Matt Salusbury examines the evidence that more and more UK teachers are opting to take their talents to overseas schools
Data from the International School Consultancy (ISC) shows that in 2014–15 more school teachers left the UK to teach in international schools abroad than qualified as state school teachers via the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) route. As Schools Week magazine put it, there were around 100,000 full-time teachers from the UK in English-medium education in that year, compared to 82,000 UK nationals teaching in international schools the previous year, so 18,000 school teachers must have left the UK to teach in international schools abroad.
This figure of 18,000 is greater than the total number of postgraduates who gained Qualified Teaching Status (QTS), which allows them to teach in UK state schools – there were 17,001 of these in academic year 2013–14, some receiving state bursaries towards the cost of their PGCE.
England’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, went so far as to warn of a ‘teacher “brain drain” from this country just when the supply issue is reaching situation critical’. He was quoted by BBC News in February as saying recruiting agents were actively luring British teachers overseas with ‘enticing offers of competitive, usually tax-free salaries, free accommodation and often the prospect of working in warmer, sunnier climes – at what cost to our own state education system?’
Schools Week commented that the phenomenon ‘may be fueling a teacher recruitment crisis’ in the UK state sector, with England’s Department for Education (DfE) recently launching a scheme to attract state school teachers from other EU countries and possibly from Singapore and China.
Why are so many of the UK’s qualified state school teachers going abroad? The meteoric rise of the international schools sector means there are a lot more teaching posts to fill than there used to be. ISC Research data estimates that there are around 8,000 international schools worldwide, the vast majority of them English medium. Some 41 per cent of international schools ‘used a UK-based curriculum’, according to ISC’s media relations officer Anne Keeling.
ISC Research data from April indicated that as of January 2016 there were just over 383,000 international school full-time teaching staff around the world, teaching a total of around 4.2 million international school students globally – up from 2.75 million in 2010.
The popularity of the British-style curriculum at international schools creates a huge demand for teachers familiar with it: ‘It is why British teachers are so popular in international schools,’ according to Keeling.
ISC Research collects data for ‘premium’ international schools – prestigious accredited schools with a strong presence in the market that are members of a recognised association. Less highly regarded international schools not in the sample will have fewer British teachers and more teachers – from south Asia and the Philippines, for example.
The nationality mix among the expatriate international school teacher community varies considerably from country to country. Around 48 per cent of all full-time teaching staff in premium international schools in Qatar are from the UK, with just under a quarter of international school teachers from North America (Canada and the US). About the same proportion of the premium international school teaching body in the United Arab Emirates are UK nationals as in Qatar (47 per cent in the UAE), with just 13 per cent from North America. In Saudi Arabia there are only slightly more British international school teachers than North Americans in the sector (24 per cent from the UK, 23 per cent from the US).
While international schools still mainly cater for the children of expatriates, the recent explosion of the sector is predominantly down to relatively affluent non-native-speaker parents sending their children to the local English-medium international school for the first time. ISC Research predicts that this figure will rise to just under quarter of a million by 2012. Demand is particularly high in the UAE, with ISC Research predicting that the country will need 14,000 more expatriate teachers within the next five years.
Courtesy: British Council
What makes teaching in international schools abroad so attractive for British teachers with QTS? There is the ‘constant sunshine’ described by primary school teacher Janet Berg, who was interviewed by ISC Research for a Telegraph article. Says Janet, ‘Because of my salary and lifestyle, I’m able to bring my family over to Doha for the holidays.’ While life, especially for women, is more restricted in many Gulf countries than back in the UK, ‘weekend trips to Dubai and many other countries such as Sri Lanka are within easy reach’, according to Berg.
Opportunities for career development with an eye on an eventual return to the UK can be as important as the money. Ian Robertson, a maths teacher from Scotland working in China, cited the fast career progression in China’s international schools sector – he arrived to teach in Harrow International School, Beijing in 2012 and will shortly take up his post as its head of maths. Supported by experienced and motivated colleagues from around the world, ‘I’ll be a far stronger teacher than when I left.’
Sarah Curran, a primary school headteacher from Wales, said of her current job as head of the early years department at the British International School Ho Chi Minh City: ‘The quality of teaching here inspires me. I’m definitely becoming a better early years teacher by working here.’ Robert and Sarah Graves, working at an international school in Qatar, cited ‘the accelerated progress we’ve had in our careers’. Keeling says that the Graves family now doubt whether they’ll ever return to the UK.
What about the ‘push factors’ putting state school teachers off a career in the UK? Some cite less motivated students and discipline issues in Britain’s ‘bog standard’ comprehensives, rising accommodation costs or the weather. But it was noticeable from comments by teachers posted in response to Schools Week’s story that it wasn’t British kids driving teachers abroad, it was the UK state school sector’s constantly shifting regime of form-filling and bureaucracy – and as one teacher put it, ‘the meetings’.
However, while there’s growing demand for teachers with experience of the national curriculum at international schools, UK teachers with QTS are likely to face stiffer competition for jobs. Sharon Mohan, senior international recruitment consultant at Gabbitas Education said, ‘We had over 400 applicants for a small range of vacancies we were recruiting for recently – for just one school’ in the Gulf. Mohan predicts staff recruitment and retention will be among the biggest challenges for international schools in the years to come.
UWC Dilijan international school in Armenia. Courtesy of Danil Kolodin