Why international teaching hasn’t lost its appeal

Despite travel restrictions, international teaching is still pulling a crowd, writes this Hong Kong-based principal
7th May 2020, 5:02pm


Why international teaching hasn’t lost its appeal

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Schools in Hong Kong are having quite a year. 

The first term was dominated by protests, culminating in the closure of schools for seven days in November.

Then we found ourselves faced with Covid-19 and lost nine out of 12 weeks before Easter.

By the time we start a phased return to school from 25 May, we will have had 15 weeks of home-schooling.

All we need now is for a typhoon to hit in June and we'll have had all that the region can throw at us in a calendar year!

In this context, you would expect that no one in their right mind would be looking to move abroad, least of all to Hong Kong - but you would be wrong.

I can't say that it's been a normal year as far as teacher recruitment is concerned, but that's been more to do with the challenge of logistics rather than a dearth of high-quality candidates.

If Covid-19 had any impact on recruitment, it was to reduce the number of "scattergun applications" where candidates search indiscriminately. Colleagues in other schools report a similar pattern across South-East Asia.


Why international teaching still attracts candidates 


Everyone who has taught abroad has stories to tell, whether it's the time they found a green pit viper in the PE store, or how the school was evacuated in the Arab Spring. Coping with the odd adversity literally goes with the territory.


In non-Covid times, if you happened to be at Dubai International Airport at the start of half-term, the chances are that you would have been in the queue with teachers heading to Zanzibar, Baku or the Maldives.

The same applies in Hong Kong, where they're off to spend the week in Bali, Phuket or Ho Chi Minh. Working in international education often goes hand-in-hand with indulging wanderlust.


One of the major drivers for younger staff moving abroad is that it provides an opportunity to establish oneself financially in a way that simply is not possible in the UK.

Accommodation allowance and generous tax regimes can mean that five years' teaching abroad will often enable a prudent individual or young couple to save enough to get on the housing ladder back at home.


Moving abroad can give a new lease of life to teachers who love the classroom but who find themselves thwarted by the prescriptive nature of Ofsted's high-stakes inspection regime in the UK.

In contrast, many international schools operate in countries that have light-touch or no regulation. For example, here in Hong Kong there is no national curriculum and no compulsory inspection regime.

Schools are ultimately accountable to their stakeholders and may choose to opt for an inspection for quality assurance or marketing purposes.

Recruitment tips for international school leaders

The quality of teachers determines the quality of a school, so recruitment is always a high priority for any school leader.

This is, even more, the case for international schools where staff turnover is understandably high because of the nature of fixed-term contracts and where there is increased competition for talent, with new British curriculum schools opening around the world every year.

In this context, school leaders would be well advised to put as much effort into building their employer brand for staff recruitment as they do marketing their school brand to attract students.

Looking ahead at future recruitment windows, consider the following:

Moving international recruitment around to earlier in the year

Try to get early decisions from your staff about the renewal of contracts and get advertisements placed. There are great advantages of having a preliminary round in November in advance of the post-Christmas recruitment rush.

Sell your location honestly

Avoid photographs of iconic skylines and sun-drenched beaches as these give a false impression of what it is like to work abroad.

Try to answer the questions which potential candidates are likely to ask by providing them with information that allows them to get an accurate picture of what day-to-day life is like living in your city and working in your school.

Use your website

International school websites typically are designed to recruit pupils and to provide information to parents. Few schools consider their potential to be a shop window for recruiting staff - this is a real missed opportunity.

Consider developing a "Working at Our School" section of your website, which includes sample videos of staff talking about what it is like to be part of the school community and a blog that pulls together contributions to the regional and international educational debates.

Set up a LinkedIn employees' group

Any school that can establish a professional network of influential and successful past and present employees will be attractive.

Such a group would provide evidence of the sort of roles former employees went on to do and show that the school is the sort of institution that is genuinely interested in developing its staff even after they have moved on to their next challenge.

Tap into the school community network

This is a great way to advertise posts, to identify potential applicants, and to encourage good candidates to apply for posts.

Mark Steed is the principal and CEO of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong. He previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai. He tweets @independenthead

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