Asylum seekers have wealth of experience

27th March 2009 at 00:00
These teachers need support to move into the Scottish education system, say researchers

Refugee teachers like the smaller classes, higher wages and the availability of support and CPD the Scottish education system offers.

But discipline, "parental interference" and understanding accents are among the biggest "challenges" they face, according to the first major study of refugee teachers in the UK. Researchers from Strathclyde University have spent the last two years investigating and comparing the experiences of refugee teachers in their country of origin and Scotland.

The research was carried out by the Refugees into Teaching in Scotland (RITeS) project, which helps refugees and asylum seekers with teaching qualifications to enter teaching in Scotland. They interviewed more than 20 refugee teachers with experience in primary and secondary, from over 14 countries, including Zimbabwe, Iraq and Pakistan. Researchers also observed them teaching.

"We wanted to understand the differences in pedagogies and approaches so we could understand better how to support teachers as they moved into Scottish education," explained Geraldine Smyth, manager of the project.

The black and minority ethnic population was "seriously under- represented" in teaching, Dr Smyth continued. Through the RITeS project, which holds a database of more than 250 refugee and asylum seeker teachers in Scotland, it is hoped the balance can be redressed and schools begin to benefit from their different skill set. "Many refugee teachers have at least three languages," she said. "If we get this group into teaching we will enhance the multi-lingual professionalism of teachers in Scotland and help respond to the multi-lingual nature of pupils in our schools."

While refugee teachers often needed help enhancing their ICT skills, their experience of working with fewer resources and larger classes was incredibly valuable, she argued. "Scottish education can be quite resource-rich and can perhaps take away the ability to be a creative teacher to a certain extent."

However, refugees needed "intensive support" to access teaching in Scotland, the researchers found, especially as teacher training was sometimes not required in their home countries.

The authors say: "The General Teaching Council for Scotland sets out requirements for registration which include a UK degree or equivalent, a professional qualification, a disclosure clearance, and good proficiency in English. This process has presented challenges to refugee teachers which are often difficult to overcome."

Other difficulties highlighted in the report include getting to grips with child protection policies and procedures, mixed-ability classes and the "high level of parental interference", when many refugee teachers had been used to education being the preserve of professionals.

The report called for better tracking of the progress of refugee teachers, who had received the right to remain; exceptional admissions to the register to be examined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account merits such as length of teaching in their country of origin; more support for refugee teachers on the alternative route; and for higher education to work closely with services, like the RITeS Project, to provide suitable teacher training courses.

At a recent council meeting, the GTCS expressed concerns that probationers on the alternative route were not being properly supported. Council members feared that this group of probationers, who have to complete 270 days of teaching experience to gain full registration, would struggle to find work in a climate of tightening supply budgets.

One council member reported in her authority there was no supply budget except for emergencies and even then you had to "jump through hoops".


Murat Gullen is a Kurdish Turk who fled the country in 2001 in order to escape military service. "I did not want to go to the army because I'm against wars and weapons, but you have to do military service in Turkey if you are a man over 18."

Mr Gullen, 32, had worked as a science teacher in Turkey for three years but spent five years in low-paid jobs in the UK before he returned to the profession. "I had tried to get into teaching but filling out these forms and applying was difficult for a person who did not have English as a first language and who did not have enough money, support and hope."

He moved to Edinburgh in August, 2004; shortly after that he was contacted by the RITeS project. "When they said they could help me get into teaching I did not quite believe them, but I said OK."

RITeS organised work-shadowing for him at Trinity Academy and the principal teacher of physics helped him get to grips with the curriculum.

RITeS, meanwhile, gave Mr Gullen the support he needed to register with the GTCS and follow a number of CPD courses. He completed his probation via the alternative route in January and is now working as a physics teacher at Craigmount High. "I sometimes think: 'What would I have done if I had not met the right people?' It is "fun" teaching in Scotland, says Mr Gullen. The only downside, he feels, is discipline, but it is not a problem at Craigmount. "It is a very good school with nice people and staff. I'm very pleased."

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today