Deal struck to stop UK poaching teachers

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The Independent Online

A deal to crack down on the poaching of teachers from developing countries was agreed yesterday by the Government and Commonwealth states.

A deal to crack down on the poaching of teachers from developing countries was agreed yesterday by the Government and Commonwealth states.

Representatives of more than 20 African and Caribbean countries have expressed alarm at the rate at which Britain has been recruiting their teaching staff on higher salaries - denuding their own schools of qualified staff. Figures show more than 5,500 teachers from Commonwealth countries were recruited to British schools last year - the largest number (1,492) coming from South Africa.

Other African and Caribbean countries who lost staff include Jamaica (523), Zimbabwe (268), Ghana (126) and Kenya (116).

Private agencies sign up handfuls of teachers at a time to bring back to schools and education authorities. Steve Sinnott, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, which convened yesterday's conference to sort out the problems, said: "They have no regard to the impact of their recruitment on vulnerable education systems."

Under a United Nations agreement, every child of primary school age should be receiving education by 2015. It would take the employment of five million extra teachers in Africa alone to fulfil that pledge.

There are 110 million children around the world who do not receive any schooling - 85 million in Commonwealth countries.

The Government has already taken action to curb the agencies' recruitment drives after stories last year of teachers from the Commonwealth arriving in Britain only to find there was no job for them. The Independent highlighted the case of 30 Zimbabwean teachers who were threatened with deportation as a result. "Some of these teachers were destitute," said Mr Sinnott. "One teacher was placed in a house by an agency which was run as a brothel and it was raided. Some of these people were devout Christians. For them to be placed in such circumstances was horrendous."

Now agencies can only recruit to fill specific vacancies and cannot bring staff over to Britain on the promise of supply work. This has had some effect on limiting the numbers. Last year, the number of work permits granted to Commonwealth teachers went down from 7,261 to 5,564. Figures for the first six months of this year show there is unlikely to be any further reduction and Mr Sinnott said that figures from the Department for Education and Skills only revealed half of the picture.

"Many don't require work permits," he said. "You can work in the UK as long as you do not teach for more than two years - that can be extended to four years in some cases."

As a result of yesterday's code of practice signed between 23 of the Commonwealth countries facing the most acute problems and representatives of the DfES, teaching agencies will lose their "quality mark", which guarantees ethical standards to schools, if they continue to recruit from any country that will have a recruitment problem if it loses teaching staff.

Alan Johnson, an Education minister who attended the conference at the NUT's training centre in Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire, said: "With this quality mark approach, we will be saying to agencies: 'Don't recruit teachers who have a financial obligation to serve their country's needs'."

NUT officials are also planning exchange visits so that UK teachers can take up placements abroad to train new staff.

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