New survey findings from COBIS and ISC Research
Two new surveys confirm recruitment for international schools is not getting any easier in 2022 as Ashley Kirk and Fiona Rogers report.
A new report published by the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) on teacher recruitment, retention, wellbeing, and workload within British international schools is reflecting research on the wider international school sector conducted by ISC Research in 2021. Both reports have highlighted some of the prominent recruitment challenges within the international school sector that have become more pronounced as a result of the pandemic.
The recruitment of good staff is proving to be a major concern for many international schools. In research of the global international schools sector conducted by ISC Research in 2021, 100% of the specialist recruitment companies surveyed said they had seen a decrease in the number of qualified teacher candidates applying to the international school sector for the very first time, compared to previous years.
According to the COBIS research of its member schools conducted this academic year, 40% of respondents said they had seen a lower volume of applications for each post compared to two years ago, and only 19% of COBIS member schools reported they are always able to recruit candidates that meet their expectations.
Populating the talent pool
The greatest recruitment challenge is centred on the attraction of qualified, skilled educators new to the international school sector; a pool that is vital for supplying sufficient talent for the expanding international schools market. ISC Research data shows that student admissions at international schools have increased by 15% over the last five years, and staff employment by 20%.
Some schools are responding to this challenge by implementing new strategies for staff recruitment and development. The ISC Research report suggests that more international schools are considering teaching candidates from a wider range of originating countries than in previous years (56% of the specialist recruitment agencies researched agreed significantly with this statement). The report states that many more international schools are accepting applications from teachers from the host country of the school than in previous years. However, only 30% of agencies were able to agree that international schools are broadening their teacher recruitment criteria to consider teaching candidates from more diverse ethnic backgrounds, a figure which in 2022 is shocking. When it comes to viewing staff recruitment from the lens of British international schools, the COBIS research also indicates the hiring of more local teachers (an increase by 46% of its members).
Seeking new and additional sources for teaching talent is vital for international schools. According to the COBIS research, of those teachers entering the sector from the UK this year, almost half said this is a temporary career plan with 49% expecting to return to the UK to teach in the future, compared to 43% who responded to this question in 2020.
An increasingly popular strategy by international schools for securing enough teachers to meet their needs is advertising vacancies earlier in the school year, a shift reported by ISC Research in 2021, and identified by COBIS as a continuing strategy this academic year. Both reports highlighted the adoption of remote interviews and virtual recruitment fairs by more schools and recruiters enabling access to the international school recruitment process by a wider source of talent.
The international schools market continues to appeal to teachers from around the world. According to the COBIS research, almost 60% of new candidates to the British international schools sector are motivated by the travel and cultural opportunities that the sector offers, and almost half of new candidates are attracted by the potential for career growth. The COBIS report also states that 47% of incoming teachers are attracted by the salary within the sector.
Teacher development and wellbeing attracts and retains staff
Teacher development is increasingly being used by international schools to attract staff, as well as a criteria for selection by candidates. “Many teachers want to know the career progression and professional development available to them; they want to know the commitment that a school is making to them,” said one specialist international school recruiter for the ISC Research report. For some international schools this now includes accredited CPD and personalised skill development to attract and retain the most aspirational educators.
In the COBIS research, 61% of respondents said their schools are offering enhanced CPD to support teacher retention. In addition, 61% of COBIS research respondents listed professional development opportunities as one of the things they had benefited from in their time working internationally.
The pandemic has taken its toll on many international school staff due to COVID safety measures, continued campus closures, and ongoing border restrictions. In countries where such measures have been most impactful, professional wellbeing and support have been a vital component of retaining staff. Wellbeing will continue to play a crucial role as the long-term impact of the pandemic becomes more apparent.
Where does this leave us? Despite the pandemic the number of international schools is still growing. Partially because of the pandemic, the idea of ‘going international’ seems less attractive – or possible – for many well qualified teachers. Schools are adapting, but clearly in a competitive job market recruitment in the coming year will remain challenging.
Fiona Rogers is Deputy CEO; Director of Professional Development and Research at COBIS.
Ashley Kirk is Sales Director at ISC Research.