Britain is not alone in struggling to find suitably qualified school leaders and teachers to stand in front of classes. We may wish to blame the unique problems of our own system, but 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 science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects are at a premium.
But what is also true is that the success of English education is exacerbating the problem in England: despite all the chest-beating depression about the state of UK education at home, the British education system is still held in the highest esteem around the world. UK education is one of the great British exports, with the number of English-medium K12 International schools growing from 2,584 schools in 2000, to 9,626 in 2018 (up 372 per cent – source ISC Research, May 2018).
One significant consequence of this is that UK-trained teachers are increasingly in demand and short supply around the world.
The British government seems slow on the uptake that the teacher recruitment crisis is a global, rather than a local, challenge and are 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 £40,570 in England and Wales (£48,244 in Inner London); even on U3 with a maximum TLR1 (£13,288), a teacher earns £53,858 (£61,532 in Inner London). That amount is then subject to income tax and national insurance contributions.
In contrast, equivalent classroom teachers in Dubai can be on a package of over AED 400,000 pa, which is over £80,000 pa. 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 offering vastly more lucrative annual packages.
Demand for jobs
Ah, but how many teachers actually want to teach abroad?
Teaching abroad has become much more normal as commercial school chains (such as Nord Anglia and GEMS) have spread their reach, and as UK independent schools have established franchise schools around the world (eg, Dulwich International, Harrow International).
Today, working overseas, far from being seen as a hardship posting, is increasingly considered a desirable career move. These factors have meant that working abroad has never been a more attractive career step for teachers. Some estimates put a figure of 15,000 on the number of teachers leaving each year to teach outside the UK.
As yet, not much has been done to persuade teachers to stay. And the problem is only going to get worse.
The rapid expansion of UK curriculum schools around the world is set to continue and this means that British curriculum international schools will be looking to recruit an estimated 180,974 more staff within the next five years and 428,963 staff within the next ten [ISC Research Data – May 2018].
This expansion will create even more opportunities for British teachers abroad…and place an even greater strain on teacher recruitment and retention in the UK.
Mark S Steed is the Director of JESS, Dubai, and has been appointed the principal & CEO of Kellett School Hong Kong from September 2019