Dear Wilshaw, your golden handcuffs won’t work – and here’s why

Instead of forcing teachers to stay in the UK, the Ofsted chief should focus on making teaching here more attractive

Flight departure board showing lots of cancellations.
Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw wants to put a stop to the teachers ‘flocking’ to work abroad. Photograph: David Tulis/AP

It’s 6.53am and I’m driving through the school gates, trying to warm my numb hands on the pathetic vents of my car’s heating system. Following a lengthy parents’ evening last night, I am returning to work only 11 hours after I left.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, her majesty’s chief inspector of schools, is on the radiocomplaining about teachers who are “flocking abroad” to work in hotter, sunnier climes, such as the Middle East, which offer attractive, tax-free salaries. How dare they when education in Britain is suffering from a shortage of teachers?

As I pull into the dark, empty school car park, an image of an exotic beach flashes into my mind. How dare they, indeed.

Sir Michael’s solution to this mass exodus? A “golden “handcuff” that keeps teachers within the state school system that trained them “for a period of time”.

But Sir Michael’s thinking is flawed on many levels. Firstly, nobody goes into teaching for the money. I often ask my teacher friends and colleagues why they teach. The answers are wide-ranging, but there is always one that comes up – to make a difference.

Teacher training funding is outrageously unbalanced. Yes, considerable funding and bursaries are available for students teaching shortage subjects like maths and science, and those who have a first class degree. But actually, very few aspiring teachers are entitled to the maximum of £25,000.

A friend of mine, who is about to embark on a primary PGCE, will receive no funding whatsoever. She has five years’ of primary school experience and got a 2:2 in her (very difficult) degree in French and Chinese. On top of the debt she has already built up from her first degree, she will now have to take out a further loan to pay the course fees and her living costs. Had she got a 2:1, she would have accessed a teacher training bursary of £3,000 – not a lot when you consider the £9,000 course fees.

Those who do get through the training face constantly changing curricula, increased and incessant testing, the hovering threat of an Ofsted inspection, 12-hour days, the marking we take home at weekends, the relentless challenges of poor student conduct and, after all this exhausting work, the implied criticism in the media from figures such as Sir Michael. Is it really surprising that so many teachers – hamstrung by policy changes and unable to focus on teaching – get on a plane?

This time last year, I was an offending escapee. I had left my job as an English teacher in a state school in the UK to work in Malawi. My salary didn’t quite correspond to Sir Michael’s picture; I took a pay cut of a third. Sure, some teachers are drawn to the Middle East by the inflated, tax-free salaries and perks, but outside that area salaries are generally significantly lower than what we get here.

Sir Michael didn’t mention any of the reasons I went, so I’ll explain. Schoolsabroad offer smaller classes, lighter timetables and higher standards of behaviour. Funnily enough, they are also Ofsted-free. In short, schools abroad offer more freedom for us to do our job – to teach. A stint abroad is also mind-broadening. I went to Malawi for an adventure; working abroad provides an opportunity to travel and experience a different culture – all valuable experience for a subsequent teaching career in the UK.

I came home from Malawi because, despite what lay in wait for me, I missed the rewards and challenges of working in a state secondary school and teaching in a private school in one of the poorest countries in the world did not quite sit well with me. Sure, the weekends on safari were great, but that’s not why I went into teaching. I also missed my friends and family.

But many teachers are finding that there is no other option but to search for a less oppressive environment in which to work. Incidentally, working abroad also allows you to lead a personal life that is not hampered by the ludicrous hours that a UK teacher’s workload forces upon you.

Instead of forcing us to stay, shouldn’t Sir Michael be questioning how to make remaining in the UK a more attractive option? And, with such a teacher shortage, how to attract the best teachers from abroad?

As I get out of the car to start another long, fraught, sleep-deprived day, I question whether coming home really was the right decision after all.

[Source:- Thr Gurdian]