Leading article: Protocol can end poaching

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The Independent Online

The ground-breaking protocol agreed last week between the Government and Commonwealth education ministers to cut down on the poaching of teachers from developing countries is welcome.

The ground-breaking protocol agreed last week between the Government and Commonwealth education ministers to cut down on the poaching of teachers from developing countries is welcome. Figures show that South Africa, a country that can ill afford to lose teaching staff as it attempts to provide universal education for its inhabitants, has suffered worst from poaching - with 1,492 South African teachers being granted work permits for the United Kingdom last year. Under the agreement, a nation that is being targeted for recruitment of teachers can flag up to the recruiting nation - usually the UK - that it will be in severe difficulties if it loses staff. It can also put a ring-fence around teachers in specific subject areas if it faces a shortage of staff there. If a private teaching agency continues to recruit after a subject has been ring-fenced or a moratorium has been announced, it stands to lose its "quality mark" - its guarantee to schools and local education authorities of ethical standards.

At the three-day conference to hammer out the agreement last week, Alan Johnson, the education minister with responsibility for international affairs, came under pressure for an outright ban on all agencies recruiting from developing countries. He resisted on the reasonable grounds that the Government cannot dictate to private companies how they go about their business.

There is another reason, however, to resist such a move, and one recognised by the protocol that was eventually agreed. This is that it can be beneficial for developing countries if their teachers gain experience of working abroad. As a result of the new agreement, such teachers will also receive training - possibly in the art of headship, at the National College for School Leadership - so they are ready to take on a more senior post when they go home.

Finally, it is worth noting that the conference took place at Stoke Rochford, the stately home in Lincolnshire which is the training centre of the National Union of Teachers. Indeed, it was the NUT that convened the conference. It is good to see the country's biggest teachers' union at the centre of attempts to bring about a wider understanding of different countries' education problems rather than shouting from the sidelines at the Government - and being blacklisted and cold-shouldered by ministers for its stance. Let us hope that a similar outbreak of rapprochement will occur over domestic issues.

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