Ministers are looking at setting up a database of immigrants with classroom skills. Stephen Lucas reports
A taskforce has been set up to remove the obstacles blocking refugees with teaching skills from getting back into the classroom.
It aims to prevent their teaching skills going to waste and use their experiences to help give refugee children good role models. A third of refugees come from educated backgrounds, and the largest proportion of those are teachers.
Refugees have problems matching their teaching qualifications to ones needed here, getting employers to recognise their Home Office papers saying they are entitled to live in the UK, and finding an English-language course that is tailored towards being a teacher.
Sarah Hayward, assistant director of Employability Forum, which advises the Government on refugee employment, said: "Rather than recruiting teachers from overseas, we should be looking in our own backyard. Overseas teachers might only stay for 18 months, whereas someone who has had to set up home here, like a refugee, will stay much longer."
The taskforce, which is made up from the Department for Education and Skills, the Teacher Training Agency, teaching unions and voluntary organisations, aims to create a national database of refugees with teaching skills. It also intends to provide advice and guidance to refugee teachers, and identify ways for them to requalify to work in this country. It is expected to report its recommendations in a year's time.
Some refugees are already using an eight-week London Metropolitan university course as a springboard back into the classroom. The University Certificate in Educational Parnership, run by the Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit, trains refugees to do support work with refugee pupils, communities and schools.
Ahmed Dehghany, 50, came to Britain from Iran five years ago after losing job and home when he converted from being a Shia to a Sunni Muslim. He hopes to use the course as a stepping stone to a postgraduate teaching course.
"I decided to be a teacher two years ago," he said. "For two years running I've applied to do a postgraduate certificate in education but have been rejected without explanation. This course should help me get on to a PGCE."
Julieta Manarin, 36, also on the course, came to the UK from the Philippines six years ago after she was kidnapped by rebels who suspected she was a government spy. She is on a placement at Grafton primary in Islington, north London: "I am a trained secondary teacher and have been wasting my time for the past six years. I tried health care but didn't enjoy it. I've really missed teaching."
Naja Thampi, 35, qualified in Sri Lanka as a teacher of Arabic and maths.
She left there six years ago for political reasons. She is now on a placement at Hungerford primary in Islington "I was really struggling when I came over," she said. "I sent my cv to so many schools in London and every time I was told they would let me know if a vacancy arose but I heard nothing. I felt distressed. I had to work as a receptionist and was not happy."
Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, and a member of the taskforce, said:
"It is important for people who have come to settle here to be able to get back into work. It is no good for pupils to be without a teacher while skilled professionals have to negotiate a minefield of bureaucracy to get back into the classroom."
The taskforce has its first meeting in London next Thursday.
A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said: "Refugee teachers are often well- qualified and experienced and we want to look at the possibility of allowing them to gain Qualified Teacher Status."