Nearly one in six teachers entering England’s classrooms for the first time last year qualified overseas, with the largest number coming from Spain, government figures suggest.
The Department for Education data reveals the extent to which foreign teachers are now filling the gaps in the country’s schools. It has emerged as headteachers warn of a “crisis” in teacher recruitment, with many qualified teachers from England leaving the profession or moving abroad, as a highly competitive graduate jobs market and bulging pupil numbers exacerbate staff shortages.
Between April 2014 and March 2015, a total of 6,179 overseas teachers had their qualifications recognised in England, allowing them to work as qualified teachers in the country’s schools. That equates to 16 per cent of the 38,746 awards of qualified teacher status (QTS) made in England over the same period, according to the National College for Teaching and Leadership statistics.
The number of overseas teachers is also more than five times higher than the 1,101 teachers who qualified through Teach First, England’s biggest single provider of new teachers.
Professor John Howson, an expert on the teacher labour market and visiting senior research fellow at the University of Oxford’s department of education, told TES: “Clearly we don’t have enough teachers in the UK. Whereas we’re losing teachers who are going to work overseas, we’re beginning to suck people in from other countries where there’s a surplus of teachers.”
A breakdown of the backgrounds of the teachers moving from overseas, revealed under a Freedom of Information request, shows that almost a third (1,851) qualified in Spain (see panel, below). Ten per cent qualified in Canada, while 9 per cent qualified in Poland.
The overall figure of 6,179 will be lower than the true number of overseas-trained teachers joining England’s schools, because it only covers countries from the European Economic Area, as well as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. The government allows teachers who qualified in these countries to be awarded English QTS by registering their qualifications.
Teachers who qualified in other countries can teach in maintained schools as unqualified teachers for four years, but the DfE does not hold figures on how many are doing so.
Professor Howson said the number of teachers coming from Spain was “very high”, but added: “Given the high level of unemployment in Spain, it’s not surprising that someone has sussed out there’s a way you can get a job as a teacher in England if you trained in Spain, since Spanish is a popular language.”
He said that, in the past, many overseas staff had been “young teachers from Australia and New Zealand who come over for two years on a working holiday visa scheme”, but the proportion of those teachers seemed to be falling.
The government figures do not show which subjects the overseas teachers are teaching, or whether they work at primary or secondary schools. However, a spokeswoman for the education office of the Spanish Embassy in the UK told TES that many were moving to England to teach languages.
“A number of trained teachers in Spain are aware of the favourable situation for Spanish in British education, and they have also learned about the shortage of Spanish teachers,” she said. “The statistics reflect those circumstances.”
The spokeswoman said both countries could benefit from the high numbers moving to the UK. “These young teachers from Spain will contribute not only with their language but also with the intercultural expertise,” she added. “Eventually, they will return to Spain as highly qualified teachers who will better prepare their students for a globalised world where English is paramount.”
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told TES that England’s “massive shortage of teachers” was likely to be a major factor in the high number of overseas-trained teachers.
“Schools will recruit anybody who meets the standards and has the relevant qualifications,” he said. “They’re not going to be worried about their nationality, provided they can do the job.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Outstanding teachers are in demand across the globe and, where schools wish to recruit from overseas, we want to ensure they are able to do so from those countries whose education standards are as high as our own.”
‘Teaching here is more challenging, but more rewarding’
María-José Vivancos teaches Spanish and French at Bilton School in Rugby. But she comes from the city of Murcia, in south-east Spain.
“Teaching here is, I think, more challenging than teaching in Spain, but it is more rewarding,” the 26-year-old (pictured) tells TES. “You have more responsibility. So it is really nice to be working in England.”
She got a taste for teaching after working for the British Council in Northern Ireland as a Spanish language assistant.
So, unlike many of her compatriots teaching in England’s schools, Ms Vivancos completed her teacher training in this country through the graduate teacher programme (GTP).
But she can understand why so many teachers who qualified in Spain are moving to work in England’s schools. “In Spain, people can’t find a job,” she says. “I have friends who have two master’s degrees who don’t have a job, or can only find internships or unpaid work.”
Ms Vivancos says the GTP was different to teacher training in Spain, which was more theoretical. “I really enjoyed how the teacher training was organised in England, the fact that I was being trained at a school,” she says. “I was enjoying my stay in the UK. So I didn’t consider going back to Spain – and there was also the economic crisis.”
A degree in English and Arabic gave Ms Vivancos a head start in her teaching career here. She says there is growing recognition in her home country of the importance of learning English.
“In Spain there is high unemployment, which makes employers and universities say we need to learn English,” she says. “Everyone has to learn English up to 16, so even if you are not very good you will have a bit.
“I’m privileged. I didn’t leave because I had to, I left because I wanted to. But so many people come because they don’t have a job and see England as a place where they can find a future.”