5 April 2024

Education is being outsourced to the lowest bidder


According to new research from the Times Educational Supplement, more than a quarter of candidates applying to teacher training courses starting next year are from overseas.

Their analysis reveals international candidates account for 26% of all submissions so far this year – up from 17% at the same point last year. The number of submissions from international candidates to one or more International Teacher Training course rose by an astonishing 82%. This has been driven almost entirely by an increase in applications from outside the EEA, with the Government increasingly advertising for teachers abroad.

Let’s call this what it is; a deliberate policy of public sector wage suppression.

The 2019 Conservative Manifesto promised to up teacher starting salaries in England to £30,000 by Sept 2022. But to ease pressure on school budgets and the public finances, the Government announced a freeze on teacher pay in September 2021 and pushed back the increase by a year.

After the Government proposed smaller salary rises in 2023 for more experienced teachers on the ‘upper pay scale’ (over half of all teachers), strike action by members of the National Education Union forced the Government to improve its 2023-24 pay offer to teachers by 3% to 6.5%.

But with RPI inflation reaching 12.6% in September 2022, the 6.5% increase offered to teachers across all pay points – even including a 1.5% lump sum – represented yet another real terms cut in pay. Teacher pay remains markedly below 2010 levels, with real term cuts approaching 15% in some cases.

The scene is set for yet another clash; the Government’s analysis has predicted schools will only have headroom to raise spending by 1.2% next year, which would only cover a rise of around 2%. But the National Association of Head Teachers has called for a ‘double digit’ increase next year, and have also demanded an ‘additional element to begin restoration of the real terms value of teachers’ and school leaders’ pay against losses caused by below inflation uplifts since 2010’. 

The decline in real terms earnings for teachers since 2010 reflects a broader flatlining of public sector pay since the Financial Crash. Faced with wages declining in real terms, domestic recruits have dried up which, when combined with the huge number of European teachers leaving post-Brexit, has caused a growing staffing crisis. Not only is this felt in education, but the public sector more widely, as former education SpAd Sam Freedman explained last year:

‘A few stats: teacher recruitment last year was the worst ever in terms of meeting targets. This year it’s looking even worse. Schools posted ads for over 81k vacancies last year, a 59% increase in 2018/19, and it’s on track to be higher this year. Almost half of further education teachers are now leaving their job within three years. The number of qualified GPs has fallen by 7% since 2015 despite surging demand. Nurse vacancies are at almost 50k across the NHS. About 10% of all adult social care posts are unfilled (165k). A leaked draft of the NHS workforce plan warns there could be a shortage of over half a million staff by 2036. Nurseries are closing due to lack of staff even as the government propose to expand the sector, with no provision for higher salaries.’

In order to address the ever-growing teacher shortage, the Department for Education is now offering £10,000 ‘international relocation payments’ to overseas physics and language teachers to cover visa and moving expenses from places like India, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Singapore, Jamaica, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Domestically trained teachers, meanwhile, receive a bonus of… absolutely nothing.

But this is only the beginning; although it has not yet materialised, the DfE stated that they would soon remove the subject and country restrictions to the Qualified Teacher Scheme, inviting applications from literally every country on earth; and should that not be enough, schools can also hire a non-qualified overseas teacher instead, who are usually paid around £10,000 less than qualified teachers.

This mirrors a wider trend in public sector recruitment that is particularly prevalent in ‘our’ NHS; a race to the bottom on wages (via competition between low-wage economies) is preferred to addressing the problem of domestic recruitment (which is mostly, but not entirely, pay). Teaching, as Sam Freedman warns, is ‘drifting towards being dependent on immigration, as the NHS already is’. Given the disproportionate pattern of fitness to practice complaints received in relation to a doctor’s place of qualification – non-UK doctors are 2.5x more likely to be referred by an employer compared to UK graduate doctors – it is questionable whether this is a wise decision.

For over a decade, government policy has been to recruit from lower wage economies in order to suppress public sector wages, which helps fuel a recruitment and retention crisis in the sector, which it solves with recruit from even lower wage economies. And thus, the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. 

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Immigration restrictionists are often told that reducing immigration will drive up public sector wages, an argument presented with ready smugness as a supposed own-goal to conservative aims of small-statism. But it is not as if we have failed to consider this; it is an express goal. If we want high-quality education for our children – and we must ask what is the point of government if we do not – that starts with respecting, rewarding and promoting teaching as a profession, not outsourcing the responsibility of teaching the nation’s children to the lowest bidder.

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Tom Jones is writer and a Conservative councillor for Scotton & Lower Wensleydale.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.