English-medium and English-bilingual schools are opening across the world in large numbers.
And that means leaders are not only having to persuade increasing numbers of teachers to work abroad but to relocate to cities that they’ve never even heard of.
Most people have an idea what Dubai and Hong Kong are like, but many won’t have the faintest clue about cities beyond the capitals.
What would a new life in Almaty in Kazakhstan look like? Or in Chongqing in China? Or Yangon in Myanmar?
In such a competitive marketplace, schools need to devote time and effort to recruiting staff. This could be via a dedicated section on your website, a video or an introductory pack sent out to potential applicants.
Here are some questions that schools need to answer if they want to attract the best talent:
Anyone moving abroad is going to want reassurance about the quality of life they will experience living and working in a new country.
Schools need to address the basic questions about lifestyle by unpacking what day-to-day life might look like for the prospective teacher:
1. Where will I live?
Accommodation is always high on the list of concerns. Schools need to be clear about whether or not accommodation is provided, as well as its location in relation to the school and the city centre.
They also need to outline what support they will provide in helping staff find their own housing and to settle into life in the new country.
2. What will I eat?
Some families will want to know about the availability of Western foods. Schools can allay fears in this area by providing information on what restaurants and supermarkets are like.
3. Will I be able to communicate in English?
The ability to carry out day-to-day business is a big factor in the decision to move abroad, and it varies hugely around the world.
While English is spoken and understood in most major cities, what often matters most, day in, day out, is the ability to communicate with shopkeepers and taxi drivers. Schools need to be clear about any challenges that potential recruits are likely to encounter.
4. What is the healthcare like?
Given that healthcare is free in the UK, it is perhaps not surprising that very few prospective teachers think to ask about the quality of the health provision – but they should.
Most schools have excellent health insurance schemes but the details of this should be made clear.
5. What’s it like living there?
If you’ve been based in a country for some time, you might take a lot of the everyday experiences for granted. Speak to former new recruits about how they felt on arrival. What came as a surprise?
Outline the local entertainment options for evenings and weekends, and be transparent about local customs. For example, schools in Muslim countries should explain any expectations about dress code or access to alcohol, which can vary even in the same country – Sharjah is dry, whereas Dubai is not, for example.
6. How safe is it?
On occasion, a prospective teacher might have heard of a country for the wrong reasons, such as a political crisis or natural disaster.
This inevitably focuses on the hazards and dangers of living abroad, and schools therefore need to allay fears about the safety of living and working overseas.
Teachers (and the families they are bringing with them or leaving behind) will need reassurance. There are typhoons at times of the year in South East Asia, but there are effective systems in place to support and protect people during these times. The same is true of political unrest, which it is very rare indeed for expats to get caught up in.
7. What are the living costs?
Most people moving abroad see it as an opportunity not only to have an adventure but to experience a better standard of living.
Schools need to be transparent about the salary and package, but also to help prospective teachers understand what that means on the ground.
For example, salaries in Hong Kong are high and tax is low, but the cost of living and accommodation are very high. Conversely, salaries in Malaysia are low, but so is the cost of living.
8. How much can I save?
Many staff, especially teaching couples, see working abroad as an opportunity to save for the future and get a deposit on a house or pay off a considerable portion of the mortgage.
Financially savvy teachers will need the information to do the sums before committing to working abroad.
9. What will the school be like?
For many, moving to an international school is a step into the unknown. In practice, they are usually very similar to those in the UK and schools need to get this across.
There may be questions about the demographic and language background of the pupils and the staff, and about the standards of discipline in the school.
10. What are the professional development opportunities?
One of the most common questions I am asked at interview is about the professional development opportunities available. This is understandable; talented individuals do not want their time abroad to become a step backwards.
Schools that can provide internationally recognised training opportunities will have an advantage in the recruitment marketplace because it is seen both as the passport to the next promotion or the ticket that will allow them to get a job back in the UK.
How to do it:
The best way for schools to answer these questions is to produce a video containing interviews with current staff, which can systematically address any concerns of potential recruits.
A really good example of this is the Haileybury Almaty’s staff recruitment video, which features a teacher talking openly about her initial concerns about moving, as a family, to Kazakhstan; and a colleague having a coffee in Starbucks and shopping in a local supermarket, which is reassuringly like Waitrose.
Mark S Steed is the principal and chief executive of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong. He previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai, and tweets as @independenthead.