Charity sees surge in teachers seeking UK refuge

26th March 2010 at 00:00
But it warns too much bureaucracy is preventing those with classroom skills from finding jobs

A sudden increase in teacher refugees seeking solace in Britain means they urgently need schools to provide work experience and job opportunities, a charity has claimed.

The number of displaced teachers registering with the charity has increased fourfold in recent months. They were escaping crises in countries such as Zimbabwe, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea.

But Refugees into Teaching, which is supported by the Training and Development Agency (TDA) and the Refugee Council, says bureaucracy and ignorance stop many finding new jobs - and their much-needed skills in shortage subjects such as maths and science are lost.

It now wants more of their British counterparts to act as mentors to help the refugees qualify. Staff are working with teachers to show how short- term placements not only help refugees but can also provide training opportunities for them.

A total of 123 people registered with Refugees into Teaching in the last three months of 2009, compared with 30 in the same period in 2008. Numbers on the charity's database have more than doubled in a year, from 434 at the end of 2008 to 950 this week.

Around 250 of those registered with the project are from Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe's crackdown on opponents has often focused on teachers and he has accused many of being supporters of the rival MDC party. Whistleblowers are encouraged to report teachers to the authorities and many have left the country knowing they face imprisonment. Others say they have been tortured by Mr Mugabe's supporters.

Refugees into Teaching, which gives advice on re-training and support, says England's strict training rules mean few of the displaced teachers find permanent jobs.

Most end up employed as unqualified teachers or for supply agencies, only to lose their jobs because the Government says they can only work without training for four years. They find it hard to get experience of the English education system because schools demand CRB checks and references.

"On many occasions our clients are just forced to begin their whole career all over again, even people who have been headteachers," said project manager Andrew Lawton.

"Their degree might not be recognised in this country, even if their teaching qualifications are. These are people very skilled in the priority subjects like science and maths - teachers we really need - but they face so many challenges.

"In many ways it's easier for the teachers to start again. If they don't they get sucked into the supply loop and run out of time to qualify. The people I see just want to work."

Almost all those helped by Refugees into Teaching have to re-take their qualifications. Since the scheme began, 15 refugees have gained qualified teacher status, 36 clients have secured a place on an initial teacher training course and 86 clients are now ready to apply. A total of 64 people have found placements in schools and nine have been given school observation places.

There are only 825 places on the TDA's course for overseas trained teachers. Most are offered to those in commonwealth countries such as Australia before they leave for the UK.

Damage limitation

Teachers at St John's Roman Catholic Primary in Rochdale say working with refugees has helped the school integrate into the community and therefore tackle vandalism.

Children are now helped by a Congolese teaching assistant who was originally a headteacher and school inspector in a refugee camp in Zambia. Another TA qualified in Cameroon but had to leave the country after speaking out about human rights.

In 2001 all children were British. Now 85 per cent speak English as an additional language.

Headteacher Jed Morgan, pictured, said: "Surely this is a great example to the community, who feel a part of the school community. We rarely suffer from any vandalism now.

"My Congolese TA has spent time in the classes, especially at key stage 2, talking about his life story as part of personal, social, health and economic lessons. He has an amazing story and this has proved to have particular impact on the children's understanding of achievement in its wider sense.

"A refugee has the same right to work as anybody else. We have had asylum- seeking families where mums and dads were desperate for the opportunity to work but were not allowed."

Original paper headline: Charity sees fourfold surge in teachers seeking UK refuge


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