Return to teaching: more needs to be achieved

One of the issues that the DfE’s annual data about the school workforce always revives is that of what happens to those that train to be a teacher and either never teach in state funded schools or leave after a period of service. The data can be found at

One side of this equation is concerned with retention rates, and that has been dealt with in an earlier post. The other side relates to the possibility or indeed probability in statistical terms of those teachers either ‘out of service’ or with ‘no service’ re-entering or teaching for the first time in state-funded schools.

Now this is not as straightforward an issue as some might think. A proportion of these teachers are certainly teaching, but not in state schools. Some are in further education, sixth form colleges, initial teacher education and private schools and are counted in the ‘other’ column where service is pensionable, but not in a state funded school. Others, and this may be a growing number, are teaching overseas in the schools offering fee-based education in countries where those with the cash don’t want to or cannot access the local school system. Occasionally, as in the case of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, these teachers might also be teaching in the state school system.

The rapid growth of such ‘international’ schools – at least in terms of their staffing – in China remains a concern as a potential drain on teacher numbers in England. Although it isn’t all one-way traffic.

Anyway, returning to the data, about half of ‘out of service’ teachers are older than 45, and thus less likely to return to teaching if still in the labour market. A few might do so, but large numbers of returners from this age grouping are unlikely. Among the younger age groups, some have deliberately decided to take a career break, often to care for young families or elderly parents. With good quality local ‘keep in touch’ schemes, and the sort of bounty paid to armed forces reservists for undertaking a period of professional development each year, this group can be an excellent source of additional teachers.

Although the DfE has managed programmes in the recent past to entice these teachers back into the classroom, the schemes have so far been derisory when compared with those initiated during former staffing crisis.

And what of the 17,000 or so teachers that gained QTS in 2015 and 216, but have no recorded service in state funded schools? How much has the DfE spent on following up what has happened to these potential teachers? Some will be teaching, but not captured in the data. Of those that aren’t teaching, what feedback can we obtain that would either improve their training, if that is the issue, or manage the labour market better to achieve optimum use of a scare resource in our teachers.

It seems daft that location specific career changers cannot be guaranteed a teaching post on successful completion of their training programme. This is surely a disincentive for some to switch careers, especially when they also have to pay tuition fees. Time for a Carter style Review of these issues?


Teaching as a global career

Should the DfE set up a specific Unit to help teachers trained in England return from working overseas? They might want to work on this with the British Council. Recent data from research organisation ISC suggests that UK private schools are leading the charge into overseas markets, with several new schools established overseas this year alone by schools with headquarters in England. Many of these new schools will have a high percentage of UK trained teachers working in them.

In the past, the international school market was mainly a market serving expat communities, by providing a home country style education that allowed executives to take their families with them on overseas posting. This meant that they were secure both in the knowledge that their children’s education would be protected, and that their children would also benefit from a new set of cultural experiences, together with the opportunity to mix with others from a range of cultures in an increasingly global world.

However, in our increasingly global and digital world, the use of so-called international schools has changed. The pupils in such schools are now predominantly not the children of expats, according to ISC research, but mostly local children of parents than can afford to pay the fees in what are increasingly ‘for-profit’ schools. This raises the question, why should the UK, and England in particular, be supporting the staffing of these schools if we cannot provide enough teachers for our own schools? Making teaching in England more attractive as a career is an obvious way forward, but the DfE should also be examining how difficult it is for teachers that want to return from working overseas to find a job back home. Can more be done to assist these teachers in their quest to return and can more of them be helped and encouraged to return?

This is not an idle question, if the ISC research is correct. Such schools around the world are growing at a rate that will see the number of teachers working in them possibly approach the million mark before the end of the next decade. That’s double current numbers. I have long worried audiences at conferences by pointing out that an entrepreneur wanting to start a chain of new international schools could recruit the whole cohort of NQTs for a particular year. With India now expanding faster than China, and UK Education being highly valued in the sub-continent, the warning signs are there for all to see.

Maybe the DfE should now sponsor a return to teaching in England event in Dubai, a location where there are more than 300 English medium schools, many employing teachers from England. They might do the same event in China and even Vietnam and Malaysia, as well as in India and Hong Kong.

I confess to an interest in this issue as TeachVac Global provides a recruitment service to these schools at The TeachVac team has seen this growth in demand in the period that the service has been operating. At present TeachVac, the free recruitment site for teachers and schools in England, is separate from the international site, but here is pressure from schools to be able to interact with the large number of teachers in England looking for jobs.


Don’t panic

The publication of the TIMMS data on mathematics and science outcomes at Years 5 & 9 across a wide range of countries heralds the start of a period of data announcements that will include OECD comparative data and the Chief inspectors annual report; in thelatter case, the last by the present Inspector. As I am away next week – thoroughly bad timing, but needs must – my comments on these reports will have to wait for a while. However, the TIMMS national report for England can be found at

Slow progress, with better results from the primary sector than the secondary sector might be one interpretation. Another, summed up in the findings is that:

  • Forty-six per cent of year 9 pupils in England pupils strongly valued maths: more than their peers in the five highest-performing countries.
  • Half (50%) of year 5 pupils in England very much liked learning maths compared to only 14 per cent of year 9s. In both years 5 and 9, three of the highest-performing countries – Japan, Taiwan and South Korea – had smaller proportions of pupils who liked learning maths than in England.
  • In both years 5 and 9 in England, and across all countries, on average, there is an association between all attitudinal factors and average achievement. For example, the more pupils feel confident in their maths ability; the higher their average achievement.

The message about the value of mathematics seems to now being heard and accepted in society, at least by young people. The next question is whether squeezing the last ounce of learning out of teenagers makes the process less fun? If so, does that have long-term implications for attitudes to learning, especially where the results are the outcome of longer time at school learning the subject and more tutoring hours outside of school? Is a balanced curriculum better than a narrow one even if results in some subjects are less than might have been achieved? That is not to recommend easing up on learning maths, but to place include it is a broader curriculum.

Whether the current level of success will continue in the next survey is open to question especially as:

Head teachers in England were more likely to report teacher recruitment difficulties and/or finding it hard to fill vacancies than in most other comparator group countries. About half of year 9 pupils were taught in schools with shortages in both subjects, while two-thirds (67%) of head teachers found their year 9 science vacancies somewhat or very hard to fill.

However, schools in England, despite media reports to the contrary are no longer the blackboard jungles they once were. The report states that the findings are:

The vast majority of pupils in England were taught in schools where head teachers reported hardly any problems with school discipline and which teachers reported to be safe and orderly. This compared relatively favourably against most other TIMSS countries. However, six per cent of year 9 pupils attended schools which teachers reported to be less than safe and orderly.

There is a lot more fascinating data in the Report, so it’s good to know that data skills are one we seem to do well. Not  a soft skill, but a valuable hard one.




Am teacher will travel

The BBC is reporting that another top UK Independent School is opening up a campus in Asia. I am sure that the move will make good business sense and possibly even help to keep down fees in their UK operation if it makes money.

The BBC piece concludes that there are now about 8,000 international schools around the world, teaching 4.26 million students, according to research by the International School Consultancy. Apparently, nowhere has growth been faster than in Asia.

Such has been the growth that the BBC article reports Thailand now has over 172 international curriculum schools, half of them following England’s national curriculum.

Malaysia has 142, Japan 233, and Singapore – which makes it difficult for foreigners to enrol in local schools – around 63. Myanmar could also become a hotspot – Dulwich College will open there next year. .Hong Kong which had 92 such schools in 2000, now has 171. Only South Korea has seen a retraction, with some international schools struggling to fill places.

However, the big growth has been in mainland China. From a dozen schools 15 years ago, China has some 530 English-medium international schools, catering for 326,000 students.

Now those that have heard me speak at conferences recently will have noted that I have said I was one of the few people that would be happy to see a slowdown in the Chinese economy because of this growth in schools. I have said that too many international schools in China could be a real drain on teacher supply in this country.

If we assume that the majority of the 8,000 schools worldwide use English as at least a partial medium of instruction and employ an average of ten UK trained teachers per school that would mean upwards of 80,000 trained teachers not available to work in the UK. Assuming a 10% growth, would mean 800 new schools a year and as a result possibly 8,000 teachers departing overseas to staff these schools, this plus the regular replacement numbers for posts in existing schools. This might explain some of the growth in departure rates identified in the recent NAO Report. 8,000 teachers would equate to between a quarter and a third of the output of training in England, although presumably some of the teachers going overseas will come from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so the lower figure might be more realistic. Even so, anything above 10% would be worrying, especially in the subjects where there is a shortage of supply.

It is not clear what can be done to stem the growth of international schools and it is becoming a valuable export industry that no doubt also helps to steer undergraduates in the direction of UK universities. Perhaps we will need to import more teachers from overseas, but that won’t go down well with those worried about immigration.

What we cannot do is allow schools in deprived areas of England to be starved of teachers to satisfy the demands of the affluent middle-classes of the emerging Asian nations.




As a geographer by background, I am always intrigued to see where the readers of this blog come from? Overwhelmingly, as might be expected for a parochial blog of this nature, the readers come from the United Kingdom. However, views from Kazakhstan have now topped the 100 mark over the past twelve months, making it the third ranked country by number of views of this blog: Thailand is ranked fourth during the same period, with the USA in second places, as might be expected. The People’s Republic of China notched up one visit the day after I commented that I hadn’t seen any views from that country: will the same thing happen again after this post, I wonder?

I am not sure who reads this blog in Kazakhstan and whether they are in Astana, Almaty – the largest city – or out on the Steppes of Central Asia, but I send them all best wishes for the celebration of their Independence Day in a couple of weeks time.

This musing about the geographical distribution of readers naturally followed on from writing the previous post about the likelihood of the need for the recruitment of overseas teachers to work in schools in England finding it challenging to recruitment enough home-based teachers. I doubt many Kazakhstan teachers will be headed for the bright lights of London just yet, but teachers from the Irish Republic do seem to be likely to face a publicity blitz trying to entice them to teach in London and other parts of the country.

Teaching is increasingly becoming a global profession with opportunities to practice across the globe. I first visited international schools in Dubai in 1991, coincidentally taking the first digital pictures on the trip – long since lost – with a Canon camera. The past half century has marked profound technological changes, the tablet might one day rival the original word processor as a change of monumental magnitude, a development rivalled only by the development of the internet that has made the communication of this blog possible. Or, it might, like the fax machine and overhead projector, become little more than a footnote in the history of technology and communications. Either way, I think that a teaching and education approach based upon a nineteenth century model of learning has eventually to succumb to new approaches. What that will mean for teachers and their relationships with pupils isn’t clear.

Such changes will also affect the State and its relationship with its citizens. Transferring the cost of education back to parents might be seen by some governments an alternative to raising taxes, especially as governments may think that such an approach has been working in higher education where tuition fees have been introduced. Although here, pressure to reduce fees through competition has yet to really manifest itself; probably because demand still exceeds supply in most countries.

For us, in England, the core is how to deliver effective learning to those that don’t see the value of schooling? Does that require us to do things better, or to do better things?