View from here - Wanderers still held at a distance

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Martin Spice, head of a school in Borneo, says staff returning to the UK to teach are being cold-shouldered

Conventional wisdom always had it that you could teach abroad for two years without damaging your career. Any longer and you would be out of touch and, having taught students who actually wanted to learn - in a peaceful environment - spoiled for life. That was the view 20 years ago.

Foolishly, I thought the world had moved on, that in the global village we are told we live in, we had reached a point where a wide range of educational experience was actually valued. In an increasingly multicultural Britain, it could hardly be seen as a disadvantage to have taught different nationalities in different cultural milieux, could it?

But I have begun to doubt whether we have made any progress at all. The cause of my doubt is the tale of two teachers from our well-regarded school who moved back to England to continue and further their careers.

One had been a teaching assistant in a special needs school for some years before qualifying as a teacher. Now in her late twenties, she worked with us for a year. She came initially for a three-month period to cover a maternity leave. We then asked her to stay on when, due to expansion, we needed a foundation stage 2 teacher. She agreed and did an outstanding job.

As the end of the academic year approached, she started applying for jobs in the South East of England. No response. Not even an acknowledgement. It goes without saying that I would have written her a positive reference, as would the board of management, who were all for persuading her to stay on. But no school so much as asked for a reference. She was not even making a longlist.

After seven or eight "no shows", I suggested she let me look at her letter of application and CV. As expected, she had undersold herself, having a certain natural modesty sadly lacking in most of the applications I receive. But there was nothing wrong. We agreed a few changes that presented her in a better light and she set about the second round of applications. To my knowledge, she has still had no response.

The second teacher is at a different stage of her career after some years of UK experience and four years overseas. One of the most creative and exciting practitioners I have ever worked with, beloved of children and parents and feted by colleagues, any school with any sense would snap her up instantly. Or so I thought. She was aiming higher than the first teacher and wanted more responsibility. But the same dismal tale ensued. Applications were not acknowledged, references were never called for, and unemployment loomed as she left for the North of England.

So what is going on here? At varying points in their careers, these are two outstanding teachers. But far from being deluged with offers from schools desperate to employ them, their applications have been ignored and their job prospects are worryingly slim as September gets closer.

So I have to consider that just maybe the conventional wisdom was right after all - and England is still just as parochial and small-minded as it was 20 years ago.

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