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The global race for EFL teachers

All English-speaking destination countries are reporting a shortage of two vital elements: host families and teachers. New Zealand, which is still waiting to fully reopen, is already feeling the pinch, according to Darren Conway, chair of English New Zealand and director of Languages International.

“I can confirm that we are certainly short of teachers (and accommodation),” he told the Gazette. “We are coping for now, but given that the industry recovery is only just starting, we are going to need to keep finding (good) teachers and accommodation supply faster than student demand grows for quite some time yet.”

Conway also highlights another worldwide problem, a fall in the supply of new TEFL-trained teachers. “As a CELTA provider, we know that training demand is down significantly, so there’s no easy solution coming from that direction,” he says.

As it explains on page 32, English New Zealand plans to increase the number of foreign teachers coming in on working holiday visas. Australia is looking at the same solution.

According to a press release issued by English Australia in August, “colleges are facing further challenges as teachers who were forced to leave the sector because of the significant reduction in student numbers are proving difficult to lure back.”

English Australia has now proposed three measures to the government: increasing the length of time allowed for working holidays, state subsidies for training courses, and the addition of EFL teachers to national and regional labour shortage lists.

Australia’s main advantage in the worldwide fight for teachers is its hourly Elicos wage rates. These have to be agreed with the unions and are between AUD$55 (£33) and AUD$66.15 (£39.76), which may be the highest in the world.

Canada, too, is facing a shortage of teachers, according to Language Canada. But teachers’ unions complain that the low rates of pay have meant recent migrants have been loathe to fill the gaps. With unaccredited schools in Ontario offering barely above the C$14 an hour minimum wage, concerns are growing that non-native speakers may become victims of unfair employment practises.

Across the world, barriers to non-native speaker teachers are falling, but teacher exploitation may be on the rise.

Ireland full to bursting

In Ireland, where teachers from across the EU are welcome, it is the chronic housing shortage that is holding back staff supply. With the highest average hourly rate of pay in European EFL at €20 (£18), and teachers offered 30 teaching hours a week (the highest contact hours in the OECD), the supply of work isn’t a problem, finding a place to live is.

In mid-September, the French government issued a warning to citizens planning to work or study in the Irish Republic about the soaring rents. Shortly afterwards the Irish Council for Overseas Students (ICOS) issued the following statement: “This year… ICOS has been contacted by many students looking for help finding accommodation, to report that they are homeless, to report a scam or to make a complaint about the substandard, and often overcrowded, conditions of their accommodation.”

Teachers coming in from abroad are likely to find themselves in the same position.

In Malta, where hourly rates are less than half the Irish and accommodation is also scarce, schools have responded by offering shared accommodation and monthly salaries – though a monthly rate of €1,000, which is lower than that on offer in the rest of southern Europe, is unlikely to attract many EU citizens.

Malta’s solution

Meanwhile, the Maltese government has been emailing its school leavers with offers of free TEFL courses. Only 3% of the population of the Mediterranean nation has a university degree and graduate status has never been a sine qua non for EFL teachers. In New Zealand, which only has 5% graduates, it is not a requirement for temporary teachers. In Australia, with 30% graduates, it is.

In the UK (36% graduates) the British Council waived the requirement for graduate teachers during Covid and dropped the education level demanded to level 5 – conveniently the level you get by passing a CELTA course.

Recruitment problems have eased somewhat after the summer peak season, the first post-Brexit year in which schools were banned from bringing in teachers from the EU or anywhere else. But retention is difficult as teachers switch schools in search of better rates and more guaranteed hours.

Fixed-term contracts are beginning to appear. One schools offered £19,760 for 30 teaching hours and 40 hours on site – exactly minimum wage. Another is offering £20,869 for 19 hours teaching. The total number of hours on site, the basis on which minimum wage is calculated, is not given.

Neither rate reaches the salary level required to bring an EFL teacher in from abroad, which is £21,300 a year, according to the UK skilled workers visa site (https://www. skilled-worker-visa-going-rates-for-eligible-occupations/skilled-worker-visa-going-rates-for-eligible-occupation-codes)

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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