Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore barriers to the change management in the public sector of educational institutions such as public schools of the Ministry of Education in the GCC countries. The exploration of the research is based on the ADKAR change management model that consists of five key elements, which are awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. The ADKAR model was used for many reasons, among these reasons is that it allows management to separate the change process into parts, pinpointing where change is failing and addressing that impact point. Design/methodology/approach: Five public schools and employees from the educational directorate were taken as samples in this study. The unit of analysis was the employees, and data on these change drivers were collected from questionnaires and interviews. Findings: The study findings were articulated through strengths and weaknesses. The strengths were the desire to change and networking. The weaknesses were the knowledge element such as the absence of predetermining guideline for the implementation of the system; another observed weakness was in the leader’s authority, where leaders do not have clear definition of authority and responsibility to take a decision; and finally the deficiency in performance appraisal for not being taken on regular basis and the rewarding system for not being linked to performance appraisal. Research limitations/implications: The information and feedback collected from the questionnaire may not represent all of the facts of the questionnaire subject; therefore, the researchers may have to use an unstructured interview to enhance the quality of information obtained. Due to the long bureaucratic procedures for issuance of permission from the higher research authorities (Scientific Research Directorate) to apply the questionnaire in the Ministry of Education, this took nearly three weeks, which was long considering the time available to end the research and resulted in a significant change in the project schedule. Practical implications: This study provides an empirical evidence that gives a deep insight about the elements that act as barriers to change in the public sector of educational institutions, as there are certain elements that are tied to the nature and characteristics of the public sector itself that act as barriers to change. Originality/value: Knowledge development is an essential part of the public sector development scheme. Effective training programs are the most important means to develop knowledge, considering that it has to be properly designed and delivered. Training programs should also be structured in a way that fills the knowledge gaps that exist between the present state and the future state. One useful technique for filling and assessing the gaps between the current state and future state requirements is by writing new job descriptions for employees, which should include details of knowledge and skills needed to perform that role during and after the transition. © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited.