What will Brexit mean for teaching in the UK?

“One side of this debate that has gathered less fanfare has been how leaving the EU will affect the UK’s teacher shortage”

With the Brexit gears in motion, teachers from the EU currently teaching in the UK – and vice versa – are currently in limbo, not knowing how they will be affected by the UK’s impending exit from the union. And the UK’s teacher shortage won’t be solved any time soon, writes Rob Grays, managing director of the Prospero Group Ltd and CEO of the Prospero Teaching recruitment agency.

For the past 20 years, the UK’s membership of the EU has been at the forefront of the political debate, whether it be parliamentary sovereignty, open borders or bendy bananas. However, one side of this debate that has gathered less fanfare has been how leaving the EU will affect the teacher shortage and as a result how education recruitment agencies will evolve their businesses and business practice.

One response is to branch out into countries where demand for teachers is high; for example, the UAE and the Asia Pacific region, where the demand for teachers – especially those trained in the UK – is extremely high. In some destinations, on average, a UK teacher will earn £10,000 more annually (tax free) than their UK based counterpart would. Dubai specifically aims to promote development by investing in education and the development of knowledge in the region. To illustrate the point, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, said in 2014: ‘Brain regain’ is not so much an achievement in itself as it is a leading indicator of development, because where great minds go today, great things will happen tomorrow.”

In the meantime, EU teachers in the UK and vice versa are being left in the dark until a decision is made during the divorce-like proceedings. Here are some numbers that illustrate just how many teachers are currently in limbo:

• 5,000 teachers from EU countries qualified to teach in 2015 – a big increase from just over 2,000 in 2010
• One in six new teachers in England qualified overseas
• The largest numbers came from Spain, Greece, Poland and Romania.
• The number from Greece has shot up more than six fold – from 88 to 572 – since 2010

Department for Education failings

In my 17 years of experience of providing quality staff, I’ve been inundated by schools with vacancies they can’t fill. Prospero would love to be able to fill every position, but the UK just lacks the necessary number of qualified teachers. As a company we have had to look further afield. Australian and Canadian teachers have become almost a regular feature of our UK schools. These overseas teachers are very happy to travel to start and develop their careers and use this opportunity as temporary working holiday. In fact, 30% of Prospero’s London teachers are originally from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

“The Public Accounts select committee stated in 2016 that ministers have ‘no plan’ to meet the growing teacher shortage”

Anyone involved in education knows that there is a chronic teacher shortage.  The Public Accounts select committee stated in 2016 that ministers have “no plan” to meet the growing teacher shortage and “assumed that head teachers will deal with gaps”.

It also states:

• DfE had missed its targets for filling training places over the preceding four years, with secondary training places particularly difficult to fill.
• DfE finds it difficult to recruit enough trainees in most secondary subjects.
• DfE short-term approach means providers do not have a clear, stable basis on which to plan for the long term

One of the many things this does is put additional demands on teachers, increasing the pressure on them and their stress levels, which is leading to increasing numbers leaving the profession. This in turn leads to lower pupil attainment and the increased need to find teachers from overseas.

Brexit delaying policy change

UK government action in recruiting UK teachers may remain stagnant throughout the next few years, due to the focus on Brexit negotiations, so the current UK teaching shortage may not be fixed anytime soon. In the short run, the status quo will likely carry on. For now, UK schools must take advantage of saturated markets abroad. Therefore, the UK must remain hiring as heavily from overseas as possible.

“We hope a Brexit government moves to make inroads with countries with a hunger for British teachers”

In the long run Brexit may prove advantageous – on the proviso that EU national teachers are granted the same rights as before. Leaving the EU, we are no longer beholden to EU’s immigration and working policies. Upon leaving, the British government should look to establish further inroads and freer movement with Commonwealth countries, thus making it easier for teachers to move to the UK and for schools to take further advantage of these saturated markets.

Early reports suggest non-EU governments are very willing to discuss formal trade deals with the UK upon our departure from the bloc. This is promising, as it will open further markets to help fill positions in UK schools. And at the same time, we hope a Brexit government moves to make inroads with countries with a hunger for British teachers in the ever growing number of international private schools in Dubai and Singapore, creating an environment conducive to exporting British teachers abroad. This in turn will lead to a global teaching market, meeting Britain’s demand for high calibre teachers.

Rob Grays is managing director of the Prospero Group Ltd. Established in 2000, the Prospero Group continues to achieve award winning success across a variety of sectors, namely education, technical, IT, engineering and health & social.