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Which overseas teachers cope best? DfE publishes heads' views

International recruits may struggle with workload but add diversity, according to heads interviewed for DfE research

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International recruits may struggle with workload but add diversity, according to heads interviewed for DfE research

Overseas teachers may struggle with the workload in English schools, according to findings published by the Department for Education.

The research reveals concerns over the relatively short length of time that some international teachers stay in the country, and their willingness to work long hours.

It also found some common themes regarding the perceived strengths and shortcomings of overseas teachers from different countries.

For example, Australian recruits were reported by heads as having good subject knowledge and being confident.

But the report added: “It was commonly reported that they tended to struggle more than some other international recruits (and UK recruits) to adapt to working the long hours needed…One Australian recruit, on leaving their post after one year, was reported to have commented, ‘I’ve never worked so hard for so little’.”

Teachers from Canada were seen as having good subject knowledge and were considered to be committed to their role. But they tended to stay for no more than two years, according to the heads.

While Irish candidates settled into living and working in England more easily, they did not necessarily stay much longer, the findings suggest. The report added: “Even without visa issues, recruits from the Republic of Ireland still tended to stay in post for two to three years before then returning to Ireland.

"However, many were also reported to have left their posts prematurely, often because they were homesick.”

'Commonly held experiences'

South African teachers were reported to have lower levels of subject knowledge than other international recruits, which was thought to be due to a more generalised teacher training degree in South Africa.

And on European nationals, the report said: “Some [school leaders] commented that Spanish and Portuguese teachers had a tendency towards more teacher-led, didactic teaching styles and struggled to cope when there were behavioural issues and needed a lot of reassurance.”

The researchers said: “In reporting these generalised findings, the intention is not to reinforce national stereotypes but to convey the commonly held experiences and views across the majority of interviewees. It is also important to note these findings, as they informed senior leaders' decision-making (and potentially preferences and bias) about employing teachers from different countries in the future.”

The research was carried out by academics from Sheffield Hallam and Brighton universities, who interviewed 44 heads about their experiences of overseas recruits.

Their report, International teacher recruitment, understanding the attitudes and experiences of school leaders and teachers, points out that schools recruiting teachers from overseas reported benefits such as adding greater diversity to their workforce, introducing pupils to different cultures and better reflecting the ethnicity of pupils taught.

“The best overseas recruits are incredibly good – they are by definition brave human beings who have travelled around the world, are pretty mature and pretty grown up and are pretty impressive individuals,” one head told researchers.

Secondary advantages

But the report adds that such benefits were usually described as being secondary advantages.

It says: "Instead, schools consistently couched their primary reason for recruiting internationally in terms of need, due to issues with national supply as opposed to a desire to do so. Terms and phrases such as 'desperation', 'having exhausted all other possibilities', 'last resort' and 'I would avoid if I could' were frequently used."

The report concluded: "Most school leaders felt strongly that they should not need to recruit international teachers and that more should be done to ensure a sufficient supply of nationally based teachers, including taking steps to improve the retention of existing teachers". 

When the researchers asked international teachers about their experiences, they discovered some disenchantment – particularly with pay and the accountability system.

The report comes after research from the Council of British International Schools found nearly half of teachers working in British international schools say their move was influenced by "dissatisfaction" with the education system at home.

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