The number of English-speaking teachers working in international schools has topped 300,000 for the first time, with that number expected to grow to more than half a million in the next 10 years, new figures have revealed.
Strong economies, particularly in areas such as Asia and the Middle East, have fuelled a boom in demand for British and American-style education, leading to a sustained increase in the number of international schools overseas.
The UK is the biggest single supplier of staff to the sector, accounting for more than 100,000 teachers, which equates to more than a fifth of the overall teaching workforce in England.
The numbers were released by ISC Research, an organisation that tracks international schools and is part of the International School Consultancy Group. It says that the number of such schools has more than doubled to 6,400 since the turn of the century.
Britain's education system is increasingly being seen as a highly lucrative export: the education sector overall, including universities, is said to be worth anywhere between pound;7 billion and pound;15 billion a year to the UK economy.
According to ISC Research, the demand for English-speaking schools abroad will cause the number to nearly double again to an estimated 11,300 by 2022, employing a predicted 529,000 teachers and teaching around 6 million students. Based on annual fee income, the international school market is bringing in pound;20.8 billion every year, with that figure expected to rise to pound;30 billion in 10 years' time.
UK independent schools are increasingly tapping into this lucrative market, with Harrow School, Wellington College and Marlborough College having opened campuses in Asia and the Middle East.
However, some of the larger international school providers are concerned that the rapid expansion of the market is making it difficult for the supply of high-quality English-speaking teachers to keep up with demand.
Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem, one of the largest international school providers in the Middle East, said companies such as his needed to sell the benefits of life abroad even more to try to attract the best teachers.
"The supply of teachers is definitely more challenging as a result of the growth in the market, especially for the cream of the crop such as qualified, experienced International Baccalaureate and British teachers," Mr Pierrepont said.
"It's important for us to show good candidates the quality of life that they can get there: the location and lifestyle, and also the professional development opportunities and career potential."
Since 2000, the number of international schools has grown most rapidly in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates had only 97 such schools at the start of the century but now boasts 378, with companies such as GEMS, Taaleem and US firm World Class Learning leading the market.
But as the number of reputable international schools grows, so too does the number of schools that are more focused on making money than offering a high quality education.
Martin Coles, principal of The British School in the Netherlands, based in The Hague, one of the world's highest performing international schools, said the opportunity to live and work abroad was a key factor in why so many teachers, from the UK in particular, were looking overseas.
His school had received 160 applicants for a single junior school teacher's post, and another 142 for just one English teacher role.
But not all schools offered the same high standards as his, he added. "There is a massive range in the types of schools out there," Mr Coles said. "They are not all hunky-dory. There are more and more schools that are being run for profit, and some people have had some bad experiences."
While the vast majority of teachers working in international schools enjoy their time abroad, some teachers do have horror stories, as TES uncovered in an article last February.
One teacher, Michelle Holloway, who travelled to the Qatari capital Doha to teach design and technology, described her time there as like "being in a prison", adding that she felt she had been "totally betrayed".
"There were CCTV cameras in every room except the toilet. You were docked pay for anything, even for something as petty as leaving the classroom door open," Ms Holloway said.
Photo credit: Reuters
Original headline: International schools seek English speakers to satisfy global boom