Russians told to avoid Peckham

7th September 2001 at 01:00
NINE Eastern European teachers this week started work at a south London primary. But some almost did not make the trip, after the school and the area it serves were pilloried in the Russian media.

John Mann, head of Gloucester primary, in Peckham, south London, said at least one teacher was put off travelling to England after a television station and a newspaper warned of the "degradation" that was facing them.

The 900-pupil school is yards from the spot where 10-year-old Damilola Taylor was fatally stabbed last year. Mr Mann said that London correspondents from Russia had warned teachers off.

He said: "They said that we were only recruiting from Russia because we were unable to fill our teaching posts; that we taught young criminals; and that (the teachers) would come across degradation and squalor.

"They said they would face insanitary conditions in their homes and that they would have no money. With one exception, none of this is true."

The one true fact, of course, is that that vacancies did force the school to spend pound;20,000 on a recruiting mission to St Petersburg - from where four of the new recruits hail - and also to Bulgaria.

But Mr Mann, who chose his new staff from 600 applicants in the two countries after placing adverts in national newspapers, and then gave them four weeks of training, is happy with the results.

The recruits The TES spoke to this week all speak fluent English, and come armed with five-year university degrees. They proved enthusiastic about their new jobs. Money - average teachers' wages in the two countries are under pound;100 a month - had been a factor in their coming to England, they said, but not the only one.

Lyudmila Tsanova, 31, from Botevgrad, near Sofia, Bulgaria, has put on hold her career as head of a private primary to come to England. She said: "It's about enriching my teaching and cultural experience. I have a good job in Bulgaria, I'm not here for financial reasons."

Irina Leontieva, 24, from St Petersburg, a graduate in English philology with six years' teaching experience, said: "It's my dream to see this country. I'm here to grow and develop."

They do not underestimate the difficulties they face in adapting to new cultures. All the recruits are white while 65 cent of Gloucester pupils are of Nigerian origin, 10 per cent from Caribbean backgrounds, 10 per cent from East Asian, and 10 per cent white European.

Elena Loktionova, 23, a fluent English and Danish speaker who was working as a translator in Russia, said: "I hope that parents will be tolerant and patient towards me. They might have some prejudices because I'm Russian. English isn't my first language and I'm from a totally different culture.

"But I hope they understand that I can cope with this situation, and that I will be giving my all to make a really positive impact here."

Warwick Mansell

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