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Reporter’s take: #LetThemTeach – 'the end of the beginning'

Tes' #LetThemTeach campaign has won a major battle, but it hasn’t achieved all its objectives yet, writes Will Hazell

Tes' #Letthemteach campaign, which aims to make it easier for international teachers to work in the UK, has won a major battle

Tes' #LetThemTeach campaign has won a major battle, but it hasn’t achieved all its objectives yet, writes Will Hazell

On Monday the government published its teacher recruitment and retention strategy.

The document contains lots of eye-catching proposals, but tucked away on page 33 is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it commitment that could make a huge difference to teacher supply.

“The home secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to review the shortage occupation list,” it says.

“This will now include consideration of whether there is a case for extending the teacher occupations that are on the shortage occupation list beyond maths, physics, general science, computing and Mandarin.”

Thus the government has formally committed for the first time to look at whether more teaching roles should be prioritised for UK visas.

This marks an important win for Tes' #LetThemTeach campaign, which we launched last June after publishing an investigation revealing that desperately needed foreign teachers were being forced to quit their jobs and leave the country because they were unable to obtain visas

The campaign has won backing from education unions, the Commons Education Select Committee, the mayor of London and the Scottish government, as well as thousands of people who signed a Tes parliamentary petition.

International teachers can ease recruitment crisis

Considering how notoriously protective the Home Office is of its turf, just getting those lines into the strategy is a victory in itself.

Currently only teachers in four subjects – maths, physics, computer science and Mandarin – are on the shortage occupation list, which gives higher priority for visas each month. If the whole teaching profession is put on the shortage occupation list, it will mean that we will never return to the farcical situation of last March, when teachers not on the list had to be earning £60,000 to qualify for a visa.

It is true that the government’s decision to remove NHS workers from the monthly migration cap has freed up extra visas, meaning that teachers are currently getting through.

But because visas are allocated monthly, this could change at any time. Putting more teaching roles on the list would provide much-needed certainty.

Along with streamlining the bureaucracy for schools wanting to hire from abroad, such a move would also send out a powerful signal that – irrespective of Brexit – Britain remains open to talented foreign teachers.  

Some might argue that we should be training more teachers at home. Quite so. But England needs an extra 47,000 secondary teachers alone by 2024, and the government has missed its initial teacher training targets for six years in a row. There are enough vacancies to go round.

Of course, we don’t know what the Migration Advisory Committee will recommend, so #LetThemTeach hasn’t achieved its objectives yet.

But rest assured, Tes will continue fighting for our international colleagues in every step of the process. 

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's not the end, not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

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