Dubai teacher licences explained
By: Parinaaz Navdar June 18, 2017, 6:05 am GMT

Dubai teacher licences explained
Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority launched the Teacher and Educational Leadership Standards (TELS) and Licensing pilot project in September 2016 with 227 teachers.

In June, the KHDA held a graduation ceremony for teachers who completed the licensing process. While 173 teachers passed the examinations, some are missing English proficiency tests or require additional qualifications, and can expect to receive their licences once they complete all the steps. All in all, 106 teachers from 15 schools received their licences at a graduation ceremony

Education Journal Middle East spoke KHDA chief of qualifications and awards Dr Naji Al Mehdi to learn more about the pilot programme, the lessons learned, and how the regulator aims to licence 20,000 teachers in the emirate by 2021.

How does the licensing process work?

All teachers must first apply for a Provisional Teacher Licence (PTL). In order to receive this, teachers must have relevant qualifications and experience, provide proof of legal status, a certificate of good conduct and fitness, as well as an IELTS score of 6. All teachers in Dubai must have their PTLs by 2021. Having received the PTL, if they meet the requirements, they can then begin the application for the Competent Teacher Status (CTS) licence.

How can teachers apply for the CTS licence?

There are two ways for teachers to apply for the CTS. Teachers without an international licence must complete the UAE TELS exam for Standards 1, 2, 3 and 4. Teachers must also show proof of professional development and self-assessments in form of a mini portfolio, as well as a teacher training qualification.

Teachers that have an international teaching licence from certain countries are exempt from taking the exams for Standard 2, 3, and 4. They must take the Standard 1 exam, however. They must also show proof of professional development and self-assessments in form of a mini portfolio.

What are the TELS exams and what do the standards test?

The teacher standards for the UAE were developed to ensure teachers can demonstrate professional competence that aligns with the aspirations of the UAE Vision 2021 and international best practice. Standard 1 focuses on professional and ethical conduct. Teachers must demonstrate commitment to the UAE heritage and cultural values. They must demonstrate personal and professional ethics, exemplified by integrity, respect, and fairness. Teachers must also comply with legislative and organisational requirements set by the emirate and their respective schools.

Standard 2 focuses on professional knowledge. Teachers must understanding learning and development in relation to diversity of learner characteristics and needs. Teachers must know about educational research, learning theories, pedagogical approaches, cultural values, and relevant policies that apply knowledge in practice. Additionally, teachers will have to demonstrate proficiency in the language of instruction, as well as demonstrate knowledge of the curriculum they are teaching.

Standard 3 tests a teacher’s professional practice. Teachers are expected to create learning environments that are safe, supportive, and motivating for learners. Teachers must demonstrate how they plan and implement effective learner-centred teaching responsive to the characteristics and needs of individual learners. Successful teachers also incorporate appropriate resources and make innovative use of technology. Teachers are also expected to use varied assessments to inform teaching, evaluate progress and provide feedback on students’ learning.

Standard 4 focuses on professional growth. Teachers are expected to take responsibility for their own professional growth by reflecting on performance, identifying development needs, planning and engaging in professional development, and evaluating impact on teaching and learning.

How can teachers prepare for the exams?

During the CTS licensing process, teachers will have to undertake professional development, after which they will first take a mock exam. During the pilot, we found that a large number of teachers struggled with the Standard 2 exam, which focuses on professional knowledge, for example. So after the mock exam, we issue individual reports for each teacher about their performance. It shows what they’ve achieved in each standard, the average for each standard and how they compare. The report also gives them advice on which areas to focus on for the final exam. So it is a good diagnostic test. Once they complete the mock exams, they have to undergo more professional development to prepare for the final exam.

How many teachers participated in the pilot programme?

A total of 227 teachers from 15 schools and one teacher training institute participated in the pilot programme. They were split into three categories: holders of international teacher licences, teachers without an international licence, and those from outside the system who are training to become teachers under the Teach Best category.

How did teachers fare on the TELS exams during the pilot?

Once we analysed the exam results, they showed that among the Teach Best candidates – 30 of the 34 candidates passed. This was because the training was 100% aligned with the standards, and because they were newly trained for an exam we wanted them to do. All 51 teachers with international licences passed the exam – that confirmed our decision to exempt them from the majority of tests. It’s like an international driving licence – they come here and automatically get the UAE one because we have a lot of confidence in the system that produced them. And by examining them all and confirming they’ve passed, perhaps in the future maybe we won’t even assess these teachers at all or it might be on a sample basis.

But with 138 teachers who don’t have licences, only two thirds (92) passed the exams. This means I have a problem with that one third group, and it’s reconfirmation that I really need to work harder with my teachers to make sure everybody meets the standards.

What lessons did you learn during the pilot programme? What changes are you going to make?

One of the things we learned is we have an overburdening self-development process – teachers spent a lot of time on it, and at the end, when we weighed the benefits and costs, we found the cost is much more. So we are shortening the process. Similarly, teachers had to take three days off work for the induction, and it made us think about a better way to do this. So we are going to launch an app and teachers can go through the induction and assessment at their own pace. Also, we asked is it really necessary for them to come to us for the mock tests? Again, why not have it online, where teachers can register and do the mock exam and get their results immediately. We are trying to accelerate the process so it doesn’t become overburdening for the teachers and schools

Are the exams the same across the different emirates and regulators?

At the moment, no. Dubai has its own and ADEC has also developed its own test. What the UAE is doing here is a little similar to the US. If you teach in a particular state, you’ll do the state exam, but there is recognition of people as they move between states. If there is a national exam in the future, everyone will do it, but for now, the national targets have to be met in four years’ time, so we’re doing our own exams.

What happens if a teacher fails the TELS Exam?

Teachers will be given up to three attempts to pass the exam. This may change in the future as the process streamlines, but if a teacher fails three times, we would encourage them to take six months out and develop themselves. It will be at the school’s discretion if they can then reapply for the exam, but we will not enforce a ban.

How will the teacher licence help the recruitment process at schools? Does it relax any requirements?

The idea of the PTL is that to issue it, a teacher has to satisfy a minimum requirement. For this, a teacher needs to have relevant experience and qualifications. The key word is relevant – and this has opened up the pool a little bit. Instead of saying in order to teach Maths you need to have a degree in Maths, we are now saying that yes, you may have a degree in Engineering, and on your Engineering degree transcript, you have demonstrated you completed Maths courses up to level 4. That would now be good enough to become a Maths teacher. To teach Chemistry, you may have completed a Pharmaceutical degree, and not necessarily a Chemistry degree. So previously there was this rigid constraint where if you did not chosen appropriately at the beginning of your career, you could never become a teacher – this has been eliminated. We are overcoming this [degree matching] challenge. We are recruiting for talent, we are recruiting for passion. It’s much more important to have the passion to be a teacher than to have a degree to be teacher.

How long does the licensing process take?

Our pilot only took six months. We are giving teachers one year to complete the CTS after they receive their PTL licence. We may also extend the period up to 18 months for them to get the CTS before we withdraw the PTL. But we don’t want it open-ended because we need to meet the national targets. It’s also about improving student performance and learner outcomes. That’s the very purpose of the licence.

How much does the licence cost?

The bulk of the cost will be for the training. We don’t determine that – it depends on the training the teachers do. The cost for the PTL, the examination and that process will be no more than AED2000.

Will teachers have to apply for a new licence when moving to a new school?

No, but when they move to a new school, they have to notify the KHDA and they will just do the police requirement again. They don’t need to be retested and so on.

Which countries are included in the list of licences exempted from the TELS Standards 2, 3 and 4 exams?

USA, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Wales – these countries are automatically exempted. It only applies if they have licences from these countries, not just the qualification. Some might argue that the UK does not have a licence, but they have the QTS, so we consider that in lieu of the licence. This is not terminal list – we will add to this list as we see fit.

One of the problems we face is… for example a French teacher teaching in a French school. How do we test them if they don’t even speak English? Do we make the exam available for them in French? And what about the other 50 languages that might have the same issue? So if you are a French teacher in a French school, bring us the permission that the education authority in your country gave you. Are you allowed to teach in France? If you are, then you can teach here. Same with German teachers, Lebanese teachers. If you are allowed to teach in your country, then we are okay with it. Our focus here with the licensing are the two main streams – the majority of students here go to English or Arabic speaking schools – they are the most prominent ones.

What are the language proficiency requirements for the PTL?

Because the licence is developmental, right now, we need a level 6 in IELTS for teachers that are teaching in English. But if you’re teaching English as a subject, you need a minimum of level 7. One of the stumbling blocks in student attainment is if, for example a teacher has a maths degree, but their language proficiency is low, then their repertoire for teaching becomes very limited – their vocabulary is limited; they are unable to explain a concept in different ways. This happens because their command of the language is lacking. They may not have the language proficiency when we issue the provisional licence, but at least we are flagging the issue.

How often will licences have to be renewed? What are the requirements?

To renew the licence, teachers have to develop a portfolio over three years – and the portfolio has to be internally quality assured and externally quality assured. There are no specific assessments, no exams… there will be ranges of professional development and areas and these areas of professional development are forever evolving. In the UAE, we are focusing on happiness, tolerance, and also moral studies. Most teachers were not prepared for these things. So during the professional development in the first cycle of renewal, we might ask for a minimum number of hours of training for certain areas. The CPD is going to be focused and aligned with our national agenda. It’s not pre-set, it’s not cast in stone, and it’s something that will continually evolve. Maybe one day we’ll require teachers to know something about the UAE’s space programme. I cannot overload the curriculum, but I can widen the horizon of the teachers, and this has to be done gradually, over a number of years.

How will the programme be rolled out?

All teachers in Dubai will have a provisional licence (PTL) by 2021. We’ve got roughly 20,000 teachers now. We are staggering the target. Not all schools have to register their teachers all at once. There will be a school plan – some schools may start with all their internationally licenced teachers in the first year, and that could be 40% of their total teachers. We are trying to align our targets to what works for schools, and we are giving them tremendous leeway. Schools are going to nominate teachers with high potential at the beginning, but then they’ve got at least a whole year to train the next group, and the very weak teachers they have up to three years to prepare. In the case of new teachers, all they have to do is satisfy our initial requirement, and then they can nominate them for licensing in the second or third or fourth year. They don’t need to pass the test in the first year, they need to satisfy the criteria for the provisional teacher licence. It’s a system that is flexible enough… the whole ethos of it is developmental. For instance, there are some people currently teaching in schools, and they don’t satisfy the qualification requirement – and they have two or three years to enrol in a teaching programme and meet the standards.

Are there authorised training centres for the Teach Best programme?

We are licensing training providers and new universities are going to come to Dubai that focus on teachers and leadership development. They have to be authorised to train teachers. When we authorise training programmes, we have to ensure a number of aspects – one is that the training programme is aligned with the licensing requirements and standards, and that it is at the appropriate level – the licensing comes at level 7 in the NQA. Any training has to be in partnership with schools. You can no longer just learn in a training room and not apply it. There has to be an element of quality assurance and the quality assurance has to be external to the provider. They have to prove the integrity of their assessments. So it’s much stricter if you want to be an approved provider for this, you have to meet these measures. The list of approved training providers will be available on the KHDA website soon.

Will there be any cross-recognition between countries for teachers licenced in Dubai?

Cross recognition does not happen at the embryonic stage. It happens once the product is proven – and we are keeping all the data and results. We are getting ourselves ready for any benchmarking and cross-checking so we can get recognition for our countries. But what’s already happening is that when we are developing our exams, we are sending them to other countries for them to review. There is already a great degree of confidence in what we do. This could be an advantage for teachers from other countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and so on. By gaining the licence from here, it will be easy for them to gain the licence from anywhere else, because our licence is benchmarked against others and they can demonstrate competence and they’ll have a portfolio.


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