Break for the Border

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
The number of teachers from England who want to teach in Scotland has quadrupled in six years. Nick Morrison discovers why. Illustration by David Hitch

The advert doesn't mince its words. Rather than talk of less red tape and paperwork, more respect for teachers, or a better lifestyle, it goes straight for the purse strings. "It doesn't take a genius to work it out,"

it reads, "House prices in Scotland are pound;56,404 less than the UK average, so you would be much better off teaching there." Living in England "doesn't add up", it proclaims, promising, "Teaching in Scotland could help".

This appeal, placed in publications including The TES, is at the forefront of the Scottish Executive's campaign to entice teachers north of the border. The aim is to reduce class sizes to 20 for maths and English in the first year of secondary school, and to 25 for the first year of primary.

Teachers dissatisfied with their lives in England are seen as prime recruiting fodder.

"There isn't a shortage, we're actually training more teachers than ever before, but there may be well-qualified teachers who would be interested in a change of scene and a change of lifestyle," says a spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive. The target is to have 53,000 teachers in place by September, she adds, with the figure now standing at around 50,200.

Whether it's the advert or some other force at work, there are signs that the trickle of teachers moving from England to Scotland is growing to a more substantial flow. Figures from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) show the number of teachers registering from England - a prerequisite before they can teach in a state school in Scotland - has quadrupled over the past six years, from 140 in 2001 to 578 last year.

Ben Hartley didn't specifically target Scotland. Having grown up near the coast and being a keen surfer, he just wanted somewhere away from the crowds and with easy access to a beach. But as the plane came in to land on the beach at Barra in the Western Isles, and he looked out at the beautiful blue water and white sand, he knew it was for him.

"One day I was teaching in the city and the next I was surrounded by beautiful beaches - it was like going to a retreat," he says. "I was totally blown away by the place. I thought I was dreaming."

Ben was brought up in Devon and trained in Loughborough. Teaching practice in Nottingham and Leicester was enough to convince him he didn't want to work in a city. When he saw the advert for a job - and that Barra was recommended in his surfing guide - he took the plunge, applied and got the job.

As soon as he qualified in June, Ben moved to Castlebay School for the last few weeks of the Scottish term. He joined the staff of the 120-pupil school, which has just 15 teachers, in August.

In such a small school, Ben is the only member of the PE department, a considerable responsibility for a newly qualified 23-year-old. "It is taking on a lot compared with what other people are doing, but I've got a mentor and the headteacher is very helpful," he says. "You really get to know the kids well and they're absolute gold. There are never any problems."

So far, he has found it easy to fit into island life. Part of the package was a house, a 20-minute drive to school on the island's only road, and when he arrived it was completely bare. Within two and a half weeks it was fully furnished, thanks to donations from locals. He has been herring fishing with local fishermen and has come home to find a bag of lobster and crab claws hanging on his front door.

"I think it depends on your attitude. I came in willing to live how they live and I think they have accepted me. It's a good scene and the people are friendly - I love the lifestyle," he says.

It helps that he is just a short walk from a prime surfing beach, and his house overlooks the world's only tidal airport. "I can see the beach where the plane lands," he adds. "There's one plane a day - some people might look at that as a negative, but it's just a little reminder of where you are."

After moving with her husband and four children from Northamptonshire to Mull in 2003, Stephanie Sutherland has now relocated to the Scottish mainland, and teaches at Tarbert Academy on the Kintyre peninsula. Glasgow is around two-and-a-half hours away by car, and her 25-mile journey to school includes 21 miles along a single-track road.

Stephanie, 42, was disillusioned with the English education system and in search of a better lifestyle. "I decided I was never going into an English school again," she says. "It was the kids' behaviour, the lack of respect for staff, the paperwork, the lack of involvement in decision-making, and it is much cheaper here."

Initially, her training as a middle school teacher meant she was only given clearance to teach primary, even though all her experience had been in secondary schools, and a lack of a degree in biology meant she was not allowed to teach the subject in Scotland, even though she had done so in England for 15 years. It took her prospective headteacher to overturn the decision. She now teaches chemistry and biology and is head of the science and maths faculty at the 150-pupil school.

"All the classes are mixed ability and the assumption is that everyone is going to reach the higher levels. The standards we expect from them are much higher than in England and you don't get a whole class being written off here," she says. "Education as a whole is much more dynamic in Scotland."

Although Stephanie lived in a small village in Northamptonshire, the adjustment to village life in Kintyre has not always been easy. "There is a degree of suspicion of outsiders," she says. "They have a phrase down here - 'Is she a joiner?' You do get people who come out here and join everything, and it's better if you just sit back a bit and wait before joining. Things move quite slowly here."

"It is only when you have lived here a while and taken part in the community that people start to realise you have not just come for a holiday. It is such a brilliant place to live, clean and safe, and in terms of lifestyle and my job it is much better than England."

Mohammed Mann moved to Scotland so his wife could be near her family, although house prices also played a part. He now lives in Bathgate, West Lothian, and teaches maths at Larbert High School in Falkirk. But even though the Scottish Executive is particularly keen to recruit maths teachers, getting a job was not straightforward.

"I applied for around 60 jobs and got two interviews," says Mohammed, who taught in Sunderland and lived in Newcastle before crossing the border last month. "The ones who replied told me my lack of experience in the Scottish curriculum counted against me, but how was I supposed to get experience if I couldn't get a job?"

In the end, Mohammed, 33, says he teaches in Scotland the same way he taught in England, but he has seen a noticeable improvement in his standard of living. "The cost of living is much cheaper than down south. The house we have got now would be much more expensive in Newcastle," he adds.

House prices were a major factor in Carly Donaldson's decision to move to Scotland with her fiance last summer. Carly got a job teaching at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, and the couple have bought a flat in the city.

Carly, 26, and fiance Gary had lived in Guildford, Surrey, with Carly teaching at All Hallows School in nearby Farnham. "Despite the fact that we're both professionals, we couldn't afford to buy there," she says. "My family and friends are down there, and I enjoyed teaching there, but we could afford to buy up here. We also like the outdoor life, rock climbing and hiking, and you can even ski up here."

Registration with the GTCS took a few weeks, but whereas in England she had taught German and Spanish to A-level, in Scotland she is only allowed to teach her main degree subject, German. She says the adjustment to teaching north of the border has been straightforward, although there is a new vocabulary to learn.

"The differences are not in the teaching but in the abbreviations and the jargon. Instead of GCSEs and A-levels we have Standard and Higher grades and we don't have Year 7, we have S1," she explains. "We also have 'punnys'

- punishment exercises.

"As a form tutor in England you would deal with the pastoral side, any problems they have at home, but here we have guidance teachers so you don't really get involved in that." So far, she has not experienced any anti-English sentiment beyond light-hearted banter among the pupils, with curiosity about where she is from a more common sentiment.

The couple plan to marry in Edinburgh in May, and although uprooting has not been without difficulty, so far Carly has no regrets. "It's been hard to leave family and friends, and I enjoyed teaching at the school I was in, but it has all worked out fantastically," she says

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