“The biggest change is the amount of paperwork.”
Heath Renfroe, deputy school director at the Cambridge School of Bucharest (CSB) in Romania, is reflecting on how Brexit has affected EU-based international schools’ recruitment process for UK teachers.
“There’s nothing completely outrageous,” he adds matter-of-factly. “It’s just a lot more than before.”
This is a sanguine take, perhaps. Nalini Cook, head of EMEA research at ISC Research, which specialises in the international school market, has a more blunt assessment: “Hiring educators from the UK [as an EU-based international school] is now very time consuming and costly.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise. After all, with the UK leaving the European Union on 1 January 2021, the ease with which teachers from the UK could be hired into international schools in Europe was always going to create a lot more bureaucracy.
But has all this upended recruitment and created endless headaches for international schools – or has it just been a bit of a blip that everyone is now used to?
Tes set out to investigate by talking to school groups, leaders in Europe and HR leads to hear the impact on the ground – and uncovered some surprising impacts of Brexit that no one saw coming.
Paperwork and processes
Before that, though, let’s return to the start and the issue of paperwork because, as Cook and Renfroe’s comments make clear, this is perhaps the biggest change for international schools and UK teachers in the post-Brexit era.
After all, where before someone could move to one of 27 countries across Europe and not have to worry about the right to live and work, now there is usually a requirement to provide documents such as transcripts from universities of their qualifications, or even A-level qualification documents.
Furthermore, these then have to be apostilled – confirmed as legal by the government – which can be a cumbersome and costly process.
Kendall Peet, head of school at the International British School of Bucharest, explains why this can be so problematic: “A lot of teachers don’t have their A-level documents or transcripts and it can take a long time to access them and so that slows the process down.”
He adds: “The cost of having documents apostilled can also put a lot of teachers off.”
This isn’t necessarily deterring people on its own, though, says Renfroe. And Nicholas Hammond, headmaster of The British School of Paris, adds that providing documentation for a job overseas is already the norm for anyone moving to almost all non-EU countries anyway, so the fact this now applies in the EU means for those already abroad in East Asia or the Middle East, and keen to move into Europe, it will not be a huge shock.
But unfortunately, this is not the only recruitment issue that Brexit has landed teachers and schools with.
Another new requirement caused by Brexit is the fact that an international school will now need to justify hiring a British teacher over a local hire. For those already teaching abroad, this will be less onerous a justification than new teachers coming from the UK.
“If a teacher has already worked in the international schools sector, there is an argument that they bring a level of experience that a local teaching applicant cannot,” explains Cook.
“Such experience appears to be effective for many international schools as the main requirement necessary for obtaining a third-country national working permit/visa where the school must prove that no local applicant can do the same job and that the proposed hire is bringing skills and experience that a local teacher does not have.”
For teachers from the UK, though, this could be tricky.
No shortcut to applications
However, even if the teacher has all the necessary documentation and the authorities accept that an overseas hire is needed, it is still only half the battle as processing applications and issuing visas and work permits – something that used to take a few weeks – now takes several months.
“There is no practical way for us to process a visa in less than three months – that is the minimum time that’s required now,” notes Peet.
He says he has even suggested to the local education ministry that they introduce a new fast-track visa to help bring in UK workers more quickly so they could start work in the country and then apply for their regular visa on top of that – but to no avail so far.
Hammond also admits the new processing times for visas can cause issues: “It is likely we will have new teachers wanting to work in September who won’t start immediately because visas and work permits will not be in place,” he says.
Daniel Jones, chief education officer at Globeducate, which has schools across Europe in Spain, Italy, Andorra, Portugal and France, says they have seen similar problems, too.
“Sometimes it can take six months to actually get through all the paperwork. In the first year [of Brexit], we had teachers who didn’t arrive on time to start in September. It is a huge challenge.”
The impact of this means schools are having to adapt to find new ways to ensure classes can continue if teachers will not arrive in time.
For example, Sarah White, headteacher of the British Junior Academy of Brussels, says she has had to ask teachers to cover two classes for short periods when this issue has arisen.
“What I did in the past was put two classes together until the person got their papers. Our parents were very forgiving because it was [during] Covid and it was the start of the UK not being in the EU,” she says.
“In the future, I will stick by that, because it’s better to get the person you want long term. And I can foresee that happening quite a lot and becoming the norm.”
“There is no practical way for us to process a visa in less than three months – that is the minimum time that’s required now”
Meanwhile, Jones at Globeducate says they have even had to ask a teacher in one country to cover a lesson in another via video to ensure a continuation of teaching.
“Because we have the scale of having the group, we have on some exceptional occasions had teachers in one of our schools teaching online to other schools,” he says.
“Normally, this is when there’s an examination class – it might be A level or an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma – and because we’ve got the teachers available to do that.”
He admits that this is “asking a lot from a teacher” who has their own group in their school to manage too, but, at present, it’s a workaround they have to take advantage of.
In response to these issues, schools are now shifting their recruitment windows to start earlier in the year, with Jones saying the usual January starting point now risks a school being “too late to the party” to find recruits and get them in without issue.
Cook at ISC Research says this trend is something she is hearing from schools as part of her field research.
“Several international schools are…adjusting their recruitment cycles as much as they can to allow for the extended timeframe for immigration and permits – and also absorbing the costs.”
Costs rising, but no loss of interest
Ah yes, costs. Another Brexit impact. Chiefly, these costs relate to the application for visas and work permits, which White in Brussels says have gone up by around €500 per applicant, which means the “stakes are higher” when it comes to finding the right teachers.
For Peet at the International School of Bucharest, the cost is up to around €1,000 per applicant and Jones at Globeducate says this is similar to what they are seeing in their schools across Europe.
He, like the other heads, says that at present, this cost is being absorbed by schools – but, in time, he can foresee this being put on to applicants.
“If you’re a UK teacher thinking of coming to Europe, you may be having to fork out between €800 and €1,000 just to get your paperwork done,” he notes.
That may well dent the desire to travel abroad and teach in Europe for many teachers.
At present, though, international schools are managing to get around many of these issues and are taking the brunt of the stress on themselves. The desire for UK teachers is as strong as ever, as is the desire for an international education.
Renfroe reveals CSB is on track to have its largest-ever cohort of UK teachers for the next academic year as it rushes to keep pace with an ever-growing pupil cohort, which has doubled from 450 to 950.
“Currently around 45-50 per cent of staff are UK passport holders, and next year it will be the majority.”
The HR impact
Renfroe says the credit for much of this growth must go to the school’s HR team, which, he notes, was already adept at ensuring the school could hire non-EU members of staff and has now added this to their skillset for UK staff too: “We’ve always hired internationally, so our human resources department is already aware of how to process those who were not EU passport holders,” he adds.
No doubt other HR departments in international schools have been through the same learning curve and are finding ways to make it work.
However, that is not to say this learning curve has been easy for HR teams. For example, Mira Kapinajova, HR lead for St George’s International School in Luxembourg, says that, given that most recruitment is still coming from the UK, it means there is a lot more paperwork to process.
“It used to be that we might need one work permit required from 24 hires over a year as the majority were from EU nationals. Now it’s the other way around.”
Given the scale of this shift, she says there is no way she could keep up with this level of workload and so the school turned to an external relocation agency to help manage this element of its recruitment.
“As soon as we get the job offer accepted, we will put them in contact with the relocation agency in terms of the work permit details. We will definitely support and guide them through the process, but we are not the ones who actually talk to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directly.”
She says this has been key and helped ensure the school is able to still pick and choose the best person for the role without considering how difficult the visa process will be: “We don’t look at the nationality of someone, or their visa situation, for us, it’s about the best person.”
It’s clear, though, that this is another costly development for international schools, with Jones, too, saying HR teams in Globeducate have used external agencies on occasion to help “expedite the process” for securing visas – which again adds yet more costs.
The ‘trailing spouse’ problem
While it is obvious from all this that Brexit has clearly had a negative impact in many areas – increased costs, higher HR workloads, slower applications – none of this is perhaps that unexpected.
However, the arrival of Brexit has also thrown up new and unexpected challenges and kick-started new recruitment trends that were not foreseen, but that are also having a big impact.
For example, Kapinajova says one issue that has quickly become apparent is that if a job is offered to someone in a couple, then it can be very hard for the second person to secure work in the country – something that wasn’t an issue in the past but is now affecting recruitment.
“We are creating an expat community that is almost unemployable in the country, which is a major concern. We have even had job offers refused because we couldn’t guarantee a job for the partner.
“Luxembourg has got a very high cost of living. If you are already relying only on one salary, it is doable, but for people coming from other areas like Asia that are used to the two incomes, who are taxed like locals in the country, that can present challenges for people on one salary.”
Jones at Globeducate notes, too, that for unmarried couples, this situation is potentially even tougher as there is “no guarantee that your partner is going to be able to get into the country”.
A global playing field
A second consequence of Brexit on international schools is it has made hiring candidates from other English-speaking nations such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa a lot more appealing – as Peet explains.
“We used to have a preference for people from the UK because it was a shorter timeline, and very few costs involved, so HR was always saying to me ‘where possible, recruit from the UK’ – but now there’s no impetus to recruit anyone other than the best teacher.
“If I find a good English teacher from Australia and New Zealand, I’m just as happy to recruit them as I would someone from the UK.”
This does not mean the school’s hiring of UK applicants has stopped – but it has reduced. “It would have been close to 90-95 per cent in the past but now it’s probably more like 60 per cent,” adds Peet.
White, too, says that she knows from her time working in the Middle East that hiring a teacher from somewhere like South Africa can be a preference because it can be cheaper, and so she would not be surprised if this trend occurred in Europe.
Jones says this is something occurring within Globeducate – and adds that his group is also starting to be more open to hiring teachers from other EU nations that have strong teaching skills.
“We’re hiring more English-speaking Europeans, particularly Scandinavians, who have very good teacher training backgrounds,” he says, noting that after our interview he was talking to a teacher from Sweden for a job in Paris.
“We’re casting our net a bit further afield and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
“We are creating an expat community that is almost unemployable in the country, which is a major concern”
Perhaps the biggest winners from Brexit, though, are teachers from the Republic of Ireland – who have both the English language benefit but also still have a European passport.
White says that, again, this is a trend she saw in the Middle East and can see reoccurring in Europe. However, she says schools should be aware it’s not a like-for-like fit and so may not solve all their issues – especially if they are looking for a quick hire who can be parachuted in.
“The only problem is that, of course, they’re excellent teachers and have all the right skills, but they don’t have the same curriculum so they have to get used to a different one.
“That aside, though, I can certainly see more Irish teachers being employed in European schools.”
Cook at ISC Research says she has seen this, too, and notes that some schools are now offering CPD for teachers without prior British curriculum experience “to adapt to the British curriculum and ethos” to help meet their hiring needs.
The impact on UK schools
If fewer British teachers are able to fulfil roles in EU-based international schools, will that mean they will enter the UK teacher market instead at a time they are sorely needed? No one really knows.
Anecdotally, many seeking international positions report that they are doing so with no intention of teaching in the UK, or because they are dissatisfied with the UK system.
This is backed up by data from Cobis, which found that “more than a third of teachers entering the international school sector (36 per cent) were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job (up from 32 per cent in 2018)”. It added that 42 per cent of teachers cited their reason for leaving as ”dissatisfaction with the home education system”.
It must be noted, too, that, for UK teachers with an EU passport, all of the above is irrelevant and the freedom to move and work abroad remains as available as it ever was – something that makes them “gold dust” to international schools, according to Jones.
“My advice to anyone who might want to work in Europe in the future is to apply for another passport,” adds Hammond wryly.
For most people, this, of course, won’t be possible – and so for the majority, the new bureaucratic route of paperwork, visas, work permits and the rest must be endured. And they may well find themselves sharing the staffroom with more Irish, South African and Australian colleagues than before.
However, despite all this, it seems clear that recruiting UK teachers remains top of the agenda for international schools and that whatever new hurdles exist are being tackled as required and none of it is proving insurmountable.
“You can overcome it,” adds Renfroe.
Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes