The staffing crisis in schools is being exacerbated by an exodus of newly qualified teachers who are “flocking abroad” to work in the rapidly growing international sector, including branches of England’s elite public schools, it has been claimed.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, who is the chief inspector of England’s schools, warns that the country is facing a “teacher brain drain” at a time when schools across the country are already struggling to fill vacancies amid rising pupil numbers.
Lured by enticing offers of competitive, tax-free salaries, free accommodation and a warmer climate, teachers are taking their hard-earned qualifications to the Gulf states, the far east and beyond, where there is growing demand for a “traditional” English education, says Wilshaw.
In turn, schools in England are increasingly having to look overseas to recruit their own staff – from countries as diverse as Jamaica, Canada, South Africa and Australia – in order to get sufficient teachers in front of classes.
In his regular monthly commentary as head of the schools watchdog, Ofsted, Wilshaw writes: “Anyone regularly perusing the job vacancy pages of the education press cannot help but notice just how many of our elite public schools are busy opening up international branches across the globe, especially in the Gulf states and the far east,” he says.
“Two years ago, there were 29 of these overseas franchises. At the end of 2015, there were 44 and the number will rise again in the coming months with several new campuses scheduled to open soon.
“Famous institutions like Harrow, Marlborough, Shrewsbury and Brighton College – to name just a few – are clamouring to meet a growing demand for a ‘traditional’ English education among the burgeoning middle classes of these countries as well as the increasing number of British ex-pats who have relocated there.”
It’s part of a worldwide boom in international schools – many of which follow a British-style curriculum and use the English language – which is fuelling demand for UK-trained teachers. In 2014-15 an estimated 100,000 full-time teachers from the UK were working in the international sector, “making us the world’s biggest exporter of teaching talent”, says Wilshaw.
And it will only get worse, he says, with research by the International School Consultancy suggesting that the number of international schools is expected to almost double from 8,000 now to more than 15,000 by 2025.
To address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, Wilshaw once again called for financial incentives to ensure trainees start their teaching career in areas where they are needed most. “As far as I’m concerned, that means Barnsley not Bangkok, Doncaster not Doha, and King’s Lynn not Kuala Lumpur.”
He continued: “Is it fair that the offspring of overseas oligarchs are directly benefiting from UK teacher training programmes at the expense of poor children in large parts of this country?
“Is it unreasonable to ask someone who has been trained in our system to make a contractual commitment to teach in that same system for the first few years of their career?
“I would, therefore, once again urge policymakers to consider the idea of some form of ‘golden handcuffs’ to keep teachers working in the state system that trained them for a period of time.”
Teachers’ leaders welcomed Wilshaw’s intervention, and made their own suggestion that the government should write off teachers’ university tuition fees as an incentive to keep newly qualified teachers in English state schools.
Leora Cruddas, director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The idea of ‘golden handcuffs’ to keep teachers in this country for a period of time is an interesting one which deserves more examination.
“Our view is that more needs to be done to incentivise teaching as a career. We would suggest that government undertakes to write off, over a period of time, the undergraduate tuition fees of students who become teachers, as long as they remain in the state system in this country during that period.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the school leaders’ NAHT union, said: “The government must look at why some teachers are choosing to work abroad at a time of shortages in the UK.
“Pay flexibilities do not work when schools have insufficient funds to use them; enforced pay freezes are making starting salaries uncompetitive. Excessiveworkload, poorly planned change and constant criticism drive out experienced teachers.
“We don’t need golden handcuffs to keep trained teachers in the UK. We just need to treat them with respect. It has the advantage of being cheaper, as well as being the right thing to do.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “As part of our drive to achieve educational excellence everywhere, we want all schools to be able to recruit high-quality teachers. It is disingenuous to suggest our approach is not working – despite the challenge of a competitive jobs market, the proportion of trainee teachers with a top degree has grown, faster than in the population as a whole, and there are more teachers overall.
“But we are determined to continue raising the status of the profession. That’s why we’re investing hundreds of millions in teacher recruitment, backing schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are most needed, and why we’ve given schools unprecedented freedom over staff pay, to allow them to attract the brightest and the best.
“The number of former teachers returning to the classroom has increased year on year – further evidence of the popularity of the profession – recent research shows that the number of teachers leaving the profession to work abroad is 1%.”