Wrong channel

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Life in Jersey and Guernsey is less idyllic than it might seem, says Elaine Williams

A teaching job in the Channel Islands might seem like a romantic - and sunny - option, but it should come with a health warning, according to teachers who have worked there.

Immigration controls which limit the length of work permits and available housing mean the cost of living is high and contracts for classroom teachers coming from the mainland rarely extend beyond five years.

The islands are densely populated, but by trying to control population, the states of Guernsey and Jersey have exacerbated teacher shortages.

Margaret Webster left York to work as a maths teacher at Les Beaucamps school, Guernsey. At the interview it was made clear that the job held a five-year contract with a five-year non-renewable housing licence. There was the tantalising possibility of other posts becoming available with licences after the five years. But in reality Ms Webster found these were thin on the ground and that locals were given automatic preference - teaching posts in Guernsey and Jersey can be offered to mainland staff only if the education department can prove to the all-powerful housing authorities there are no suitable local candidates.

Ms Webster believes she was good at her job, but her seven job applications were all unsuccessful. She did remain on Guernsey as the common-law wife of a new partner and Guernsey resident, but she has been unable to get back into teaching and is now training to be an accountant.

She says: "I do feel bitter that I was forced to choose between my profession and my partner."

Sue Devine, former head of music at Les Beaucamps, who left Guernsey after her five-year contract ran out says the cost of rent is prohibitive. To keep property prices low for locals, people arriving from the mainland are granted Guernsey or Jersey housing licences with a rateable value set according to the salaries they earn. They must then rent - or buy - properties with that rateable value.

Mrs Devine says: "For us you were talking about Pounds 650 rent or Pounds 200,000 (the average cost of a terrace house), which was completely beyond us. My husband is a marine engineer but he wasn't earning much."

Moreover, as her contract drew to a close, Mrs Devine found great difficulty obtaining work on the mainland.

though most contracts run for five years, headships, deputy headships and some head-of-department posts carry 15-year licences, which qualify the holder for permanent residency. But they are limited - in Jersey, only nine of these licences are made available each year.

Schools in Guernsey and Jersey are relatively well-resourced and basic salaries are higher, than on the mainland, ranging from Pounds 18,000-Pounds 27,800 after 10 years in post, compared with Pounds 14,751-Pounds 22,023 on the mainland. However, in addition to high rents there is an acute accommodation shortage. Some teachers find themselves living for months in guest houses.

However, heads who are being forced to lose teachers in shortage subjects are putting pressure on the islands' education departments and the nature of contracts is under review.

Schools would like to enjoy the same kind of flexibility that exists within the financial services sector where contracts seem to be more easily renewed.

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