al Suwaidi said there would be logistical problems in giving those responsibilities to schools.

"There are some areas that will have to remain with the ministry," he said.

School heads say they are unhappy they will not be consulted before their teachers are hired.

"It is important that the principal is part of the interview process of teachers," said Yousef Al Shehhi, principal of the Al Rams Secondary School in Ras Al Khaimah.

"I have no control on the quality of teachers and have to accept whatever I am given. And then when the ministry asks me, 'why is your teacher weak?', how should I answer that?"

Mr Al Shehhi said he prepared a report for the ministry every year on the teachers in his school.

"But I cannot do anything beyond that," he said. "The decision lies with them."

Khaltham Mohammed, principal of the Mushairef Model School in Ajman, said principals had on many occasions suggested they should be involved in hiring.

"We should be able to meet them and give suggestions," said Ms Mohammed. "Then only they should be approved. We do not want to get acquainted on the first day of school and get a surprise."

In Abu Dhabi, as part of the decentralising move, the council decided to give principals the task of appraising supervisors. To this end, it has started leadership and management training for staff.

"We need to enhance and delegate authority," said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, director general of Adec. "This way they can put their own plans in place and be responsible for the quality they provide."

But Dr Al Khaili added the changes would not all come at once. "The first step is capacity building," he said.

Another point of disagreement between schools and authorities is over the handling and allocation of budgets.

The ministry provides a checklist to schools which guides them on how to spend their budgets. Schools are audited two times every year.

Aziza Al Mulla, principal of Fatima Bin Outba School on the outskirts of Fujairah, said hiring labour for maintenance was very expensive.

The school, which has 630 pupils, has a budget of Dh80,000 a year.

"Right now there is no difference between a small school and a big one," said Ms Al Mulla. "Furniture needs to be replaced and we need to constantly upgrade technology.

"And if I want to provide additional resources or make special rooms for activities, I can't."

The idea of decentralising budgets and authority was promoted in a 2010 report compiled by Unicef, the General Women's Union and Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood.

The Situation Analysis of Children in the UAE report backed educators' concerns and recommended that authorities review school budgets and link them to educational requirements and pupil numbers.

Sumaya Al Suwaidi, director of the Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Educational Zone, said it worked with companies to help to fund some school initiatives.

"Even the RAK Government supports us, which reduces any budget strain," Ms Al Suwaidi said.

RAK is not the only local government stepping in to fill the financial gap for schools. The Sharjah Government recently announced the allocation of Dh90 million to develop government schools

The money will be spent on renovation and providing new facilities for primary schools.