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Undervalued, underpaid and under pressure

Getting qualified teacher status can prove a nightmare

It's tough for teachers trained abroad. There are lots of them, and they're not just from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the West Indies. Even though staff shortages are not at crisis point, many London schools could not survive without them.

Nevertheless, they're a group vulnerable to exploitation. Pay is a case in point. Our salary scales don't take account of overseas trained teachers: the very experienced and well qualified ones feel insulted when paid on the unqualified teacher scale. Those lucky enough to be on the main scale find that they can't apply to cross the threshold without qualified teacher status.

They're also a group crying out for professional development. To do their day-to-day job, they need easy access to information about our education system and curriculum. Certain concepts taken for granted by us can be problematic. For instance, some find the inclusion of pupils with special needs in mainstream classes difficult.

Teaching strategies also vary across cultures with many overseas staff being skilled at whole-class delivery but lacking experience in child-centred teaching. Some are excellent at dealing with difficult behaviour, but others have a limited range of strategies because they've never had to deal with it before.

And some are frustrated by systems. Take this American posting on the overseas trained teachers part of The TES website: "I find the behaviour of the students (and some of the staff) here shocking. I really hate the 'pass the buck' system of discipline at my school. If a kid disrupts or causes problems I have to hand it off to the head of year or head of department, which to me feels as ifI have no power."

Then there are verbal communication problems. Everyone older than 21 struggles to keep up with the latest kidspeak, but it's harder if English is not your first language.

So what can you do? Getting qualified teacher status is a great way to develop professionally. Many overseas teachers are understandably resentful when they realise that the qualification from their own country does not fully qualify them to teach in England.

Unless you are qualified to teach in a country in the European Economic Area - that's the European Union, Lichtenstein, Iceland and Norway - you need to get qualified teacher status here in order to be classed as fully qualified and paid as such, although you can teach for up to four years without it.

You can be assessed for exemption from induction if you've taught for more than two years in this country or elsewhere.

Lots of staff, including heads, are surprised and frustrated at the complexity of the process. There's much more to getting qualified teacher status than being a good teacher and it can be a long process unless you know the system.

The initial step is to contact the Overseas Trained Teacher advice line which will send an application form and a pack of useful materials. "How to qualify as a teacher in England" contains everything you need to know, but it needs careful reading. There are also lots of abbreviations and acronyms to pick your way through.

The first thing to check is your qualifications. As well as a degree and a teaching qualification, all teachers applying for qualified teacher status must have the equivalent of a GCSE pass at grade C or above in English and mathematics and - if you were born after September 1, 1979 and want to work in primary schools - science.

If you don't have these (or can't prove that you have), you have to take an equivalence test or the GCSE. The National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) provides information on the comparability of qualifications.

Overseas staff also need experience in teaching in at least two schools and at two consecutive key stages. The application form is an off-putting 26 pages long. Before starting it, get some expert advice. Schools can be the recommending body if there is someone who is familiar with the system and who has time to audit, train and mentor you.

Alternatively, many schools use someone from a teacher training institution or designated recommending body.

Schools can audit overseas staff against the standards and draw up training plans (for which the Teacher Training Agency gives pound;750) to address gaps in knowledge, experience and skills.

Once accepted, there are just the literacy, numeracy and ICT skills tests to pass and then you can be assessed. It may not sound like it, but it's worth it.

OTT Advice Line 01245 454321; Information Line: 0845 6000 991General Teaching Council: 0870 001 0308; 01242 260010TTA: Bubb runs training for overseas teachers at the Institute of Education, University of London

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