With a dwindling pool of teachers for schools to call on, it makes sense to cast your nets far and wide, including those currently teaching abroad. And, as we explore here, government initiatives have made it easier to do so.

The Office for National Statistics reports that “International migration contributes [significantly] to the workforce in schools, with around 12% of school [teaching] staff in England born outside the UK in 2015 to 2017; this varies greatly across the country, from 4% in the North East to 31% in London.”

It’s harder to find figures for the many UK-born teachers who are currently teaching abroad but who one day wish to return to these shores. We spoke to several teachers in international schools overseas. They say that the pandemic has changed things for those who feel they’d be better off back in the UK with family and friends.

It remains the case that teachers overseas keep an eye on vacancies here. They may not have the Times Educational Supplement on the table in the common room, but they have the app on their phone. They also like to keep tabs on former employers and colleagues.

And for teachers born outside the UK, our education system is still held in high regard, with many schools seen as world-class, hence the huge popularity, with both parents and teachers, of international schools founded by some of our best public school brands, such as Repton, Dulwich, Sherborne, Marlborough, Wellington, Winchester and Harrow. 

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The benefits of recruiting overseas teachers are many

Travel broadens the mind. It is both inspiring and humbling. As French novelist, Gustave Flaubert put it, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

Time spent living and perhaps working abroad is a sure sign of adaptability, adventurousness, and openness to new ideas. Those who have soaked up other cultures will have grown in confidence, as people and as teachers. Both resourceful and resilient, such candidates are often the best problem-solvers and critical thinkers. 

For language teachers, immersion is the key to true fluency. There’s no better way to learn a language than from native speakers.

Diversity in the common room

Greater diversity in the common room widens the perspective and enriches the education of pupils. Racism has once again reared its ugly head in recent news. Diversity in schools and colleges goes some way to address ignorance and prejudice, along with preparing pupils for a many-faceted, multicultural world beyond the school gates. 

The elephant in the room

There are challenges, however, to luring teachers back to the fold. It’s important to face head-on why many teachers leave to teach abroad in the first place. The Guardian ran a piece last November with the headline, “‘I would burn in hell before returning’ – why British teachers are fleeing overseas”.

The push and pull factors are numerous and complex. Some of the issues are societal or systemic, and therefore out of your hands. 

But, what can you do?

Ethos sets you apart

We’ve written before about making sure your employer brand stands out.

CPD may be your USP. Sell the teaching experience, as much as the advertised position. Sell the culture and values of your community. These are the things that make every school unique. Remember, teachers don’t so much want to join schools as join communities.

Every employee, teacher or otherwise, wants to feel trusted and supported. Make it clear how your school protects teachers from the excessive workload and hyper accountability. Sharing resources and approaches go a long way, as does reducing the pressures of internal assessment (of both pupils and teachers). 

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Friction-free recruitment 

Make the whole process, from reading the job vacancy online to employment and induction, as easy as possible. Many teachers we speak to say that some schools don’t respect their time in the application process. Reassess how you help overseas applicants. 

As we’ve said before, make your job listings work harder and attract the best applicants.

In the old days’ BC – well, before COVID – some schools would expect overseas applicants to jet across the world. Due to life under lockdown, we’re all more familiar with video calls and conferencing. To help overseas candidates, we expect more schools will be open to conducting initial interviews via Skype and Zoom. Offering advice and assistance with travel and accommodation will also help candidates. Favourable rates could be arranged with local hotels or B&Bs. School support staff may have the time to make travel bookings. Remember, you have local knowledge and links that applicants abroad might not have. 

For those born outside the UK

It’s worth noting that the government actively targets qualified teachers abroad. For instance, the International Teacher Recruitment Programme (ITRP) focuses on shortage subjects: Maths, Physics, Computer Science, General Science or Modern Foreign Languages. It helps teachers in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Jamaica, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain or the USA relocate to the UK, helping with anything from getting visas and work permits, to finding vacancies, settling down to life in the UK, and understanding the national curriculum. 

Overseas trained teachers can teach in maintained schools and non-maintained special schools in England as unqualified teachers for four calendar years. 

There are other options for employing teachers who are, in effect, migrant workers:

  • The Tier 5 route – Popular with many schools, the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) route allows young people aged 18 to 30 from selected countries to come to the UK for any purpose (work, study, leisure) for up to 2 years. 
  • The Tier 2 route – Should a school wish to recruit a non-UK citizen in the long term, they are required to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), after which the teacher can then apply for a visa and UK citizenship from UK Visas and Immigration.

Outsourcing overseas recruitment

Agencies offer help with the red tape, as well as the scouting and recruitment process. Some will conduct interviews abroad or in London, for a range of different schools, all in one sitting, saving everyone time and money in the process. 

Final thoughts 

It’s no easy thing for the applicants themselves. Job hunting across borders is both complex and stressful. But, from the school’s perspective, the extra problems entailed weed out casual candidates, and those who lack initiative and drive. With recruits from overseas, you know you’ll end up with candidates who are willing to go that extra mile.  

Bryony – Guide

ambleglow expert

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