Last January, Philippa Leggate, head of the Overseas Children's School in Sri Lanka, a 500-pupil establishment catering for 3 to l8-year-olds, spent four days at the centre for the European Council of International Schools in London as part of a recruitment tour which also took in similar events in the United States. More than 100 schools from Tokyo to San Francisco were represented, including the new International Western Academy of Beijing and schools in Moscow, Africa and South East Asia.
For Ms Leggate, fairs are the most economical and practical way of meeting would-be staff, although her task may be made easier when ECIS has completed developing ECISnet, a world-wide computer network that will enable member schools and colleges to communicate with each other and access a recruitment database. ECIS holds two fairs a year in London, one in January and the other this year from May 4-7.
For teachers, ECIS is often the main stepping stone to a career abroad. It is also a unique source of information. The International Schools Directory, revised annually, lists and describes 370 ECIS member schools (200 from Europe and the rest elsewhere) and provides basic information on other international schools known to the council.
Marie Farrell is one teacher who visited the January fair. She was "looking for a change" after a few years teaching at a primary school in this country and was hoping to go to Europe or the Americas.
"It could be quite difficult to get back into teaching in this country. The rest of my career might be spent on the international circuit," she acknowledges, but it is a chance she seems happy to take.
Philippa Leggate says: "Schools are looking for teachers who, apart from the necessary qualifications, have at least two years' experience and are flexible both in accepting different cultures and in terms of education". Adaptability is important because international schools often blend different systems, incorporating, for example, aspects of the British system with those of, say, the American system. "We have to make sure that children can fit back into their indigenous countries, as most only stay a few years in one country and then return home," she explains.
To be considered for the fair, teachers need to get their application in at the latest between September and December in the year before the two fairs. Out of those applying, 640 candidates accepted the invitation to attend in January, of whom a sizeable minority were teaching couples (there are 158 couples on the ECIS database). International schools are often keen on a package of two, as it eases accommodation .
The system is streamlined, efficient and competitive: recruiters wouldn't come the distance and spend the money for less. On the first day the international school representatives go through the files of applicants choosing from the candidates who have accepted the invitation to attend the fair.
The next two days are taken up with interviews and briefings in a two-way process in which schools interview those in whom they are already interested and candidates see representatives from schools which interest them. Decisions are then made which will transport some teachers out of the UK into schools in places ranging from the heart of Paris or Moscow to a Syrian agricultural research station or the Cameroonian rain forest. For many it is an exhilarating prospect.
European Council of International Schools, 21 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire GU32 3EL. Tel: 01730 268244. Fax: 01730 267914.