Moving from an Academy to International Independent Schools. Spot the difference

14 Jun 2019 | by Tracie Darke

I have over 6 years’ experience of working in the English state school’s system, starting in a local government run secondary to a single academy to working as a Director of Operations in a MAT looking after 4 schools.

I took the jump last year to not only move from state to independent, but from the UK to Saudi Arabia. All thought I had gone mad but I really am enjoying it, so much so, I agreed to extend my contract.

Spot the differences:

Independence – my school is a non-for-profit, stand-alone school, therefore no benchmarking with others and no big brother (other than Kingdom – Ministry of Education sets the rules) looking over me, as such I can do my job in greater detail and effectively.

Less Paperwork – As we are out of the EU the regulations are very different. I have Fire Regulations but that is about it. The school has its own policies, but I seem to spend so much less time dealing with paperwork for governors or MAT management. I no longer write bids or long justifications for funding.

School Fees – I had to learn quickly how funding works in an independent school, we have 3 terms (based on the British system) and thus 3 terms of fees, and parents can choose to pay annually or termly. Most fees are paid by employers as part of the overseas package, but this creates a flux of income at the beginning of the year and minimum at the end which is the time most of my bills hit. We have many parents that choose to pay fees in cash, so I go to the bank much more often.

Teachers Pay - teachers at my overseas school get paid all their summer pay (July and August) in the month of June. So, I must ensure that the monies are available to pay out 3 lots of salary in one month despite the lowest time of academic year that funds (fees) are coming in.

Recruitment of Teachers – this starts in November to recruit for teachers for September the following year. We attend the recruitment fairs that specialise in overseas placements. The costs are high for attendance and often there are extra charges to interview candidates.

We offer a good package of quality housing, health insurance; flights and an allowance, we have access to a private beach and are less than an hour from Bahrain. We must market ourselves hard against placements in Maldives etc. Saudi Arabia is much easier to live in than the media portrays, and we therefore sell the success of the school, the lifestyle and tax advantages.

Recruitment of Support Staff – this is much more difficult; most staff are the wives of sponsored staff and do not have the official right to work within Saudi Arabia. We have to be careful not to be seen not to be considering Saudi nationals, we do have Saudi national staff, but this is a difficult area to recruit into for both reasons of culture and the skills sets available. 

The turnover of staff is therefore very high (if a contract of the husband ends then the staff member leaves with short notice) and the pool of talent is limited, as the overseas packages for the majority of workers is very good and their wives choose not to work (I am not being sexist as the vast majority of overseas workers sponsored are men – with the exception of teachers).

Living in Saudi Arabia – Yes, I have to wear an Abaya when I am out in the public area, and no I don’t have to cover my hair! That’s what people mostly want to know.

I have been fortunate that my husband is with me, but we left behind our two daughters, our granddaughter, our dog and 2 cats! There is a close bond developed within the school staff, both teaching and support, and I have met lovely people who tend to want the same things: to travel, to gain new experiences and to enjoy life.

I work with a support team from many different countries and cultures and it’s fantastic to learn about their lives in their home county and whilst living in Saudi. I can get a flight from Bahrain direct to Heathrow that takes 6.5 hours so its not as far from the UK as people think, and the travel to worldwide destinations is often half the cost, as Saudi Arabia is near to India, Africa and the continents that stretch beyond and around.

The private beach the school has access to ??

Thanks for reading – I will respond to questions (in Saudi there are some areas I can’t mention)