UAE schools are of course private, with shareholders, and so will look to make some form of margin so investors can be repaid, and, somewhere between 7 to 15 years even make a profit. Without that possibility, investors would not invest, and there would be no new schools in the first place.
However, even this awareness does not help parents understand why there is a difference between schools that, superficially, look so similar. This question has become more urgently asked with the growth in the ‘Affordable’ sector, new schools offering similar looking facilities (plus or minus a swimming pool), but with considerably lower fees than their ‘Premium’ peers. If these schools offer the same facilities, we are asked, why are the fees at Dubai’s premium schools two to three times more expensive?
The answer of course does not normally come down to a single answer - rent, interest, location, land ownership, and so on, will all impact the total running cost of a school. However, there is usually one cost that rises above them all that explains fee differences: The teacher salary bill. Any parent trying to determine real value, needs to understand the teacher recruitment policy of his or her child’s school - in particular, where teachers are recruited from, whether they are newly qualified or experienced, the teacher:student ratio at the school and its retention policy.
A premium school typically will recruit experienced teachers, who command a higher salary. It will also look to retain teachers for longer. IB and UK curriculum schools are also more likely to be premium schools as IB or UK curriculum qualified teachers command higher salaries.
The 2019 WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Teacher Survey captures a lot of this in numbers. Money talks, and the survey reveals, in black and white, that the more you pay the more a school will offer its teachers. The more you pay also the ‘happier’ they are, and the more they are likely to feel they have the resources they need to deliver for each child.
|Choice||% rounded||% rounded Premium fee schools||% rounded Mid fee schools||% rounded Value fee schools|
|Less than USD $1,000 a month||7||2||5||12|
|$1,001 to $2,000||36||5||26||68|
|$2,001 to $3,000||20||3||32||12|
|$3,001 to $4,000||14||14||24||5|
|$4,001 to $5,000||12||38||8||0|
|$5,001 to $6,000||4||13||1||0|
|$6,001 to $7,000||3||12||1||0|
|$8,001 to $9,000||2||6||1||0|
|$9,001 to $10,000||0||2||0||0|
|$10,001 to $15,000||1||0||1||0|
|$15,000 to $20,000||0||2||0||0|
|More than USD $20,001||1||2||0||0|
|Do you feel your school has the resources to give each child individual attention?|
|Choice||% rounded ALL||% rounded Premium||% rounded Mid||% rounded Value|
|To a limited degree||33||33||34||35|
|For how many years have you been a teacher?|
|Choice||% rounded||% rounded Premium||% rounded Mid||% rounded Value|
|3 to 7||20||7||25||23|
|7 to 11||22||22||22||23|
|11 to 15||17||18||16||18|
It is not, however, completely linear. Mid-range fee schools do not perform or behave as they should. Teachers are often less satisfied than their Value fee school counterparts, and are less likely to recommend their school.
We believe this is for three reasons. The first is that there can be a mismatch between facilities and staffing. If a mid-priced school has premium style facilities, it may squeeze salaries harder to find the margin it needs.
Secondly, its value proposition is less likely to be understood. Teachers in value schools, where the fee is low, have lower expectations to match, and these are 'more' easily met as a result. Teachers in premium fee schools have higher expectations, but these can be met through the resources offered. Mid-range fees sit, often uncomfortably, in the middle with more resource than value based schools, but seemingly not at the level teachers or parents expect.
The final reason value schools seem to do better than mid-range fee schools in terms of delivered resources is expectation placed ON teachers themselves. In mid-range schools teachers are expected to deliver more by both parents and the school itself than those in value fee schools. Teachers look to the resources they have available to them within the school to meet these expectations. At the value and premium school fee range, teachers for the most part believe they do have what they need to deliver what is expected of them. At the mid-range however, they do not.
Given the move to mid-market, this should be an eye opener for schools, groups and investors. While profit and pupils may lie in this direction, happiness and satisfaction, according to our survey at least, does not.
Note, there is also likely to be a cultural element to this in the differences in the expectations of different nationalities. Value schools have a high percentage of Indian schools, the mid-market more US/ US MoE, and UK schools, while Premium schools are dominated by UK and IB schools. Teachers from India are the least likely to want to change jobs, or want to leave their schools. Also note that value schools are likely to be older (and therefore hopefully more 'settled') than mid-range fee schools where there has been considerably more launch activity over the last five years.
For parents choosing a school, the key to determining value is to try to look beyond the infrastructure and facilities. They may be important, but academically at least, the quality of teaching and teachers is considerably more important. The survey results we quote above could serve as benchmarks when assessing your chosen school.
Just to add more complexity into the mix, remember however that a teacher with more experience, does not necessarily make a better teacher. Younger teachers come with passion, ideas, new teaching styles and enthusiasm that can get lost with time. That said, you should know what you are getting. Ask the questions about the qualifications of teachers, and how many years teachers, and department heads have under their belts. Do not be afraid, moreover, to question teacher turnover at the school. The lower the turnover the less likely your child will be to suffer disruption to their studies in a school year…
The full results of the Teacher Survey will be published in the next EIG Intelligence Report, to be released shortly.