Exclusive: Two-fifths of teachers would quit for job overseas

Teacher-shortage concerns deepen, as research reveals that 70 per cent also view work abroad as being an option

Helen Ward

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Almost two in five UK teachers would consider moving abroad next term if the right job came up, new Tes research reveals.

The findings raise the prospect of a catastrophic migration of talent overseas, at a time when an increase in pupil numbers is putting extra pressure on schools to retain staff.  

Analysis shows that teachers at the beginning of their career are particularly keen to make a quick exit with almost half (49 per cent) of those who qualified three-to-five years ago willing to leave Britain at short notice.

“The results are really startling,” said Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU union. “But they are backed up by the fact that 40 per cent of teachers do leave [their job] within five years, whether they go abroad or leave the profession. What we have managed to do through our accountability system and lunatic waves of education policy reform is drive teachers away.

“It’s completely understandable why, given a 55-hour working week on average, teachers are looking to go somewhere else. The interesting thing, looking at those who want to teach abroad, is that they don’t really want to leave teaching; what they want to leave behind is the bureaucracy and overwork that teaching in England engenders.”

The potential problem could extend beyond the 38 per cent of teachers prepared to make an immediate flit overseas: a total of 70 per cent of respondents would consider working abroad at some point in their career. 

The survey comes amid a rapid expansion of international schools and a continuing recruitment crisis in England.

A previous Tes analysis revealed that England needed to recruit 47,000 more secondary teachers by 2024 if the country was to keep pace with the predicted growth in pupil numbers.

But demand is also increasing from abroad. The number of English-medium international schools is set to almost double in the next 10 years, according to market research company ISC Research, from 9,549 now to 17,100.

And while overseas job opportunities are rapidly multiplying, work in British schools has become increasingly dissatisfying.

The latest Tes survey of 1,009 UK school teachers found that the most common reason for teachers to consider working abroad is work-life balance (71 per cent), followed by too much administration and bureaucracy (53 per cent), and a lack of respect for the teaching profession (51 per cent). There are also concerns about government policy (45 per cent) and disruptive pupils (43 per cent).

Tracey Salt, a Yorkshire-based supply teacher who is looking for a job in Singapore or China, where she says classroom behaviour is better, told Tes: "Here [in England], I have felt more of a behaviour manager than a teacher."

The new research comes after a recent UCL Institute of Education study of 22 countries with comparable data found that in no other country were teachers less satisfied than in England.

Previous research found that nearly half of teachers working in British international schools had been influenced by their “dissatisfaction” with the education system at home.

“There is a certain amount that headteachers can do,” said Julie McCulloch, head of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders union. “But the biggest issue we get in terms of feedback from our members is the extent of reform and the pace of change, such as the GCSE reforms. These inevitably bring enormous amounts of work for school leaders and teachers.”

With secondaries already struggling to recruit teachers – especially in maths and sciences – the knowledge that many of their teachers may be considering leaving the country is requiring headteachers to think creatively about future staffing, said Ms McCulloch: “When staff do decide to teach abroad for a couple of years, increasingly schools are keeping in touch with them so that when they come back to the UK, they can come back to teaching [at their school].”

The Tes survey also revealed that secondary teachers are less happy than those in primary, with 41 per cent saying they would move, compared with 29 per cent of primary colleagues.

English teachers are more likely to consider a move (43.1 per cent) than humanities (42.7 per cent), maths (37 per cent) or science teachers (32 per cent).

And while work-life balance is the most common reason given by English, humanities and science teachers for considering a move, for maths teachers, the most common reason cited is the lack of respect for teachers, with 60 per cent saying this is an issue.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Last year we recruited 32,000 more trainee teachers, 3 per cent more than the previous year. There are now 450,000 teachers in the profession.

"Teaching remains an attractive profession with more than 14,000 teachers returning to teach in state schools last year. Many of those returners will have been teaching abroad. A period teaching in another country has always been an option, which of course adds to a teacher’s experience."

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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