Amongst the many questions you guys ask, one of the most common questions I get asked is about the reasons why I quit teaching in the UK and chose to teach abroad, here in the UAE, instead.
Before I jump into the reasons why I quit teaching in the UK, I feel it is important that I establish at this point how wonderful my school was. I am aware a lot of people may read this post and be inclined to suggest that it was just the school that was the problem - i.e. not the right match for me, and that I should have tried another school before quitting teaching in the UK, in pursuit of a happier teaching career internationally. However, this was not the case, so this blog is absolutely not about ‘spilling the tea’ about how much I hated my school, clashed with colleagues and senior leaders and other dramas because this simply was not the case. In fact, I thoroughly loved my school and felt well-supported by everyone around me there, so much so I said to my Headteacher before leaving, that if I could move the school to Dubai, then I would do that in a heartbeat.
So now you’re probably wondering what the root of my decision to start a whole new life abroad was. Short story, there were things happening within the education system in the UK that I wasn’t too keen on, and I will get into that shortly, but it was also about my desire to seek new opportunities and experiences, which I will explain later on.
To make it easier to understand my reasons for quitting teaching in the UK, I have narrowed them down to four main reasons:
1- Lack of Funding
To give a bit of context, before taking the leap and moving to the UAE, I spent two years teaching in the UK; I completed my NQT (now ECT) and RQT (recently qualified teacher) years. During this time, I taught two large classes; the first was a class of 33 mixed Year 5 and Year 6 students, and my second class was an equally large group of Year 6 students. Now I’m sure all teachers understand that 33 students are a lot to manage on a daily basis. It is a large class size, but sadly not unusual (that’s a whole other debate for another day!).
Anyway, within this mixed class, there were your expected ‘spread’ of Year 5 students (a mix of ability students with different strengths, challenges and areas for development). In addition, I also had some students from Year 6, who were the students expected to be exempt from completing their SATs due to the complexity of their individual needs, so it was decided that they would benefit more from being in a less pressurised, predominantly Year 5 curriculum and environment, rather than a Year 6 class with the pressure of SATs (again, a debate for another day!).
Understandably, you’re probably thinking this is all quite normal and yes it is - every class, no matter where you are in the world, is going to be challenging and that is the nature of teaching. However, the challenge I faced and found extremely difficult, was the process of applying for three EHC (Education, Health and Care) Plans, in addition to the ones already established and in place for other students from the previous years.
For those of you who may not have had much experience with the application process of an EHC Plan, you have to gather a lot of evidence about the needs of the child, the support the child has already been receiving, alongside other historical data to essentially back up and ‘prove’ why the student needs additional support beyond the typical daily teacher interventions (i.e. differentiating learning, considering different learning styles, extra intervention, etc.). I was actually very fortunate in that I was not alone in this process. As I have already established, my school were so incredibly supportive and I had the backing and help of the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) and her assistant, who also spent many hours completing all of the relevant questionnaires and forms, organising and attending observations with external agencies, and just generally supporting me.
For each individual application, it was a really long and arduous process so to then only have one out of the three applications approved, was quite frankly devastating. The other applications were rejected multiple times because there would always be another loophole that we had to jump through and it would be something like we needed to declare costings for the provision that we wanted to be put in place. So, for example, if we were saying they need five hours of one-to-one support, they would want to know how much that is worth across the academic year to see whether you were entitled to claim for support.
After having these two applications repeatedly rejected, I remember the guy from the Local Authority who was responsible for approving and processing these applications verbally mentioning how they were inundated with EHCP plans but simply did not have the funding to support as required. Therefore, it basically came down to them having to look at the applications presented to them and decide whether although the children clearly needed additional support that the schools themselves couldn’t offer, were they ‘needy’ enough to justify allocating what little budget was available to the Local Authority, onto the school to support the relevant child/children.
While I could sit here and go into all of the reasons why this was just quite simply wrong, all I will say is that it left me feeling very deflated and as though I had failed the children. What I mean by that is they were Year 6 going into Year 7 and would have really benefited from the support that an EHC Plan would have given them, allowing them to have the best possible start to their Secondary years.
Sadly, this is just one story that I have from my two years of teaching in the UK where the lack of funding available had a detrimental impact on the quality of the provision myself and my school could offer, and therefore the quality of the education the students were receiving. Again, it is incredibly sad to know that this is, for most schools across the UK, the norm.
2 - Lack of (some) parental support
Now, I know there will be many people out there who will instantly say that this is an issue wherever you go in the world and yes, yes it is. However, I found that there was a particular attitude from some parents in the UK that I personally found very difficult to deal with. This attitude was the attitude, and the expectation, that as the class teacher it was not just my responsibility to teach but to also parent.
A stand out memory for me was being stood at the front of the class going through the usual morning routines with my class when a parent turned up at my door telling the child that ‘Mr Blakemore will sort some breakfast’ because they were running late. Now, of course, I’m not going to allow a child to go hungry and, of course, we all have those mornings and there are times when parents may genuinely need a bit of extra support. However, what really got to me was the fact it was just expected and not just on one or two occasions - it was regular.
On top of this then, was the expectation that if a child was misbehaving at home, I was the main adult in that child’s life that who would (as the parents worded it) ‘sort their behaviour out’. In reality, after speaking to the child, it was often the case that they misbehaved because they were tired and it felt like their parents were piling too much pressure on them. I just remember feeling quite sad that there was clearly a breakdown of communication and trust between the parents and child, so much so that the child couldn’t voice these feelings. Ultimately, this came down to the parents’ dismissal of dealing with such scenarios at home and instead, assuming all responsibility was with me as the teacher.
Again, don’t get me wrong, we all want to be there to support families as much as possible and we all understand the role of a teacher is much more than simply ‘teaching’, but I personally found it challenging to deal with when it was assumed, taken for granted and had a negative impact on the children’s relationships with their own families, like in this example.
3 - Politics!
Yet another topic I’m sure we could all sit and talk about, but there aren’t enough hours in the day! To be honest, I can’t even remember who the Education Secretary was at the time I was teaching in the UK, but I just remember being continually frustrated by the actions (and lack of actions) that were going on. I’m sure that this is very much the same feeling a lot of teachers currently have regarding the handling of decisions and the general lack of empathy and support for teachers who are working their absolute best whilst navigating through a global pandemic.
While I was teaching in the UK, I found it extremely difficult and demoralising knowing that the decisions surrounding education were being made by people who had never taught a day in their lives but were yet somehow ‘qualified’ to tell the rest of us how to do our jobs. In addition to that, the fact that teachers’ opinions simply were not valued (whether that was regarding the lack of funding, SATs, the way Ofsted inspections were focused and administered, etc.) was the cherry on the top for me. I already had friends teaching internationally who always spoke about how much more respected and trusted as an educator they felt, and that is ultimately what I wanted.
At this point, it is important that I highlight that international teaching also comes with its pros and cons. After now living and teaching in Dubai for four years, I have actually compiled a list of pros and cons of living and teaching in Dubai. In this blog, you will see what my personal top3 pros and cons are, which are the ones most pertinent to me. For those of you who are considering teaching internationally, you can see a much more extensive list in my guide here.
4 - Opportunities
In addition to the previous reasons, another reason why I quit teaching, and I guess always wanted to, was to explore the opportunities that teaching internationally would provide me with. I was very fortunate to be able to travel and explore lots of European destinations during my teacher holidays while teaching in the UK and this ignited my passion for travel further afield in other areas of the world I hadn’t yet explored. Ultimately, its central location was one of the huge attractions to moving to the Middle East, and by doing so I have been able to visit so many more incredible places, which you can check out in this YouTube playlist.
Beyond travel, I also had the desire to meet new people, experience different cultures and learn from other people I wasn’t typically surrounded by at home.
By choosing to teach internationally, I also had the opportunity to take control and have a positive impact on my own mental health. I could see that the lifestyle of living in the constant sunshine and the ability to go for regular sunny walks on a beach was something that would boost my mood and support my well-being. From speaking with friends already teaching abroad, I could also see how the difference in attitudes towards teachers would only improve my experiences as a teacher. The introduction of the new 4.5 days working week by the UAE government (in a bid to improve work-life balance across the UAE) also helps!
Hopefully, this blog has been interesting and useful to some of you out there who have asked me why I left the UK and how I knew it was the right choice for me. If you are considering making the transition to international teaching, I have produced several videos that you watch here and for those of you interested specifically in the UAE. I have created two separate guides that talk you through the application process and what to do after receiving a job offer.
I also appreciate that international teaching isn’t for everyone, which is absolutely fine. However, managing our own well-being is something we all struggle to balance from time to time. I recently found that a small shift has had a tremendous impact on how I view stresses and worries both in and out of the teaching world.