The message from media, colleagues and regulatory bodies is quite clear: our time is not a good time to be a teacher. Stagnating wages, increasing hours, and a deluge of paperwork are making the position less and less attractive, and it’s beginning to tell- the government recently missed their teacher trainee recruitment target for the fourth year running. But why are teachers moving abroad to continue what is already a tough career rather than retraining while still young?
What is leading teachers abroad?
The answer that most likely springs immediately to mind is that the prospect of higher wages is luring teachers across the globe- and you would be right. Dubai is a great example- not only will you be paid much higher wages, in a country with much lower living costs, but your earnings are tax free. This is sometimes even offered on top of free accommodation. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, an offer like this is tempting no matter which field you work in; and with starting salaries outside of London at just £21,000 it is no surprise that the prospect of such serious earning potential is tempting for British teachers.
Ben Culverhouse, a teacher for eight years, believes that the problem lies not just in tax free pay but also in ‘the warmer professional climate that the international schools offer’. It was Sir Michael Wilshaw and Michael Gove who ‘got nasty’ in the name of raising standards- Culverhouse refers to Ofsted as ‘feral attack hounds’!-and whether or not such hyperbole is necessary, it is nonetheless true that teachers today face a challenging, bureaucratic environment which they can simply avoid by teaching abroad.
How do we move forward?
In order to tackle the problem, Wilshaw recently proposed ‘golden handcuffs’, i.e. financial incentives to persuade teachers to stay in the job. This could include a change to the rules on tuition fee waivers, to include the caveat that any recipient must go on to teach in the UK after their course. These proposals came back in February, and for what it’s worth, Ben Culverhouse branded his ideas ‘arrogant’. While the suggestion may be disagreeable to some on political grounds, doing something to address the issue could be better than doing nothing; but all the same Wilshaw’s recommendations demonstrate no desire to roll back the cut-throat corporate environment which Ofsted encourages under him.
Despite any recommendation the government continues to believe that they are doing enough to address the problem. Wilshaw similarly fails to recognise why the idea of ‘golden handcuffs’ evoke imagery of being chained to your job rather than that of a promising career. If anything, the fact that larger and larger incentives are needed simply to keep teachers teaching in Britain demonstrates the desperateness of the situation: while financial promise is most certainly part of the allure of teaching in Dubai or Hong Kong, even matching the pay on offer there would only address half of the problem. While the working environment in the school system remains as competitive and overbearing as it is, there can be no doubt that more and more trainees will go on to ply their trade abroad.