Brexit ‘brain drain’ could intensify recruitment crisis

29th July 2016 at 00:00
Weaker pound and uncertainty of UK position may lead to more teachers moving abroad, experts warn

The fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote will speed up the “brain drain” of teachers from the UK as foreign-currency salaries offered by international schools become more appealing, experts are warning.

Recruitment agencies, analysts and headteachers all say that teaching jobs overseas have become more attractive as the pound has weakened against major currencies such as the dollar, euro and yen.

Headteachers at some top international schools offering English-medium education – 95 per cent of which pay in the local currency – said the situation meant that they could effectively offer their staff a pay rise without any extra outlay.

At the time of going to press, the latest figures showed that sterling was down 11 per cent against the US dollar and 9 per cent against the euro since the referendum.

Richard Gaskell, director for international schools at the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) said: “The EU referendum and the fall in the British pound has created an opportunity for international schools globally to maximise on Britain’s economic uncertainty.

“British teachers, who are in extremely high demand by international schools around the world, not only have the incentive of many new and different career opportunities but the chance, when paid in foreign currency, to earn comparatively more.”

The news is another blow to UK schools facing a recruitment crisis, as rising pupil numbers, real-terms teacher pay cuts and competition from other employers, as well as teacher workload, all take their toll.

‘Earnings go a lot further’

There were already widespread fears, prior to the Brexit vote, about an international brain drain from the UK teaching workforce.

In February, the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, warned that teacher recruitment had reached a “critical” point and called for “golden handcuffs” deals to ensure that new teachers did not move overseas.

And last month, experts warned that the number of teachers needed to teach in international schools offering English-medium education was set to double – from 400,000 to 800,000 by 2026.

This week Andrew Wigford, managing director of TIC Recruitment, a specialist recruiter for overseas teachers, said: “If teachers are earning in different and stronger currencies, as they generally do, then their earnings will go a lot further.”

Diane Jacoutot, managing director of Edvectus, another agency, said the situation was likely to continue “until the Brexit is complete” – at least another two years. “When you transfer your savings back home, you get more pounds, because foreign currency is worth more now than it was a few months ago,” she said.

Ms Jacoutot predicted that the Brexit vote could also have a psychological impact, making teachers more willing to travel.

“Many teachers look to teach abroad when they are young and unencumbered, and a majority of under-35s voted to remain,” she said. “So when people are unhappy with what is going on at home, they often look abroad in order to get a break and to escape the uncertainty.”

Katharine Vincent, the programme leader for the secondary PGCE at the UCL Institute of Education in London, said that the added incentive for teachers to move was a concern for UK recruitment.

“Teachers in England are stuck on 1 per cent pay rises. That’s lower than inflation, so, in real terms, salaries are going down,” she said. “Some of them will be tempted [overseas] by the prospect of significantly higher salaries and this might sway the balance.”

However, some British schools overseas are also asking for greater clarity over whether the UK teachers they employ will continue to be able to work in EU countries freely after Brexit (see story, right).

A Department for Education spokesperson said that the number of teachers in England was “at an all-time high”. They added: “We are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to attract the best graduates into teaching and we are backing innovative schemes like Teach First and the National Teaching Service to get great teachers where they are needed.

“We have also given school leaders much more freedom over pay so they can attract and retain great teachers.”


‘Teachers don’t want to be part of an isolated Britain’

Brian Christian, principal of the British School in Tokyo (pictured, below), said that although he was disappointed by the Brexit vote, in “purely practical terms” it had made his life far easier.

His school collects its fees and pays its salaries in Japanese yen, which is strong at the moment. As the pound is weak, this means that staff are now better off when spending and saving in the UK. This could help with recruitment, he said.

“A year ago, a pound was costing me ¥185 and now it costs me ¥135,” Mr Christian said. “I appointed an assistant head from the UK in early spring and she contacted me a week after the referendum to say she had never had such a rapid pay rise, but it didn’t cost me anything.”

Alongside the financial advantages, Mr Christian explained that the vote could mean teachers with an international world view, who voted to remain, would now be more likely to want to teach abroad for philosophical reasons.

“They don’t want to be part of an isolated Great Britain: going abroad fits more with how they think, with their ideology”, he said.

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