UAE schools should offer teachers job security and career progession to retain staff

Private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer higher salaries than many of the expat hubs in East Asia, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, but typically face a high turnover of staff.

DUBAI // Tax-free salaries are no longer enough to attract and retain the best teachers, recruiters say as they urge headteachers to focus on providing better career opportunities.

Private schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer higher salaries than many of the expat hubs in East Asia, such as Singapore or Hong Kong, but typically suffer a high turnover of staff.

Financial packages that also include accommodation and tuition fees for their own children are no longer sufficient.

Many teachers in the UAE are on short-term contracts, often two years, which also does little for job security, experts said.

High turnover means disruption for pupils, frustration for parents and steep recruitment bills for schools.

“Schools have to seriously think about what kind of career progression they can offer potential recruits otherwise they will miss out on the best teachers,” said Mark Andrews, managing director of International Schools at education recruiter Tes Global, which opened offices in Dubai this month.

“We find that teachers are looking for opportunities to grow their skills through new roles within a school they are working in, but that isn’t always possible here.”

He said schools in the UAE had been slow to recognise this fact and some simply found it cheaper to cycle through staff rather than offer them new opportunities and roles.

“Recruiting teachers from abroad can be an expensive process because you have to pay for the associated costs, like residency visas as well as the cost of advertising for jobs,” said Mr Andrews.

“The UAE in general has a high rate of churn compared with places like the UK or Spain where teachers tend to be on longer contracts.”

Schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi offer higher salaries than most expat hubs, ranging from Dh11,000 a month including accommodation to more than Dh25,000 plus other benefits.

This compares with an average of around Dh14,600 per month in Australia, around Dh17,200 for international schools in China and Dh11,000 in Hong Kong.

The UAE has become popular with new teachers who stay for around two years to gain some experience and then return to the UK or move onto the Far East for a new challenge, he said.

“Schools in this country have become very competitive, but I think we will see continued growth in premium and mid-range schools.”

However, a global shortage of high-quality teachers means it is becoming more difficult to recruit.

“Every year in the UK we have 44,000 people enter the education sector but at the same time 42,000 leave each year,” said Rhys Howells, marketing and sales manager for SchoolRecruiter — an education recruitment app.

“It means the sector is only growing by 2,000 a year so there is a huge shortfall.”

Some schools in the UAE spend between Dh135,000 and Dh225,000 a year to advertise jobs, he said.

“We find that teachers are just as focused on the experience and want to feel engaged with a school and that way they are more likely to stay,” he said.

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at schools operator Taaleem, said there continues to be tough competition between schools.

“With the opening of more schools, competition to recruit and retain the best teachers remains a key challenge for International schools in the region,” he said.

Taaleem had seen an increase in the last year with more than 10,000 applicants for primary vacancies alone from around the world.

There has also been investment into a new teaching staff accommodation in Dubai and provide support in helping new recruits to settle in the emirate.

“Professional development and career progression is one of the key factors that applicants look for when choosing schools to apply to and so this needs to be a priority for any school or group looking to be at the forefront of International education,” he said.​