Teacher recruitment is top of the agenda for the senior leadership teams in most schools in the UK.
However, what hasn’t been recognised in UK media debates is that Britain is not alone in struggling to find suitably qualified staff.
There is a worldwide teacher recruitment crisis at every level from classroom teachers through to school principals: middle and senior leaders are in short supply, and specialist teachers in STEM subjects are at a premium. It is estimated that half a million additional teachers will be required to staff the growing number of English-speaking and bilingual international schools around the world, so global teacher shortages are set to continue.
“There is a worldwide teacher recruitment crisis at every level from classroom teachers through to school principals.”
Let’s take a look at the figures:
The UK Government seems slow on the uptake that the teacher recruitment crisis is a global, rather than a local, challenge and is yet to recognise that it is not well-placed to compete with the packages on offer around the world.
Let me illustrate: a UK teacher on U3 earns £41,604 in England and Wales (£49,571 in Inner London); even on U3 with a maximum TLR1 (£14,030) a teacher earns £55,634 (£63,601 in Inner London).
After tax, this means that in Inner London, a U3 teacher is taking home £40,909 per annum and a colleague on U3 + TLR1 is earning £45,530 p.a. Of course, there is also the additional benefit of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.
In contrast, equivalent classroom teachers in Dubai can be on a package of over 400,000 United Arab Emirates dirhams a year, which is over £80,000 a year. Tax free. The living costs in Dubai are comparable to that of living in London, and the lifestyle is, arguably, significantly better. The contrast is even greater in senior leadership roles. And turning further East, salaries are even better with schools in Hong Kong and mainland China are offering more lucrative annual packages.
“The narrative that those looking to work in the independent sector or overseas are selling out is wearing very thin.”
Traditionally there has been a view circulating in maintained sector schools that anyone looking to work in either the UK independent sector or overseas is to a greater or lesser extent “selling out”. Today this narrative is wearing very thin.
Unlike the situation thirty years ago, teachers, not the state, bear the costs of their degrees and teacher training. So the Government does not have the moral authority to dictate in which sector or country teachers work. Teachers are free agents and they can choose where to ply their craft be that in the maintained or independent sectors in the UK or if they chose to work abroad where teaching salaries can be more than double domestic levels.
First and foremost, the UK Government should pay its teachers a much more competitive global market rate if it is to attract and retain the talent that it needs. The government- backed Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) remains the one benefit of working in the maintained sector that differentiates UK from overseas packages, but even this benefit doesn’t have the pulling power that it once had. Private pensions are commonplace and now that TPS is based on average rather than final salary, it no longer is the tie to keep teachers in the sector as it was 15 years ago.
“The DfE needs to listen to the teachers who are leaving the maintained sector and address their concerns.”
The UK Government should invest in increasing the supply of teachers by bearing the costs of initial teacher training. The Government should provide a 50 per cent subsidy on fee levels for students studying B.Ed. degrees and bear the full costs of the fees of Post-graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) courses.
The UK DfE needs to listen to the teachers who are leaving the maintained sector and address their concerns. Teachers don’t move to the independent sector or head overseas just for the salaries. According to a Council of British International Schools (COBIS) Report on Teacher Supply in International Schools (July 2018), 47 per cent of international teachers surveyed gave “dissatisfaction with home education system” as one of the reasons why they moved abroad.
Furthermore, nearly a third of teachers (32 per cent) reported that they were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job. These data suggest that many teachers who are struggling with aspects of the UK system look to working abroad as an escape to stave off a career change.
The UK should learn lessons from the Republic of Ireland, a nation where wanderlust is part of their DNA. The Irish Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has recognised the potential of their diaspora working in international schools as a solution to their local teacher shortages and has started to do the groundwork to lure expats home. Importantly, Ireland has had a structure in place for over a decade which recognises international experience. This means that teachers can return to a point on the pay scale with incremental increases of a maximum of seven years’ experience for their time abroad.
“The DfE should promote the professional opportunities of teaching both at home and abroad as a structured career path.”
The DfE should put in place clearer, more transparent, visible and recognisable pathways to support the mobility of teachers back to the UK, including developing methods of formal recognition of overseas service in pay scales and routes to leadership.
They should also look to promote the professional opportunities of teaching both domestically and internationally as part of a structured career trajectory; increase international training opportunities; and do more to encourage UK principals to recognise and value UK qualifications gained overseas (e.g. ITT, QTS and NQT).
Teacher recruitment and retention will remain a significant challenge in the UK over the coming years. Teachers are much more aware of the options available to them and, given that successive Governments have not addressed the genuine concerns of teachers, we should not be surprised if we see more colleagues packing their bags and heading overseas.