Hiring overseas teachers – it’s not all plain sailing
Hiring overseas teachers is a necessary last resort and a useful temporary solution for most schools but it presents significant challenges, according to a new report, co-authored by the University of Brighton’s School of Education.
Published by the Department for Education (DfE), the report looked at school leaders’ use of overseas recruitment as a strategy to address teacher shortages in England.
It found that due to visa restrictions, international recruits tended to move on within a couple of years and just 35 per cent of those who gained QTS between 2014 and 2016 were working at schools in England at the time of the survey.
School leaders expressed concerns that overseas recruits struggled to adapt to the curriculum and educational practices in the UK and many needed considerable support to settle in.
International recruits also cited negative experiences of the English school system and unsatisfactory pay and conditions as their reasons for moving on.
The study, by the universities of Sheffield Hallam and Brighton, looked at schools’ approaches to recruiting teachers from abroad, their motivations, behaviours and the perceived benefits and barriers to recruiting internationally.
Researchers interviewed head teachers, principals, HR representatives, and other school leaders in secondary schools across England. Of these, 27 schools had recruited international teachers within the last three years, and 17 had not although many had either direct or indirect experience of working with or trying to recruit international staff.
There was also a survey among international teachers, sent to 13,436 teachers who trained in another country and obtained Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) between September 2014 and December 2016. All were from a country in the European Economic Area or were classified as an Overseas Trained Teacher from Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United States. More than 3,300 overseas teachers replied.
Researchers conducted telephone interviews with 44 school leaders and found many of them had mixed experiences of recruiting international teachers, often through agencies. Whilst Heads tended to favour recruits from English speaking countries, visas were either short-term, costly or highly problematic, particularly for subjects not on the Shortage Occupation List.
Dr Carol Robinson, Associate Professor in the University of Brighton’s School of Education, said: “Most school leaders who had recruited internationally in the previous three years described doing so as a last resort or an additional strategy for overcoming the local shortage of teachers. Their motivation to recruit internationally was thus based predominantly on necessity due to an insufficient supply of home-grown candidates, as opposed to being a desired route.
“School leaders expressed both positive and negative views on the quality of international teacher recruits, with concerns over such appointments being more frequently and more strongly emphasised than the perceived benefits. Concerns were expressed about international teachers’ perceived difficulties in operating effectively within an English teaching context, their lack of familiarity with English syllabi and curricula, and in some cases, their lack of proficiency in speaking English and/or difficulties fully understanding students, which could contribute to behaviour management issues.
“More generally, internationally-recruited teachers were considered to be relatively less committed to teaching, partly because some teachers see it primarily as a temporary arrangement before returning home: ‘a kind of a paid holiday’, in the words of one headteacher.”
Dr Robinson said one difficulty experienced by school leaders in recruiting international teachers was the reliance on Skype interviews and references to assess candidates’ suitability.
And, she said: “According to many of the school leaders interviewed, international recruits often take a long time to acclimatise to working in England, and need a significant amount of support, more than required by those appointed from within the UK, to meet, and cope with, the demands of their teaching role, and to settle into living in England.”
The majority of schools which had not recruited internationally reported not doing so because they currently did not need to or because they had negative experiences with international teacher recruitment in the past.
Dr Robinson added: “Nearly all school leaders were unequivocal in their belief that international recruitment should not, and could not, act as a substitute for policies that better ensured greater numbers of high quality teachers being trained in England, and that ensured terms and conditions were sufficiently desirable to encourage the retention of existing teachers.”
One conclusion of the report stated: “Concerns were raised that instead of focusing on international teachers, more should be done by government to address the recruitment and retention issues of all subjects by improving terms and conditions, and making the profession more attractive for English-based teachers.”
Professor Andy Hobson, Professor of Teacher Learning and Development and Head of research in the University’s School of Education also contributed towards the authorship of the report.