Teaching is an increasingly global occupation, with many countries looking for staff far from home. Anat Arkin reports
Shortly after South African education minister Kader Asmal denounced Britain for poaching some of his country's best teachers, his office announced that South Africa itself would consider recruiting well-qualified teachers from abroad.
While South Africa has a surplus of teachers of some subjects, especially languages, there is a shortage of maths and science teachers, which the government is trying to tackle through an internal recruitment drive. If that doesn't work, the search will be extended to other countries in Africa and, if necessary, further afield.
Asked if that meant British teachers could be lured to South Africa, a spokesman for the country's ministry of education, said: "Anything is possible."
This just goes to show that with teacher shortages now a global problem, the teacher-recruitment market is also becoming increasingly international.
Overseas teachers have, of course, been filling vacancies in UK schools for years. But they used to be mainly teachers who were already in this country.
The new development that has prompted Professor Asmal's complaints - and similar protests in Australia and New Zealand - is the despatch of "headhunting" parties from Britain. This approach was developed by the TimePlan teacher-supply agency, which has teamed up with local education authorities to send headteachers to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa to interview and appoint teachers to specific jobs.
The agency pays the headteachers' travel and accommodation costs, but the successful applicants pay for their own flights to the UK. Education authorities that have taken part in these trips include Croydon, Hackney, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, and outside London, Manchester and Hertfordshire.
According to TimePlan director Tish Seabourne, teachers appointed on these trips are more likely to accept long-term placements than locally-recruited supply teachers. Louisa Woodley, a Croydon councillor, believes her south London authority's trip to Australia last June was n effective way of identifying good candidates.
"We were interviewing just as we would in Britain, and getting people who had some experience and were suited to the specific vacancies we had," she says.
Croydon was the first authority to send headhunters abroad. But despite successfully recruiting more than 30 Australian teachers in this way, the authority has yet to decide if it will be making any more overseas forays.
"One has to make a moral judgment as to whether it's right to recruit teachers from certain countries," says Louisa Woodley.
TimePlan says it has ruled out India as a source of teacher supply, mainly because of a recent report in The TES highlighting the country's need to recruit a million teachers to cater for the 120m children who currently do not go to school.
Initial Education Personnel, which advertised for teachers in India last October, also claims to be looking carefully at its social responsibilities.
"We need to satisfy ourselves that we are not taking away resources from where they are needed," says Daryl Pride, one of Initial's directors. Others defend the recruitment of teachers in developing countries - so long as the numbers are small and the teachers themselves benefit.
Greenwich, which has appointed Canadian and Australian staff through TimePlan, has now also taken on teachers from Trinidad and Barbados with the help of CommPro, a Caribbean-based consultancy. The first eight secondary and two primary school teachers from the Caribbean arrived in Greenwich this week.
Recruitment strategy manager Victoria Showunmi says the aim is not simply to fill jobs but to increase the number of black teachers in the authority's schools, where almost 40 per cent of pupils come from ethnic-minority backgrounds. The newcomers will be able to join its 10-week professional development programme for experienced black teachers.
They will also be signing up for the Graduate Teacher Programme, which is compulsory for overseas-trained teachers wishing to teach at the same school for more than four months.
"This will provide them with experience that they can take back to their own countries," says Ms Showunmi.