Future School Leaders, Reena Oates

We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com have watched with amazement as teachers here and around the world have transformed their schools into online schools in a matter of weeks. Never has the profession shone more than they are now. With that in mind, what better time to celebrate the work and career of one of Dubai’s Future School Leaders, Reena Oates.
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders
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Future School Leaders
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders

In this interview, which took place a few weeks prior to the school closures, we speak to Reena Oates, Head of Vocational Studies at Kings’ School Al Barsha (KSAB) to see what drives and inspires her to be a Future School Leader.

Reena, can you tell us a little about your career to date?

Well Dubai is a home to me. I went to school here! I was a student at Dubai College before going back to the UK to study Business at university.

It’s not been quite a straight road into teaching for me - when I graduated, I first went to work for Microsoft. I worked on their advertising team for three years. Part of my role was to deliver online safety training in schools. It was these sessions that made me realise I wanted to work with young people. I went back to university and did my PCGE at Nottingham Trent University.

After graduating, I taught in England for two years but soon got itchy feet and wanted to travel! I applied for lots of jobs right across the Middle East, and was lucky enough to secure a role at Dubai British School. I spent 7 happy years there before making the move to KSAB I feel so lucky to have worked at Dubai British School and now to be at one the fantastic Kings’ schools.

I’m Head of Vocational Education at KSAB. I love my work! The BTEC courses just keep getting better and better, and we are adding to our vocational offering all the time. With the new T Level qualifications on the horizon too, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to vocational education.

Why do you think you were nominated as a Future School Leader?

I am definitely an aspiring senior leader. I think the school see that in me and know that I have that ambition. They have invested in me, something which I am really so grateful for.

On a personal level, having come back from some time off to have my own children, I feel like now I really have the confidence to say “I can do this”.


Reena in class with her students

Why teach in the UAE?

Oh it’s definitely the amazing mix cultures! You get teach these fantastic kids from all around the world. Social studies lesson is a great example of the diversity…our students really lead those lessons, I am in no way I am the expert in that room!

The teacher community here is incredible. Your teacher friends become your family.

I also think that schools in Dubai have become really good at prioritising staff wellbeing. At KSAB, we’re always thinking of ways of helping new teachers settle in. For example, we are working on a Kings’ microsite that will help new teachers manage the transition to the school. There will be snap shots of what Kings’ lessons look like, Senior Leaders sharing our policies, ways of working and culture.

That way, new teachers can see who the school leaders are and really understand the school before they join us. I think it will be a big help for new teachers!

Do you think that being a teacher in the UAE has changed the direction of your career?

For me not so much. I’m a Business teacher and I love it. I love how powerful vocational education is. I think this would have always have been my path.

How do you see education in the UAE evolving in the next 10 years?

Well, honestly I think wherever teachers of my age are working, we have to forget what we learnt on the PGCE 10 years ago and keep on learning and growing as professionals! Things have changed so much. It’s all about evidence based practice now and that is something that is a passion for all of us at KSAB.

You are Head of Vocational Studies at KSAB. What do you see changing in your area of specialism in the next few years?

We are seeing a move to much more vocational learning. I think the KHDA’s Rahhal project is going to be really important in the future, allowing for flexible and customised learning suited to each individual student.

At KSAB, I spend a lot of time working with the inclusion team, making sure that we are catering to every unique student. As an example, we’re developing a Foundation Year programme which will be there to support students who need a bit of extra help before GCSEs. The Foundation Year will include a Physical Education BTEC course, extra Maths and English support, a ‘google suite’ qualification plus a Level 2 Extended Project Qualification.

We are really keen to ‘roll back’ those BTEC courses to younger students, so that we are offering Level 1 courses in Key Stage 3. Feeling that they have already attained a qualification is a great boost for many students!

Reena, what do you think is different for your generation of teachers?

The impact of social media has been huge. Twitter is just one massive staff room! We have the ability to connect and network with people all over the world. Plus, with there being so many more schools in Dubai now, there are more pathways into leadership for those that want it. KSAB are very good at getting right behind us and saying “this is the qualification that you need, this is the coaching and mentoring that you will need to make those next steps”. That has been amazing.

Lastly, I think school leaders are just so much better at listening to their staff now. Over the last holiday I read some really interesting research about the ‘VESPA Mindset’ [VESPA stands for Vision, Effort, Systems, Practice and Attitude]. I took it to the school, they listened, liked it and now we are rolling it out throughout the school. It’s very exciting!

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