Teachers from Africa faced with deportation

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The Independent Online

African teachers brought here to help solve the staffing crisis in British schools now face deportation because they can no longer find classroom jobs.

The teachers, mainly from South Africa and Zimbabwe, have been made redundant by the agency that hired them. With their permission to stay in the UK expiring at the end of September, the teachers are in danger of being sent home.

Teachers' leaders said their treatment had been "disgraceful" and that many recruited with the blessing of the Government were living in poverty.

Steve Sinnott, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers - described what had happened to them as "the worst exploitation of a group of teachers that I have ever come across". The current funding crisis in schools was making it more difficult for the teachers to find jobs, he said.

Bob Marshall-Andrews, the Labour MP for Medway, has taken up the case of a constituent who left a full-time job in Zimbabwe only to face deportation now. In a letter to Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, he said: "Palpable injustice is being done to a number of individuals who were induced to enter this country for the purposes of meeting our own shortages."

Around 100 teachers were recruited by Teaching Personnel, a private agency, 18 months ago - after the Government reacted to a recruitment crisis by changing the rules for work permits. This allowed overseas teachers to obtain them for working as supply cover with agencies as well as for jobs in individual schools. The Home Office called the scheme the "Teacher Initiative".

Kevin Courtney, the Camden secretary of the NUT who is representing some of the teachers, said: "They were leaving good jobs on the promise of earning £18,000 or £19,000 a year. One was a deputy head. Some were coming hoping to work here permanently and bring their families over. Others just wanted the experience of working in another country."

After six months, though, the amount of supply work began to dwindle. By September, many were only getting a few days work a month - if that.

Colin Taylor, the marketing director of Teaching Personnel, blamed the redundancies on a "widely recognised reduction in the demand for supply teachers across the UK" due to increased domestic recruitment stimulated by "golden hellos". The employment of extra classroom assistants had also given headteachers "a wider range of alternatives to calling in supply teachers".

The Department for Education and Skills said 23 teachers whose permits expire in September have still not found work. Teaching Personnel said it had managed to find alternative employment for 70 per cent of those it had recruited.

David Miliband, the minister for school standards, admitted it was an "unhappy state of affairs". However, it was "not the result of any "experiment" in overseas teacher recruitment by the Government."

But NUT leaders believe the Government shares responsibility for the situation because of its changing of the work permit rules and its encouragement of supply teaching agencies to recruit overseas.

The irony is that the decision to recruit overseas staff had sparked controversy too - with the South African government in particular accusing Britain of denuding it of much-needed teachersat a time when it was trying to expand education.

The Home Office said it had granted the teachers "further leave to remain" in the UK for nine months after the cases first came to light in January. It is expected to announced next week whether it will offer a further extension.

The experiment of allowing overseas recruits to work for agencies had now been abandoned, it said.

'They guaranteed work for us with a salary of £18,000 plus £1,000 bonus'

Lawrence Madubeko was in Harare when he answered the SOS call for teachers to help the UK out of its staffing crisis.

The 35-year-old Zimbabwean had been working in a primary school for 11 years when he saw an advert on the internet for supply teachers in the UK.

He approached Teaching Personnel and arrived 18 months ago, hoping his wife and two children would soon join him for a new life in Britain.

"They guaranteed they would find work for us and there would be a salary of about £18,000," he said. He was also told he could expect a bonus of £1,000 after six months.

"Some of those came over with the intention of staying," he said. "Others thought they were getting experience and would be able to send money home."

For the first six months, everything went well and there was regular supply work, although he felt the accommodation left a lot to be desired. He and other supply teachers were housed in B&Bs, which meant they were not able to stay in their homes during the evenings.

Then work began to dry up and the agency demanded he sign a new contract. Gone was the guaranteed £65 a day. Instead he would be paid £105 a day while he was working. He said they were warned they could be made redundant if they did not sign.

Money dwindled. "In September I was given no work, then it was one, two, three days a month," he said. When Mr Madubeko's work permit expired this year, he was granted exceptional leave to remain in the UK until 30 September. Now he has been offered work as a volunteer with a charity, the Kent Autistic Society.

But the Home Office said the post does not meets its minimum criteria for work permits, adding: "Unless the post meets our minimum skills criteria it is unlikely he will be granted a work permit." Mr Madubeko still wants a full-time teaching post here. He is staying with a friend in Kent.