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How England is locked in ‘global tussle’ for teachers

A “dramatic shortage of teachers worldwide” is pitting the UK against other countries in a “global tussle” for skilled educators, a Schools Week investigation has found.

An additional 44 million teachers are needed globally by 2030, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) taskforce reported in February. 

England’s flagging recruitment numbers have taken its global recruitment drive to new shores, including Jamaica, which has its own workforce woes.

But England’s teachers are also being lured overseas by tax-free packages and free “luxury” accommodation, which an advert for one Gulf state boasts is “like being on an all-inclusive holiday”.

Jack Worth, school workforce lead at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), said the UK was locked in a “global tussle” for teachers. 

Schools Week investigates …

UK looks to poorer countries 

The Department for Education is almost certain to miss its teacher recruitment target this year – for the 11th time in 12 years. The workforce grew by less than 300 teachers overall as the number quitting continued to rise. 

Amid the struggles, England has moved to make teaching in the country more attractive to teach.

In February last year, the Department for Education widened a scheme which allows overseas teachers to gain qualified teacher status (QTS) without having to retrain to include countries such as Ghana, India, Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa. 

Previously it was only available in 39 countries including the USA and Australia.

Robin Walker, schools minister when the changes were announced, said: “I want this country to be the most attractive place in the world to be a teacher.”

In September, the government also trialled a £10,000 “relocation premium” for overseas languages and physics teachers.

So, have they made an impact?

The skilled worker visa is the main route for non-UK nationals to get teaching jobs in England. Requirements include a job offer and a school sponsor.

The government issued 1,264 skilled worker visas to teachers last year, up from 638 in 2022.

More than half went to applicants from Jamaica and South Africa, Home Office data shows. Ghana, Nigeria and India also saw year-on-year rises while visas awarded to teachers from Jamaica rose to 486, up 113 per cent.

Johnson

Matt Brown, co-founder of international recruitment firm I Can Teach UK, has placed around 350 overseas teachers in the UK over the past 18 months, mostly from Jamaica and South Africa. That is up from 50 in 2021.

“That’s the emerging market,” he added. Far fewer teachers now come to England from European Union countries after Brexit. 

But what difficulties does this cause in those countries?

Leighton Johnson, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, said the migration of teachers was “not a new phenomenon”, but there has been an “alarming increase” post-pandemic.

Pre-Covid, about 150 to 200 of Jamaica’s 25,000 state school teachers would leave annually, he said. Last year there were more than “2,500 individuals leaving our shores”. He did not provide official data to back up these figures.

Resulting shortages in Jamaica mean there are “subject disciplines that schools have had to stop teaching”. 

He added: “For schools to be reducing their offerings in critical subject areas that are necessary for national development and sustainable development, this is really concerning to us as a nation.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, said there was a “moral question over whether it is right to target teachers from other countries, and what impact this will have on the education systems they are plucked from”.

The DfE states online that Jamaica, alongside the other QTS expansion countries, was chosen because there is an “established interest in teaching in England” and teachers from those countries “already have a substantial presence in the UK”.

A recent NFER report found policy changes including relocation payments had helped to generate a boom in teacher training applications from outside the UK.

Sam Freedman, a former advisor to the DfE, said the teaching profession was “shifting towards becoming increasingly dependent on immigration, just as has happened with healthcare.

“And, just as with healthcare, it is a function of pay being held down,” he said.

But UK a victim, too

While undoubtedly a poacher, England is a victim of the global tussle too.

The government does not publish data on the flow of teachers moving from the UK, but many countries are upping their global focus. New Zealand said international recruitment was now a “priority”.

Australia attracts more UK-trained teachers on skilled worker visas than are going the other way. In 2022-23, 324 temporary and permanent visas were granted to teachers from the UK, up 338 per cent on the 74 in 2021-22. 

Just 62 Australian teachers have moved to the UK in the past two years.

Many UK-trained teachers who move abroad go to work in international schools, whose number has ballooned from nearly 9,000 to more than 13,500 in 10 years, according to figures from the Council of British International Schools (COBIS).

COBIS’ annual report for 2023 stated that 42 per cent of its workforce were UK nationals. Its schools employ more than 30,000 teachers.

However, this is down from 47 per cent in 2022. COBIS suggests this may be a post-Covid lull. 

But Andrew Lynch, director of recruitment firm Teaching Abroad, said enquiries from UK teachers were up about 25 per cent in three years.

He said cost-of-living pressures and the unaffordability of housing was driving many teachers to take up lucrative packages, particularly in the Gulf states and countries such as China. Other popular destinations include Thailand and Singapore.

Half of teachers said they had thought about moving abroad but never had, a Teacher Tapp survey this week found. Eight per cent said they had worked abroad.

Those who had considered moving ranked experiencing a new country and travel opportunities as top motivations. But this was followed by a desire for better conditions (58 per cent) and better pay (55 per cent).

While a small sample size, nearly a third of those that did work abroad said this was for better pay and conditions.

‘Like an all-inclusive holiday’

Gulf states are offering tax-free salaries of about £2,685 a month, compared with take-home pay of around £2,000 for teachers in England.

But the perks also include free furnished accommodation, private medical insurance and daily transport to and from school.

In Saudi Arabia, job adverts for international schools offer free accommodation in “luxury” expat compounds.

One “premiere” compound in Jeddah boasts of “international sports facilities (eg swimming pool, gym, tennis courts)”.

One job advert

Another advert for an “expatriate compound in Al Hasa” promised three free “buffet meals per day” at an on-site restaurant, “medical cover, annual airfares (and) generous paid holidays”.

A listing for a primary teacher at an international school in Riyadh adds that “compound life is like being on an all-inclusive holiday”. 

Elsewhere, the government of Western Australia is offering UK-trained teachers flights for them and their family, “free or subsidised housing” and “reimbursement of essential household items of up to $10,000”.

New Zealand is offering $10,000 towards relocation costs and a pathway to residency in two years.

Anna Welanyk, workforce lead for the New Zealand government’s ministry of education, said: “The global teacher shortage means many countries are competing for the same teaching talent, but we are confident New Zealand has a unique proposition.”

A quarter of its overseas teachers arriving last year were from the UK, she added.

Alex Reynolds, chief executive of Teacher Horizons, a global recruitment agency, said: “To attract and retain the best educators and leaders, schools are striving to offer better working conditions, packages and benefits.”

Meanwhile, the £30,000 starting salary of a teacher in England dwarfs the equivalent wages of around £16,000 in Jamaica.

Schools Week revealed in October how the Harris Federation had recruited more than 150 specialist teachers from Jamaica over five years, including 50 last year.

“We are having to do that because we can’t find teachers here,” said trust boss Sir Dan Moynihan: “We’ve got a community of people now, [some have] risen through the ranks – it’s working.”

Principals from UK schools conducted interviews in cities in South Africa in March, April and May to recruit for roles starting in September, according to the website of recruitment firm REd Teachers.

Another agency, Hour Glass Education, is holding a webinar this week for trust and school leaders to explore the option of recruiting from overseas to fill roles for September. 

Only ‘small solution’

But Worth, of the NFER, said the DfE will only ever recruit a small number of teachers internationally, so it can only ever be part of the solution.

“We still need to focus on the pay and working conditions of teachers as a whole, existing teachers and potential teachers who are based domestically,” he said. 

“That will always be the biggest source of supply, and focusing on the pay and conditions in schools in England helps to insulate against losing teachers to other schools in other countries.”

Emma Hollis, who runs a body for school based trainers of teachers
Hollis

Di’Iasio said the “increasing trend” of recruiting from abroad looks like an “attempt to ease the recruitment and retention crisis in this country without tackling any of the issues that are driving it”.

Emma Hollis, CEO of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers, said that, in an “ideal system”, there would be “global education programmes which worked on a knowledge exchange basis (rather than promoting one approach over another), which sought ways to ensure teaching is an attractive, respected and relatively well-paid profession globally”.

She added: “Until that can be achieved, it feels almost inevitable that there will be a desire by individuals to migrate.”

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