"Increasingly Teachers Are Opting for China" - TES

TES is making its way to the UAE, planting a base as it expands eastward. While recruitment remains core, helping teachers to be inspiring 'every day' is increasingly where it wants to be says CEO, Rob Grimshaw.
"Increasingly Teachers Are Opting for China" - TES
By David Westley
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TES, formerly known as The Times Educational Supplement, has been the go-to publication for UK teachers looking for new jobs for more than a century. As the newspaper is published on a Friday its passage around UK school staff rooms has become a pre-weekend tradition.

But the publication has had to adapt to the digital era and took a notable step forward in this regard in November 2014 with the appointment of Rob Grimshaw as its CEO. He had previously led the successful development of digital at The Financial Times in his role as managing director of FT.com.

TES has decided to expand its international role with the establishment of an office in Dubai. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com caught up with Rob Grimshaw on a visit to Dubai to find out what TES’s plans are for the UAE and further afield.


Why open an office here?
It’s about two things really - getting close to our existing customers in the region and working with schools who don’t know about us but who could benefit from what we have to offer. We have a community of more than eight million teachers around the world who use TES and we’re definitely in a situation to help schools find the best talent from around the world. There are 44,000 teachers in international schools in the UAE so there is a huge opportunity here.

The other element that we’re focusing on is our training business. TES Institute trains hundreds of teachers throughout the UK. We are in fact the seventh largest teacher training entity there. We want to bring TES Institute’s blended learning approach to the region. We think we can help schools make teachers as well as recruit teachers. We’re in the process of getting approvals from the KHDA to enable us to launch this business.

You’ve established your international office here in Dubai but your eyes are also fixed further afield. Can you tell us about this?
Other countries in the Gulf present opportunities for us. We’re also looking at China and Dubai is a good base to look at that as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. As well as having the base in Dubai and the UK we have offices in Australia recruiting for the Australian market as well as for the international school market.

TES is very well known in the UK but you have some work to do to build your brand internationally. How do you intend to achieve this?
We feel we have a ticket to the match since TES is increasingly well known around the world. One area that has been a particular success has been our Lesson Plan Library. We call it TES Resources. That is a platform that allows individual teachers to draw on the resources of their peers around the world by sharing lesson plans. We have more than a million lesson plans there and in a typical day we’d see around a million downloads. That activity is coming from all over the world. Wherever you look teachers have the same problems – they’re planning four to five lessons a day, five days a week forty weeks a year.

It’s hard to be inspiring, enthusiastic, insightful and creative in every single lesson. So they’re looking at their peers to help them do that. So when they come online looking for lesson plans they come to TES since we have the biggest library. 75% of teachers in Australia are signed up to TES, similarly we have more than a million teachers in the U.S with us. If you look at countries such as Canada, Ireland, South Africa – areas which provide a lot of international teaching talent – teachers are already using TES. They know about our lesson plans and that gives us the opportunity to expand our commercial plan.

The recruitment business is key to your business. How strong a focus will that be here in UAE and internationally?
Talent is the biggest driver of revenues for us. The average school will be spending 70 to 80% of its budget on teachers. What is a school other than the teaching staff? Nothing is more important than finding the right teachers to go into those classrooms. We think the most valuable thing we will continue to do for schools will be finding them talent.

But we do see opportunities to develop other businesses adjacent to that and we’re focused on the power of collaboration. So I’ve talked about the lesson planning which we’re developing. Teachers are free to provide plans for free but if they want to put a price on that given the time and thought they’ve put into it then that’s fine too. We’ll help facilitate the transaction. We have more than 150,000 buyers who are active in the market now and that’s growing incredibly quickly. We have the teacher training business and that has expanded extremely quickly. We think this theme of collaboration of putting teachers together to share expertise is what it’s fundamentally about.

How does your business now divide between the traditional newspaper and your online presence?
90% of the job advertising that we carry is online and the revenue split is similar to that too. We don’t see a distinction between the channels in terms of what they deliver. What schools want are great teachers and if you can find a great teacher for around 1,000 pounds a time then that’s great value. If you look at recruitment companies they’ll often be charge five or six times this amount. We know we are delivering very good value. But we are innovating.

We recognize how important it is to innovate in the digital space. There are two key aspects – in pricing we’ve switched to a subscription model so schools pay a single amount up front and after that it’s an all you can eat scenario. It provides flexibility and certainty which schools appreciate. They often don’t have a contingency model.

We’ve backed that up with a suite of tools online called the School Portal which is an end to end recruitment service. This allows for campaign tracking and monitoring, online application forms, tools to enable shortlisting and we’re in the process of putting in place video interviewing and reference tools. Also included in that is a career site to allow schools to promote how great they are. All of that wrapped together offers a transformation for the products that we offer schools. 

The issue of teacher shortages has come front and centre in the discussion about the growth of international schools and is seen as a major potential issue for growth. How do you see the situation now and how will it develop?
I don’t see there being a lessening in demand. I suspect that the pressure on supply will increase over the next few years. If you look at the markets that are supplying teachers into the international realm there are shortages of teachers in many of those markets. The UK is a case in point. There are about 15,000 teachers from the UK coming into the international realm each year and actually that’s putting pressure on a marketplace that’s already struggling to meet demand. There’s already a hot competition for talent.

Schools and governments need to be thinking very carefully how they should respond. I think they need to be looking at two areas the first is focusing much more on retention. Schools in the past have been a bit careless on this. They’ve just assumed that however many teachers they lose there’ll always be another one coming around the corner. They need to really change their outlook.

They also need to look at making the lives of teachers much more straightforward. I do talk to teachers who say they’re leaving the profession because they believe they’re not being paid enough but much more common is frustration and exasperation that a job which should be a pleasure is hard work and a drag because of administration and bureaucracy. The schools that will retain their staff will be those which think hard about these things.

Secondly everyone’s got to think about ways to bring more people into the profession. There was a UNESCO report issued at back end of last year world will need 69 million more teachers by 2030. The profession as it stands is only 70 million. Clearly some of that is replacing those leaving but this is a mind boggling number and I’m not sure schools and governments have come to terms about what might be involved in meeting that demand.

Do you think we need to look more broadly and creatively when it comes to recruiting teachers in the future?
There tends to be a very fixed view about how we find teachers. Our teachers will come from young graduates who do a year of teacher training and they’ll enter the profession. We should think more broadly and say ‘well people could enter the teaching profession at any time in their career’ and we’ll put in place processes to allow this. We’ll need a lot more creativity and flexibility when recruiting teachers in the future.

TES Institute typically we take someone whose already associated with education – a teaching assistant for instance who’s come in to teaching later in their life and through another route. Having got there they feel they want to become a teacher so we enable them to do that while still retaining a full-time job.

The UAE is currently the most vibrant market on the international school scene. How do you see the competitive landscape for teaching talent?
Big thing we’re seeing is an expansion of the competition. If you look at China you see that there are more than two million dollar millionaires. They all want their children to go certainly for the last part of their education to go to a school that will prepare them well to go to university in the US or Europe. They want to see them taught by native speaking English speakers and consequently there are schools popping up all over China that are on the lookout for great teachers from the UK, Australia and the UK has historically had a lot of teachers coming from Australia. We’ve noticed in the last few years that an increasing number of these teachers are opting for China.

That just characterizes the level of competition.

I think Dubai is still a very attractive proposition. There are a lot of good schools and a vibrant community. But fundamentally there are more people chasing after great teachers. That’s a reality that we’ll have to live with for years to come.

What do you think the UAE and the broader region has going for it?
You’ve got governments and local authorities that are focused on education. I think Dubai in particular has been very bold in creating an environment where private operators will service demand and this has been incredibly successful. That forward looking attitude doesn’t exist in all places of the world. The other points is that it’s a great place to live.

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