Stints abroad refresh staff

A year's sabbatical overseas could rekindle jaded teachers' enthusiasm and stop them quitting, Michael Shaw reports

TEACHERS who take a sabbatical break abroad return more committed to working in education than those who stay behind in the classroom, researchers claim today.

A study of 114 teachers who took Voluntary Service Overseas placements found that only a quarter did not return to teaching in the UK.

The report by the Institute of Education at London University says that this proportion is impressively low, and concludes that policy-makers should use sabbaticals to tackle teacher shortages.

A study by the National Union of Teachers last year found that well over half of newly-trained teachers leave the profession after three years, while a survey by The TES this year found that more than 40 per cent of teachers expect to leave the profession within five years.

More than 1,000 qualified teachers have worked with VSO in the past 10 years in countries including Rwanda, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Sabbaticals in England are restricted to six weeks and only those with five years' service in challenging schools - where more than 50 per cent of pupils are entitled to free meals - are eligible.

Ministers expect more than 4,000 teachers to take part in the three-year, pound;25 million programme. But unions and the General Teaching Council for England want a bigger, centrally-administered scheme.

Today VSO launches its "Valuing Teachers" campaign, urging the Government to expand sabbaticals to a year.

Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, president of VSO, said: "Six weeks isn't a proper sabbatical - it's the time you would get for a long holiday, or a bad case of flu."

Maureen Burns, GTC head of policy, said: "We all need time in our professional lives to step back, to open ourselves up and to think 'outside the box'."

Jonathan Dimbleby, 20

INSPIRED BY AFRICAN YEAR

SCIENCE teacher AlisonMurphy had been considering quitting teaching after three years in a busy north London comprehensive.

Instead, the 34-year-old did a year's VSO at a 600-pupil secondary in a remote corner of Namibia, where soldiers with AK47s would often stroll into the classroom.

She found herself arranging staff training and writing assessment materials for the region, as well as teaching.

"I was stuck in a rut before Namibia. Being there reminded me why I wanted to teach in the first place," said Ms Murphy, now teaching at St James RC High in the London borough of Barnet.

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