Teaching and Learning in the United Arab Emirates

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What can we learn from British teachers who move to teach in the United Arab Emirates?

On 8th to 10th June 2019, I had the pleasure of visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to work with colleagues at Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS). This blog captures my experience and thoughts …

Teaching and learning trumps everything …

On day one, I worked with 110 teachers from the primary and secondary schools on strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning. On day two, with all middle and senior school leaders to refine teaching and learning pedagogy. As ever, it was a fascinating experience and I would like to thank Deane Marwa and Jennie Burke (JESS secondary) for their hospitality.

At the end of the trip, our conversations summed up what all schools must do: Place teaching and learning conversations at the heart of everything we do. Despite all of the challenges I have listed below for those that work in UAE, JESS are doing an incredible job for their students, their staff who work there and for the local region as a whole. It is great to see that JESS is making teaching and learning a priority for the year ahead and I am confident, having worked with the teachers and leadership team, that JESS will go on to achieve great things.

Why teach in overseas?

My personal interests in teacher attrition and workload always cross over to the countries I am now visiting. On my travels I have discovered that teachers in Switzerland are some of the highest paid in the world, have a high standard of living, yet salaries are consumed by the high costs of living and workload is ever present. However, it is a beautiful place in which to work and even though it is so close to home, the high-stakes accountability pressure we are so familiar with in England is a distant memory.

Teachers in the Ministry of Defence schools (in Germany) are facing relocation as the British Forces decamp from various sites across the country. The teachers who I had the privilege of meeting are faced with finding work with the forces elsewhere or are having to relocate back to the U.K. to a system they once left. It is evident that many have carved out a career for decades with the British Forces around the world.

In this video, I ask followers about workload and discuss teacher-pressures in the UAE.

Exploring UAE teacher statistics …

Each time I visit another international setting, I explore the workforce census for the country I am visiting and the UAE is no different. As part of the work I do before I arrive, I aim to better understand the pressures teachers and the government are facing within the education system and in this case, ‘why so many British teachers are leaving the U.K. to go and teach in the Middle East?’

This is what I have discovered about the teaching workforce in the United Arab Emirates:

  • 639 public schools with 23,000 teachers and 287,000 pupils
  • 580 private schools with 47,000 teachers with 793,000 pupils
  • 1,219 schools with 70,000 teachers and 1.1 million pupils.

Teacher Workforce UAE

Source: Ministry of Education, UAE

Terms and Conditions

Most readers will understand why a teacher would want to move away from England. Lucrative salaries, working conditions, paid-for apartments, health care, annual return flights, the ability to save and the costs of living are sustainable, but what are the downsides? Well, teaching staff, on the whole, were very positive about working in Dubai, but other than missing your loved ones, teacher workload very much exists in Dubai.

The UAE also faces a teacher retention crisis. Dubai is certainly not perfect and tax-free salaries may not be enough to attract and retain the best teachers if they are on annual contracts. Recruiters urge schools to focus on providing longer-term contracts and reports in the media have identified rates of anywhere between 20 per cent and upwards of 60 per cent in some cases! Academically speaking, there are only 95 research articles on “teacher attrition UAE” since 2019, so much more work is needed to understand teacher-mobility.

Workload and School Inspection

‘Marking’ is one of the greatest burdens for teachers at JESS, and regardless of school or country, I have had this issue confirmed time and time again. JESS are working hard to reduce teacher workload to place ‘feedback in the classroom high on the agenda. I am reassured their reflective and open approach will soon find them sharing many ideas with others and remaining a popular school for years to come. It was a privilege to be invited in to work at JESS and spend a short time influencing their workload agenda and research-informed debate.

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Finally, my favourite topic: School accountability. In the UAE, schools have regular inspections conducted by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), or Dubai School Inspection Bureau. The UAE is keen to rank highly on the next round of PISA tables, published by OECD. Results from the PISA tests in 2018 will be released on 3 December 2019. This could be one factor behind turnover and burnout.

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