Ros Marshall, has been CEO of Taaleem, the UAE’s second largest education group for just over three years.
In that time Marshall has helped steered Taaleem successfully through international re-accreditations, a region-wide teacher shortage and the education sector’s move from under to over supply.
The Taaleem group’s diverse portfolio consists of IB, UK, curriculum schools plus several stand-alone pre-schools/Foundation units.
In 2015, Marshall oversaw the launch of Dubai British School-Jumeirah Park Primary section and in 2016 the opening of the secondary school.
In addition, she has implemented the requirements which in 2016 allowed Al Raha in Abu Dhabi to secure the group’s first and much anticipated Outstanding rating, with the original Dubai British School in Dubai achieving a Very Good from the KHDA and a first inspection rating from the BSO of Outstanding.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
This is my fourth year in the UAE as CEO of Taaleem, however I have previously worked with government agencies in the UAE on school improvement contracts (Public Private Partnerships).
What made you choose the education sector?
I suppose it runs in the family, my grandfather was a Chief Education Officer in Surrey back in the 1950s and his inspiration and example meant our family values education highly.
My past work experience with Sodexo (the world leader in Quality of Life services) brought me into close contact with hundreds of universities, colleges and schools across the UK, Europe and the USA; such experience enabled me to acquire a 360-degree view of education and the services needed to ably support the delivery for the students.
Education is a wonderful vocation as being predominantly people orientated my work gives me the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives. The highlight of my year is to attend our schools’ graduation ceremonies where we see our confident, well rounded and articulate students ready to embark on the next steps of their careers, and pursuing their dreams.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
You often hear talk of the 3Rs in schools (reading, ’riting and ‘rithmetic,) but the challenges facing the UAE education sector can be summed up with 4Rs - Recruitment, Retention, Ratings and Resilience.
The quality of a school never exceeds the quality of its teachers and with the ever-increasing global demand for outstanding educators, the recruitment and retention of the very best teachers and leaders is perhaps our biggest challenge.
This is acutely felt as we strive to improve the quality of teaching for Arabic language and Islamic education in our schools.
The third ‘R’ is for Ratings; the annual school inspections, although very much welcomed in our schools, set the bar higher each year and our challenge is to demonstrate and deliver measurable year on year improvements.
The last ‘R’ is for Resilience - the UAE has more English speaking schools than any country in the world. With 15-20 new schools opening each year, new entrants into the market will have be resilient, be prepared to grow slowly and build their reputations over time in order to prosper.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
From my early childhood, I worked hard to fulfil my ambition to become a concert pianist – but at 17 years of age when a bout of chickenpox meant I missed my audition for studying a degree in music performance, I moved into paid employment, working in the service sector with Business and Industry clients for Sodexo.
After 25 years, developing a management career with Sodexo my last position was divisional director of commercial education - a role which was amongst the top 80 leaders of some 250,000 employees. In 2002 I joined Nord Anglia as Managing Director of Learning Services before becoming the Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the three operating division including the UK’s largest group of nurseries and a division of premium international schools.
After contributing to the successful transition of ownership from public to private shareholders of Nord Anglia, I was offered the CEO’s position at kidsunlimited. Through building a high performing team that concentrated on building the company’s reputation and ratings, we increased the number of nurseries from 53 to 65 in 3.5 years. The company was eventually acquired by the leading international nursery organization Bright Horizons.
My next milestone was moving to the UAE for a truly international experience as CEO of Taaleem.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
Having relocated to the UAE and learning to adapt to a very different business culture has been my biggest challenge to date throughout my career. To be an effective and credible leader one has to understand the competing tensions, demands and drivers amongst the multiple stakeholders, but putting students first will always be our priority as this leads to the right decisions for the company.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
The challenge of the job and working with a great team are my primary motivation. Also, working in such a fast-paced and innovative environment where you can achieve things for people quickly is a huge inducement for me. Of course, being a mother of three daughters and caring for my family to ensure they are happy, safe, secure on their way to achieving their own personal ambitions is a given!
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I would like for all our schools to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ as well as ensuring Taaleem is acknowledged as an industry leader and an organisation that is true to its core values of being Pioneering, Professional, Nurturing and Spirited. As a Board Trustee of The British Council and formerly a non exec director with the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain, I would like to continue to support similar organisations in education and the arts to create opportunities for young people to explore their passions and talents and encourage them to excel in their chosen fields.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
Set clear goals, work hard, take every opportunity and calculated risks for life is short and you should make the most of each and every day. Don’t be afraid to hold people to high standards of performance. Build resilience within those whom you work with and see every setback as a learning opportunity. To build a high performing team, one must create trust and empower them, as they will then have the confidence to make their own decisions and flourish.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
The children – every time. It is a real privilege to be able to work in education - a true vocation that you love. I enjoy seeing the differences and opportunities that a great education can make to a young person’s life. I attend as many school events, concerts and graduations as possible. These are such joyful occasions and remind us why we get up each day and go to work!
I am proud that Taaleem not only encourages developing our own students’ talents but gives opportunities to all young people in the UAE to showcase their skills and knowledge through our support of various awards at several major festivals in the UAE such as the Emirates Festival of Literature, the Dubai International Film Festival and ChoirFest Middle East.