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Incentives needed to stop growing crisis of ‘teacher brain drain’ overseas – Ofsted chief

‘Teacher brain drain’ means the government will need to offer incentives for educators to stay in British schools, the head of Ofsted said today.

In his monthly commentary on British education, Sir Michael Wilshaw says that increasing numbers of teachers are being recruited into international branches of English public schools, which have increased from 29 to 44 in the past two years, attracted by benefits such as high, tax-free salaries, warm climates and free accommodation.

He says that the UK is the biggest exporter of teachers, with 10,000 working overseas in 2014-15, and cites International School Consultancy statistics showing that 18,000 people left the UK to teach overseas last year whereas 17,000 new teachers qualified, although not all of those leaving were professional teachers. A recent National Audit Office report warns that the government is consistently missing teacher recruitment targets.

Sir Michael writes: “England has a serious teacher recruitment and retention challenge on its hands. As a nation, we are simply not attracting enough new entrants into the profession and those we do attract are not applying to schools where they are needed most.

“This is having a detrimental impact on schools right across the country but particularly those located in more deprived, unfashionable and isolated areas. Nearly three-quarters of heads leading disadvantaged schools who were polled last year for an Ofsted survey told Her Majesty’s Inspectors that they were struggling to get good staff.

“What’s more, the daunting challenge of matching teacher supply with demand will only become more acute in the coming years as a result of rising pupil numbers.

“We have to act now to address this growing imbalance. If we do not, all the well-intentioned reforms to school structures, curricula and assessment regimes, of this and previous governments, will be undermined. A school, and a school system, is only ever as good as its teachers.”

He says that the growth in British companies operating schools abroad is generating revenue for the Treasury, but could pose long-term problems for schools and pupils, and that the government should encourage teachers to stay in Britain by offering financial incentives and promoting the successes of the state system and “the nobility of teaching” in Britain.

He adds: “I would, therefore, once again urge policymakers to consider the idea of some form of ‘golden handcuffs’ to keep teachers working in the state system that trained them for a period of time.

“For those who question why such an arrangement should apply to teachers when it doesn’t apply to other professional groups, my answer would be: well, perhaps it should.

 “We all recognise that education – like so much else – has become a globalised commodity. So I am not suggesting we should try to place unreasonable constraints on English-trained teachers exercising their right to teach wherever they want to in the world.

“However, all the signs are that teacher shortages in England will continue to present a major challenge for the next decade, at least. It would therefore, in my view, be unwise to bury our heads in the sand over this issue. As a nation, we can ill afford to entrench inequality or widen the gulf between the haves and the have-nots any further.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Despite the challenge of a competitive jobs market, the proportion of trainee teachers with a top degree has grown faster than in the population as a whole, and there are more teachers overall.

“But we are determined to continue raising the status of the profession”

Lucy Powell MP, shadow education secretary, said that whilst ministers continue to deny the crisis in teacher shortages, “we are seeing more and more evidence that this serious issue is threatening standards”.

She added that Sir Michael Wilshaw is right to highlight the detrimental impact this is having on schools right across the country. 

“It is simply not possible to deliver for all children without excellent teachers in every classroom,” said Powell. “The Tories’ failure on this route one, basic issue is damaging the education of the next generation and will hold our children back from realising their full potential.”

Only last month, six unions warned that education is facing a teaching crisis over pay austerity and staff shortages.



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