Schools are being forced to employ foreign teachers the face of a growing recruitment and retention crisis, but not for the benefits they bring to the classroom.
Leaders are warning that the advantages of recruiting internationally, including greater diversity in the workforce and introducing pupils to different cultures, are “secondary” compared to the urgent need to combat teacher shortages, even in the short-term, according to a new report.
Schools face difficulties attracting enough good English candidates for vacant posts despite spending thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns. The cost of using an agency to recruit an international teacher is usually no more expensive and sometimes even cheaper.
However, the report, commissioned by the Department for Education and carried out by Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Brighton, also reveals that most international recruits leave within two years because of visa restrictions or because of “negative experiences of English schools” and “unsatisfactory pay and conditions”, further exacerbating difficulties with recruitment and retention.
Fifty-six per cent of international teachers working in English secondary schools described their experience as either “fairly negative” or “very negative”. Of those who had left England to teach elsewhere, 38 per cent said bad experiences in English schools was a reason for leaving and 35 per cent cited unsatisfactory pay and conditions.
Researchers carried out telephone interviews with 44 school leaders, 27 of whom had employed international teachers in the past three years. They also spoke to 3,350 international teachers based in England and elsewhere, and used data from the school workforce census.
Many school leaders have been forced to recruit internationally because of a lack of domestic recruits, using phrases such as “desperation”, “having exhausted all other possibilities”, “last resort” and “I would avoid if I could”.
International teachers are often “dynamic, energetic and capable teachers” who bring specialist training and diverse experiences to schools, but many heads worry that foreign recruits take a long time to get used to living and working in England.
They lack familiarity with the curriculum and miss expectations around planning, marking, assessment and accountability, while those with less proficient English often face behaviour management issues.
Two thirds of school leaders also believe Brexit has affected their staff, particularly European nationals. Those in areas that voted strongly to leave the European Union reported that staff “felt rejected by their local community” with some international teachers choosing to return to their home country or turn down job offers in England. The majority of schools said the overriding impact of Brexit “has been the strong sense of uncertainty”.
Although many of those surveyed felt the government should offer more advice and help for international recruitment, such as including free advertisements for international teachers to the newly piloted teacher vacancy website, the report said schools are “unequivocal that international recruitment should not be a substitute for policies intended to increase the number of high-quality teachers trained in England”.