On May 26th 2016, UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to assess whether it would be ‘sensible’ to fill teaching vacancies with non-EU migrants on Tier 2 visas.
Under current UK immigration legislation, schools, academy trusts, and businesses can sponsor applications for Tier 2 visas for non-European Union (EU) and non-EEA citizens. However, according to a report published by Schools Week, the difficulties in obtaining UK visas under the Tier 2 visa system is ‘forcing schools to abandon their recruitment plans.’
At the moment, there is enormous interest from the British public about the EU referendum which will determine if the UK stays in the European Union. At the moment, the polls indicate a close contest, but if the UK does decide to “Brexit”, would it become even more difficult to find suitable teachers for primary and secondary schools? It is currently the case that teachers from other EU countries can easily live and work in the UK.
Strict UK visa rules have seen a number of schools having to turn away candidates from outside the EU in recent years. The struggle to recruit foreign teachers, including those from the Commonwealth, is likely to worsen in April 2017 when new restrictions come into force, most notably an increase in the Tier 2 visa salary threshold for “experienced workers” to £30,000.
Schools, agencies and sector leaders have urged the MAC to adopt a ‘more flexible approach.’ Managing director of The London Teacher Pool, Darryl Mydat, said: “Agencies which would previously sponsor groups of foreign teachers to be used for supply or permanent posts could no longer do so since the rules changed, which require the employer to be the sponsor.”
Mydat added that the monthly tier 2 certificates of sponsorship cap means fewer tier 2 visas are available, making it impossible to bring in teachers when the designated monthly limit is reached. Schools willing to sponsor immigrants on Tier 2 visas are unable to bring in the teachers they desperately need, as they need a Tier 2 certificate of sponsorship to apply for a Tier 2 visa.
Highlighting the difficulties in bringing in teachers, Mydat revealed that in 2015, he had 25 teachers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA who received job offers from schools, but were unable to get into the UK. He’d like to see the cap lifted for those with any skills shortage occupations.
Commenting on the upcoming salary threshold increase, Mydat stated that most teaching salaries will fall well below the required band, raising concerns that teacher shortages will worsen. With only maths, chemistry and physics teachers exempt from the threshold, teaching shortages across other subject areas could increase.
A report published by the National Audit Office (NAO) in February 2016 found that a lack of teachers across highly-specialised subject areas meant that students were often being taught by ‘non-specialists.’ According to the NAO, 28% of secondary school physics classes were being taught by teachers holding qualifications no higher than ‘A’ level in the subject.
The NAO also found that 54% of headteachers working in schools primarily made up of disadvantaged children found it difficult to attract and keep good teachers, compared to 33 percent of other schools.
On June 6th 2016, the MAC requested to meet with government officials to discuss the current Tier 2 system and ways in which it can be improved for those applying from outside the EU. A meeting has been scheduled for July 1st 2016 in London.