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Primary Education News
News Why are well qualified teachers working as cleaners?
Skilled teachers, some in shortage subjects, are working as cleaners and waiters because they did not train in the UK
Morro Tunkara has three degrees and holds a higher certificate from teacher training college in the Gambia. He has seven years' teaching experience at both primary and secondary level, specialising in English and science.
Since he came to the UK in 2009 to complete his studies, Tunkara has worked as a volunteer for a charity, as a door-to-door salesman, and, now, as a domestic assistant, doing agency shifts in various London hospitals. In this post, his tasks, he explains, include sweeping floors, cleaning toilets and making tea. "The major part of my work is cleaning."
Naturally enough, what he would like to do is teach, not scrub lavatories. His qualifications have been validated by UK Naric, the national agency responsible for verifying qualifications and skills attained outside the UK. And, as the only one of his siblings to have had an education, he has a profound respect for teaching. "Teaching is my passion," he says. "That's where my heart lies. I know I have the knowledge, the experience."
However, without qualified teacher status, he is finding it impossible to find teaching work. QTS is required to work in state-maintained schools, although free schools and academies are free to employ suitable teachers without QTS.
It is widely acknowledged that there is a shortage of skilled, trained teachers in this country – a report published last month by Oxford Brookes University and DataforEducation, an Oxford-based research company which specialises in analysing recruitment trends, predicts that more than 100,000 secondary school pupils will be taught maths and science by teachers untrained in these subjects because of a shortage of recruits.
Meanwhile, qualified professionals such as Tunkara clean hospitals and offices, work in hotels and restaurants, and go into care work. "It's so difficult to get into the mainstream even though you have qualifications and experience," says Tunkara. "It was hard to come to terms with this."
However, he has high hopes for the future. This month, he will embark on a course run by Empowering Learning, a training and recruitment agency in Hackney, east London, that helps teachers who qualified abroad to transfer those qualifications.
Twice a year Empowering Learning runs a 15-week professional development programme for overseas-trained teachers, some of them refugees, helping them to get to grips with English teaching requirements, including the national curriculum, child protection, lesson planning and behaviour management. Participants then complete an 18-day internship in a school, organised by Empowering Learning, which then finds them a paid job as a teaching assistant, learning mentor or teacher. This gives the experience of the English education system that schools are looking for – and paves the way to the assessment-only route to QTS.
Empowering Learning course
The Empowering Learning course costs £540 and can be completed while working, whereas a PGCE course costs around £9,000 and requires full-time study. Last year, of the 60 teachers who took the Empowering Learning course, 41 found paid work within six months.
Nelly Akinrinlola a maths teacher from Nigeria who has won an award for being an outstanding teacher, took the Empowering Learning course in autumn 2011 and is currently working as an intervention teaching assistant in east London. She came to the UK in 2010 when she married a UK resident. She initially applied for teaching roles, then also for teaching assistant posts and cover supervisor posts. "Nothing was forthcoming. I was called for interviews, but I only ended up disappointed when the schools required UK experience," she says.
Akinrinlola found work in social care and qualified at NVQ level 2. "But I was still passionate about teaching," she recalls. "My Empowering Learning internship was my first time in a UK classroom and it really helped me. I realised that if I had been employed without experience, I'd have messed up big time – you need that training and experience. Back home, students realise learning is their responsibility; in the UK, you have to work hard to enlist students' interest."
Akinrinlola had intended to do a PGCE but is now hoping to achieve QTS through the assessment route. In the next couple of years, she says, she hopes to become a full-time maths teacher. "I see so many teaching jobs on the internet, especially maths. It surprises me when there are so many talents lying fallow, not being used. If I hadn't stumbled on Empowering Learning, I might have forgotten about teaching."
Empowering Learning was started in 2003 by Lynne Hannigan, who had previously been head of the English as an additional language service for Barking and Dagenham for over 20 years, after she met teacher parents of refugee children from Sarajevo and Rwanda, who, she recalls, "desperately wanted to learn English and move on". The composition of the Empowering Learning groups often reflects the international political situation. The last group welcomed nationals from Serbia, Iran, Iraq, India, Turkey, Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Ireland; the next intake includes Greek and Portuguese teachers. Their qualifications go right up to university lecturer level.
It's not simply lack of QTS that is holding some of them back: most teachers who qualified in the European Union are automatically entitled to that status (as are teachers who qualified in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US). Bureaucracy is one major barrier, explains Hannigan.
"Some people tell me they've taken their CV to 50 schools and not heard anything or been turned away, partly because of checks. We have, very rightly, a lot of checks. Schools want to see a British police check, now known as a disclosure and barring check. Teachers need two references. If their references are from overseas, the school is going to find it burdensome to obtain them. There's a block in the schools being able to sort out the paperwork. They much prefer to have everything sorted out for them – and that's where we come in."
The second block, she says, is the one that teachers put on themselves; they feel that if they don't have a British qualification, haven't got a UK reference and haven't worked in a British school, they will find the barriers to employment insurmountable. Many have been told that a PCGE is the only way into teaching.
Contribution to schools
Empowering Learning doesn't advertise but its courses are always full. "Some of these people have gone on to make a real contribution in schools," says Hannigan. "We have secondary school deputies, heads of English, directors of learning, well-established teachers – and they actually deliver part of our training and can say to participants 'Seven years ago I was sitting in that chair.'"
Hannigan's hands-on approach contributes much to the Empowering Learning process. The small scale of the organisation means that each person receives individual attention. "We are very honest about the time it will take people to get to QTS," says Hannigan. "I have a round figure of three years; sometimes less, sometimes more. We see a big difference in levels of language; I am very specific about the kind of English language classes I recommend. Sometimes I send an intern and the head phones after three days to say 'You've sent me a teacher.' Others have to take very small steps in support roles."
Very few do not get through the course. "I've had people come on to the course and I've understood that their English wasn't good enough – I've given them their money back and said 'Come back later, you aren't ready'. And [I've had] a very few who had such a strong belief that the way they did things in their own country was right that we couldn't take them forward: we have to believe in the people we're putting forward, because we're going to fight for them."
England is facing an even bigger shortage of teachers, especially in London and the south-east, says Professor John Howson of Data for Education. "We should be looking to people in the community who can contribute if we can offer retraining.
"A compassionate secretary of state, knowing we are going to have more difficulties in the next few years, should be suggesting to the National College for Teaching that they dust off schemes to help people who want to teach. There is a pool of talent that isn't being tapped."
The government has launched a high-profile campaign to encourage former servicemen and servicewomen into teaching, and to fast-track their path. But it is showing no interest in teachers who are already trained but unable to work.
"Look what you're doing with soldiers and move it over to this group we've got here," says Lynne Hannigan, whose funding has been cut and who is currently keeping fees for Empowering Learning's courses down by offsetting them against the organisation's commercial recruitment services.
"Schools are amazed by the quality of the people we send them, their commitment – and how well they fit in."