Hong Kong, here I come;Career development

8th May 1998 at 01:00
In the first of two articles on working abroad, Anat Arkin reveals that it's not as easy as it seems to land a good job.

Wintry weather over the Easter break must have made many teachers think of escaping to sunnier climes.

Some will try to turn the fantasy into reality by applying for work in one of the many schools around the world that teach in English. These range from schools catering for the children of expatriates to those offering a British-style education to pupils from the host country. There are also numerous centres teaching English as a foreign language, and a growing network of schools following the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which now covers primary as well as secondary schooling.

Although all these different types of school do employ teachers from the UK, people with British teaching qualifications cannot just walk into the jobs of their choice.

"It's probably more difficult to get a good job overseas than in the UK," says Peter Gummer of Gabbitas Educational Consultants, which has been recruiting teachers to far-flung corners of the world since 1873. "We are talking about flying out a teacher, and perhaps his or her family, putting them up and paying for their medical care, so the financial outlay on the part of the employing school is massive and they are looking for the best."

Schools in popular locations attract large numbers of highly able applicants. The English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong, for example, recently advertised for a principal for one of its primary schools, and received more than 150 applications for the job, which carries a generous salary and a 25 per cent gratuity paid in lieu of a pension, housing and other benefits.

The foundation employs around 500 teachers in 15 schools and is recruiting as many teachers from the UK as it did before Britain's withdrawal from Hong Kong. "We look for highly qualified and preferably experienced teachers who are able to offer the subjects of the English national curriculum but who are sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt their teaching to our methods and to our very able student body," says ESF education officer David Coles.

He points out that, as a large and well-resourced organisation, the foundation is able to offer an extensive staff-development programme of a kind that few stand-alone overseas schools can match, and so has no trouble holding on to good staff.

People teaching in British Forces schools overseas also tend to stay for a long time. With continuing cuts in the armed forces there are now fewer job openings in these schools than there were, but Service Children's Education, the Ministry of Defence education authority, still runs six secondary, four middle and 45 primary schools. Most of these are in Germany, with a few in other parts of the world, including Cyprus, Brunei, Belize and the Falkland Islands.

Apart from a British Forces primary school, there is a 150-pupil secondary school and a slightly larger primary school for local children on the Falklands. The rest of the islands' children, who live on isolated farms, are taught by travelling teachers, many from Britain.

Geography teacher Nigel Wright, who has just returned home after two-and-a-half years in the Falklands, says: "One of the best things about being there is that there are no constant pronouncements from the Government about what you should be doing. You are simply allowed to get on with the job you have been trained to do in a well-resourced learning environment."

Describing the small classes and "wonderfully well-behaved" pupils in the islands' secondary school, which looks on to the harbour in the capital, Stanley, Mr Wright adds that he would have stayed for another two years if his family had been able to join him.

"There are people who do their two years and are happy to leave, but I found it the most professionally rewarding experience I've had in the 24 years I've been in teaching," he says.

Next week: How a spell overseas can affect your future career

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