Reforms aimed at making England the “most attractive place in the world” to teach will still mean thousands fewer teachers from overseas than before Brexit, official figures suggest.
The government unveiled reforms to qualified teacher status earlier this year to make it “fairer and easier” for teachers trained overseas to work in English schools.
It said the move was part of a drive to ensure an “excellent teacher in every classroom”, with the main QTS application route to be widened to more countries by the end of 2023. Individuals cannot teach in many English schools for more than four years without QTS.
But in newly published projections, the Department for Education has admitted it only expects reforms to spark an extra 619 teachers from newly eligible countries to apply for QTS.
It would mark a 37 per cent jump on last year – but Schools Week analysis shows it would fall well short of compensating for the stark decline in European nationals seeking to teach since the Brexit vote in 2016.
The number of QTS awards to applicants from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway fell from 4,795 in 2015-16 to just 704 in 2021-22. Reforms would therefore only offset around 15.1 per cent or less than one sixth of the decline.
Ministers have said reforms will ensure a consistent process regardless of applicants’ nationality, opening the door to the “world’s best” teachers.
But in fact this “may make it more difficult for some from already eligible countries to apply and be awarded QTS in England”, a new official report says.
The government’s Brexit deal not only meant many EU nationals overseas lost their automatic right to work in the UK, but also added extra steps for them to secure QTS.
Recruitment fails to plug ITT shortfalls too
Overall awards from both currently eligible areas, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, EU, USA, Australia and a handful of others, and the rest of the world are expected to rise from 1,684 last year to 2,303 a year under the reforms.
But that would still leave overall numbers below 2020-21 levels. It would also plug just one-fifteenth or 6.6 per cent of the shortfall between current initial teacher training recruitment and government targets.
Recent data showed a shortfall of 9,376 new postgraduate trainees, the ninth year in the past 10 targets have been missed.
Officials are also not even confident in their estimated increase, highlighting “significant uncertainty” – and admitting reforms may not boost numbers at all.
They acknowledge the past three years have seen a decline in QTS awards, “especially” to European nationals. “Given this trend, we may see QTS continue to fall.”
The projections come on the same day a new Commission on Teacher Retention was unveiled by charity Education Support, with leaders and experts from across the sector on the commission. It will examine why so many staff are leaving and make recommendations.
Evelyn Forde, chair of the commission, a headteacher and president of school leaders’ union ASCL, said heads faced an “unprecedented recruitment and retention crisis”.
“At my school, staff are leaving the sector with no jobs to go to because they have decided enough is enough. When they earn more in the private sector, why wouldn’t they?”
‘Brain drain’ fears
The government recently confirmed a partial rollout out of reforms to simplify applications from most countries will begin in February.
Potential applicants from Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, Ukraine and Zimbabwe will be first to benefit from easier access to QTS.
Reforms have sparked fears of an exodus from such countries, however.
Popular Nigerian newspaper The Nation highlighted the reforms under the headline “Brain drain looms as UK invites Nigerian teachers for jobs” last week. It noted a “mass exodus” of Nigerian health workers already, and claimed this had brought “significant disruptions” to its own healthcare system.
News outlet France24 reports Tafadzwa Munodawafa, president of the Educators Union of Zimbabwe, asked: “If we all leave, what will happen to our own children?”
It said the government had recorded shortages of at least 25,000 teachers already. Authorities even reportedly “made it more difficult to obtain the necessary paperwork” to stem an outflow of doctors and nurses in recent years.