Growing numbers of schools in England have been using overseas teachers to plug gaps in their classrooms as the domestic staffing crisis continues to bite.
It seemed like the perfect arrangement for increasingly desperate headteachers, and for enthusiastic foreign recruits. But for some overseas teachers, the dream is threatening to turn sour because of the high workload that has driven out so many home-grown staff.
Teachers from Canada and Australia have spoken to TES about their concerns and say that some of their overseas colleagues are already walking away from England’s schools. Shums Afsana is one of five overseas teachers working at St Mary’s Church of England Primary School in Slough, Berkshire.
The Canadian began teaching in the UK in September because she was in search of an “adventure”. But the newly qualified Year 4 teacher confessed that she had been shocked by the sheer amount of marking, as well as the late-night and weekend working.
“We have this idea of what things are and then we move across the ocean and the culture is completely different, and that can be overwhelming,” Ms Afsana said.
“We didn’t know how much the workload really was. The teachers here spend a lot more time on marking and planning.”
Brooke Howard, from Australia, also started at St Mary’s last term. She had heard of people saying that the workload was greater in the UK, but she still wanted the challenge.
However, the Year 3 teacher was unprepared for the gruelling reality of England’s education system. “I didn’t realise that it would be as demanding as it is and that the work hours would be as long,” she said.
Working day ‘too long’
The two teachers explained that the normal working day for teachers in both Canada and Australia was eight to nine-and-a-half hours. But since arriving in the UK, they have worked up to 14 hours on a school day and take more work home at the weekend than would be expected in their home country.
“The demands on teachers at the basic level are massive in the UK. I have never seen anything like it,” Ms Howard added.
Both NQTs have heard of other overseas teachers dropping out because of workload. Ms Afsana’s sister, who previously came to the UK to teach secondary maths and physics, left after two terms because of the workload. “She did say that I would have a culture shock when I got here but I thought that wouldn’t happen because of speaking English,” Ms Afsana said.
Ms Howard knows of an Australian teacher who dropped back to supply teaching after just one term in a school as she didn’t have the support she needed.
Professor John Howson, teacher workforce expert and honorary research fellow at the University of Oxford, said: “If their working conditions [in their home country] are more generous and you don’t prepare them for the change then the risk is they won’t stay much longer as they won’t put up with it.
“The government needs to take some action on how workload can be improved. It’s much cheaper to keep people in the profession.”
The difference in the workload levels appears to be linked to how children are assessed. For example, both the NQTs were not expected to do as much written feedback and marking in their home countries.
Assessment in Canada is carried out in a series of tests and quizzes in the classroom, with teachers making notes in the class.
But a bigger workload is not the only cultural change that overseas teachers have found hard to get to grips with.
In both Australia and Canada, children with special educational needs do not take part in mainstream classes for core subjects like English and maths. The classes are also smaller – a maximum of 25 pupils – making them easier to teach and control.
At St Mary’s, one overseas teacher left at Christmas after just one term to teach at a school with a smaller class.
School support is vital
But Ms Howard and Ms Afsana both said that they are willing to try and overcome the various challenges because of the help that they are receiving from the school.
“You have these moments where it’s just so much work and it would be easier to go home,” Ms Howard said. “The support at the school has got me through some of my low times.”
Headteacher Rachel Cross made sure that the teachers had the training that they needed and even went as far as sorting out their accommodation. She spent much of her summer holiday viewing properties, meeting estate agents, signing contracts and buying a number of household items to ensure that the staff would settle in.
“I wouldn’t be able to cope if I didn’t have the support in school. It keeps us sane,” Ms Afsana said.
The Slough primary has also had to rapidly adapt its NQT support to bridge the cultural gaps. “We had to step back and change it and make it more basic and more rigorous,” Ms Cross said.
“It has been a learning curve. The time and energy that we have to put in to train people is really exhausting – and it has put a huge strain on budgets.”
Even after all her hard work, the headteacher is still worried that some of her overseas teachers may decide to return home – and so she has begun her recruitment process early.
“They are finding it incredibly difficult,” she said. “They are finding they are working, working, working and I know there are schools who have lost teachers already through agencies.”
Allan Foulds, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, stressed that it was essential for school leaders to get it right from the start when overseas teachers arrive in the UK.
“We need to get the basics right first,” Mr Foulds, who is also the head of Bournside School in Cheltenham, said. “A really thoughtful induction can help. If [NQTs] are not on a full-on schedule immediately it will give them time. It’s about a really secure start and most effective schools will make allowance for that.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “The number and quality of teachers in our classrooms is at an alltime high, but we know that unnecessary workload can have an impact on teachers’ lives, as well as on how they feel about their job.
“That is why we are working with the profession to take action on those issues – raised in the huge response to the Workload Challenge last year – which cause the most bureaucracy, such as marking, planning and resources and data management.”
Thousands of overseas staff
Nearly one in six teachers entering England’s classrooms for the first time last year qualified overseas, according to Department for Education figures revealed by TES in November.
Between April 2014 and March 2015, a total of 6,179 overseas teachers had their qualifications recognised in England – 16 per cent of the 38,746 awards of qualified teacher status (QTS) in England over same period.
There were more than five times more new overseas teachers than those who qualified through Teach First.
Almost a third of overseas teachers qualified in Spain, 10 per cent in Canada and 8 per cent in Australia.