Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

Rising competition for teachers leads to some UAE schools struggling to fill posts

Recruiters say demand for staff in Asia, Australia and elsewhere was impacting the Emirates

Gavin Walford-Wright says there has been an increase in the number of teachers declining contracts at a later stage in the UAE this year.
Gavin Walford-Wright says there has been an increase in the number of teachers declining contracts at a later stage in the UAE this year.

Rising demand for teachers abroad has left some schools in the Emirates struggling to fill posts, experts have said.

More competitive salaries offered by schools in Asia, Australia and the UK are thought to be partly behind the difficulty in recruiting core staff.

On Tuesday, days before the start of the new academic year, at least four UAE schools posted last-minute adverts for teaching roles.

Job descriptions on Dubai Teachers’ Network Facebook forum offered several “immediate start” positions in subjects including maths, music and physical education.

Gavin Walford-Wright, an HR officer at UAE education provider Taaleem, said stronger offers from overseas was one reason for the issue.

He said schools in Asia had been targeting international teachers in the Middle East by offering “inflated salaries to secure growing demand”.

“We have been hearing reports that there has been an increased number of teachers declining contracts at a later stage this year [in the UAE],” he said.

“This is notably coming from counter offers from their home countries that have teacher shortages, such as the UK and Australia.”

Teaching roles in the UAE have long been seen as attractive given the competitive, usually tax-free salaries on offer.

But a growing demand for private education has resulted in a significant increase in the number of schools being built, leading to stiffer competition for staff.

Last year, 13 new schools opened in Dubai alone, with a further eight expected in the emirate by 2020.

The move will create 13,000 more places for pupils, said officials from the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the education regulator.

While it is relatively common to see a small number of last-minute positions being advertised close to the start of term, Mr Walford-Wright said several factors could be contributing towards the unusual rise this year. “Often, student enrolment numbers increase rapidly at the end of summer, with new families coming into the market,” he said.

“This puts class ratio numbers over the limit and it ends up creating the need for new classes.”

He also said teachers planning to move to the UAE did sometimes change their minds at the last minute.

“Another factor we hear of is that inefficient HR procedures at some schools lead to delays in contract issuance,” he said.

“This often unnerves staff new to the region, who are reluctant to commit themselves to a position without the proper paperwork in place.

“A proactive, experienced and knowledgeable HR team is essential for successful onboarding of new staff and avoiding crisis management at the beginning of a school year.”

Garrett O’Dowd, founder of Teach and Explore, an overseas educational recruitment agency based in Ireland, said two teachers who moved the UAE last month left because of a breakdown in communication with school staff.

“Two brand-new teachers who moved from Ireland to Abu Dhabi rang me in a panic on Saturday,” he said.

“They turned up to a filthy apartment provided by an independent private school in the emirate.”

The principal of the school agreed to put them up in a hotel for three nights.

But after the teachers tried, and failed, to meet him in person to discuss other concerns they had about their contracts, they got cold feet and returned home.

“They ended up flying back to Ireland on Sunday as they didn’t want to proceed with the teaching position,” he said.

The principal was contacted by The National but declined to comment on the issue.

Teach and Explore has been placing Irish teachers in UAE schools for several years.

Mr O’Dowd said while his recent experience was not a regular occurrence, it could reflect badly on all schools in the country and put teachers off moving.

He also confirmed that the growing demand for teachers elsewhere in Asia, and a resulting increase in salaries there, was affecting the UAE.

“The salaries on offer in Asia are now consistently beating the UAE,” he said. “This was not the case before.

“In some schools salaries have stagnated and come down in the UAE.”

Mr O’Dowd also said some schools in the Emirates were now offering teachers shared accommodation as opposed to individual flats.

“A lot of schools are tightening their belts, which is causing a lot of experienced teachers to look elsewhere.”

Updated: August 31, 2019 06:39 PM

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