By Liz Free


Posted on September 3 2019

UPDATE 19/4/19. I was delighted to meet the teacher that inspired this blog yesterday. Travelling from the UK and visiting Holland, it was a pleasure to spend time with her on a beautiful Dutch day and talk about international education. We truly are a global profession! 

Blog originally posted on Liz Free’s blog on April 19 2019

Last week I missed an unexpected call from a primary teacher in England wanting to discuss her future.  She was in the supermarket Morrisons at 8.30pm when I called her back.  She was about to buy some food as a stimulus for her class teaching the next day; I immediately knew she was the kind of teacher many of us vividly remember as having positively influenced us from our own school days and that we all continually aspire to be; passionate, committed to the children in her care and always searching for the best way to offer her class inspiring, questioning and impactful learning opportunities, even if it involved late night dashes to the supermarket!


She started rather apologetically and with the caveat that she loves teaching, loves her school, loves her class, is challenged by the current financial crisis that is affecting every aspect of her school and wants to bring more to her work.  She wants to look outward as well as inward and was considering a move to international education.  ‘Ah yes’, I hear silently echoing around me.  ‘This is the problem’, ‘it’s the brain-drain’, ‘our teachers are being stolen’ and I am sure there is about to be some comment around BREXIT here.  I hear ‘Our talented teachers are leaving the UK in their droves’; running for hills (otherwise known as the bright lights of Europe, Middle-East and Asia) to escape government interference, accountability measures, high class sizes and insufficient funding to a beautiful education utopia where one can actually teach. I can see the front covers on newspaper stands in all their glory!

Even this week I read the alarming headline in the Guardian ‘I will never return to teach in England’: the UK teachers finding refuge abroad.  We’re stealing around 15,000 teachers annually and the UK system is ‘broken’. Is this fear-mongering or truth?

The Guardian, 2 October 2018

The Council for British International Schools (COBIS) have sought to answer these questions through research and a report with ISCResearch Ltd published in July this year, ‘Teacher Supply in British International Schools’ (COBIS, 2018).  So, what is the truth? Well, like many truths, there is no smoke without fire…

Over the next ten years, the British international schools sector will require up to 230,000 more teachers to meet staffing needs. There are currently substantial teacher supply challenges which, unless tackled with practical solutions, will leave the sector with a serious deficit in professional capital. The education sector in the UK faces similar teacher supply challenges, with research by the Department for Education indicating an overall shortfall of nearly 10% in recruitment targets to initial teacher training (ITT). In addition, many thousands of teachers are leaving the profession for non-retirement reasons. There is a severe challenge to recruit and retain enough teachers domestically and internationally. Innovative approaches are required to meet rising professional capital needs. (p.1)

So, in short, yes. There is a movement towards the international sector, there are increased opportunities within the international sector for teachers as British international education is an export growing at an exponential rate alongside increasing disenchantment in some areas of the profession within the UK.  But is this the end of the story? Will the engaged, dynamic teacher buying resources in Morrisons at 8.30pm on a Monday evening disappear into the brain drain abyss of international education?

Put simply, no. From the most extensive report to date on the global movement of British teachers (thank you COBIS), of those 15,000 leaving every year, 3,900 will return to the UK within 3-4 years and 10,650 will return within 10 years.  And what happens to them professionally whilst they are engaged in teaching and learning internationally?  Well, they continue to improve their practice, they deepen their knowledge and expertise and, most importantly, 53% report a renewed enthusiasm for teaching!

Why do I think this is important?  Well, out of the 15,000 leaving the UK each year for international school teaching, 47%, (that’s 7,050 teachers), chose to leave because of dissatisfaction with the home education system.  In fact, 32% of the 15,000 were considering leaving the profession altogether before taking the global education leap.  Not only are the ‘leaving’ teachers improving their practice but they are also reinvigorating their approach to teaching and learning and, most importantly, are likely to return to the UK.

Maybe British international education is not the brain-drain originally thought but a brain-boost; it is statistically an awesome recruitment and retention strategy in the long term!

And yet, scary headlines and fear mongering continue, and no one is addressing this global issue with a global response.  We need, not a short-term sticky-plaster protectionist view that tries to stem the growing tide of teachers haemorrhaging the UK but, a long-term enlightened view that actively encourages teachers to embrace the opportunities around the world.  We need ways of encouraging this exploration and depth of practice, just like colleagues in Singapore and Shanghai are encouraged to do so by their ministries of education.

Let’s remove the arbitrary boundaries of place and space and put in place strong enticements to support teachers exploring practice internationally alongside equally strong enticements to keep them in the British education system.  The DfE are beginning to lift restrictions that can act as a barrier to return with the authorisation to deliver the National Professional Qualifications internationally.  Now let’s go a step further, let’s embed teacher training through to QTS and the NQT induction programme in excellent BSO schools, let’s create links for the NPQ programme globally where programmes can be completed and contrasting placements can happen throughout the world.  Let’s boldly bring the outside in.

Let’s drive a global profession for British qualified teachers, with global reach, expertise and experience for the benefit of children throughout the world and our children in the UK.  Let’s take our most significant UK export and use it to feed, retain and maintain the profession. Let’s see these opportunities as a brain-boost, a recruitment, development and retention strategy, and actively nurture the profession for now and future generations.

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