Why we're relying on aid from Africa

7th September 2001 at 01:00
South Africans have led the huge influx of foreign teachers but there is growing unease about the ethics of poaching talent from poorer countries. Warwick Mansell reports.

THE number of people from overseas applying to teach in Britain has quadrupled this year.

New figures from the Home Office show that it issued more than 3,700 work permits for foreign teachers in the first eight months of 2001, compared with 1,405 throughout the whole of last year.

The figures underline how unprecedented vacancy levels are forcing schools to go to ever greater lengths to find teachers. Last week a TESSecondary Heads Association survey suggested there were some 5,000 unfilled posts in secondaries.

South Africa is now the most fertile recruiting ground. The number of South Africans granted permits so far this year - 1,311 - is more than double that for the next biggest source of teachers, Australia.

But Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said heads should be prepared to send pupils home rather than use overseas staff - often desperately needed in their own countries - to fill vacancies. Mr de Gruchy is a board member of worldwide teacher organisation Education International. He said:

"International exchanges under carefully controlled conditions can be very useful. But raiding poorer countries (in the search) for their best teachers to make up our own shortfall is unethical. Reliance on overseas staff to provide the core of our education service is undesirable.

"I understand the pressure heads are under, and I understand the short-term cost (of not staffing classrooms).

"But next year, will they be doing the same thing? And the year after? This is basically covering up the Government's deficiencies. At some stage, it's got to stop."

Mr de Gruchy's stance on overseas staff comes alongside his union's position that schools should not use tactics such as merging classes and reducing the curriculum in the face of teacher vacancies.

However, Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said many schools had no choice but to recruit abroad. "They are desperate for teachers but there are simply not enough of them.

"Schools are taking every step they can to ensure there are teachers for their children. They should not be criticised for the action they have taken.

"It's in the hands of the Government to make teaching an attractive profession. This Government and its predecessor have failed to do that."

Teachers from countries outside the European Union have to acquire work permits to teach here. The Home Office figures do not, however, reveal how many of those entering this country on permits actually take up positions in schools and universities.

Meanwhile, the extent to which schools are relying on temporary staff to cover vacancies was underlined as one of the largest recruitment agencies claimed there are now 40,000 supply teachers in this country.

The figure, from Select, represents almost a tenth of the 450,000 teachers working in schools in England and Wales last year, according to the School Teachers' Review Body. The review body total includes regular supply staff.

Select also claimed that the number of teachers seeking supply work was up around 25 per cent this summer. The firm said 1,300 teachers registered with it over the summer holidays, up from around 1,000 last year. A company spokesman said that the figures were a sign that teachers increasingly value the freedom supply work gives them.

THE TOP FIVE

Top five sources of foreign recruits, as measured by work permits issued between January 1 and August 29.

1 South Africa: 1,311

2 Australia: 583

3 New Zealand: 375

4 United States: 349

5 Jamaica: 256

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