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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 05:35 GMT
African teachers rescue London schools
The teachers' pay review is targeting money at areas with particular recruitment difficulties. BBC News Online's Sean Coughlan has been to a school in east London where they are travelling over 5,000 miles to tackle the teacher shortage.
An east London head teacher is going to be spending next half term in South Africa.
This might sound like nothing to complain about, but the reason for Richard Lucas's trip is not a holiday, but because that is how far he now has to travel to find teachers.
Mr Lucas is head teacher of Essex Primary School in the London Borough of Newham - and like many other schools, he is struggling to find enough staff.
Whatever the government says to play down the teacher shortage, Mr Lucas is unequivocal that it is a real problem and is not going to go away in a hurry.
And like many other schools, Essex primary has become more and more dependent on overseas teachers, usually hired through supply agencies, who spend a couple of years in Europe before returning home.
"If it wasn't for the Australian, New Zealand, South African and Canadian teachers, half the schools in London would have to shut," said Mr Lucas.
And to find more teachers for the classrooms of London, he is travelling with supply agency TimePlan to Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth where he will interview 150 potential recruits.
There are already two young South Africans and a Namibian on his teaching staff, plus two Australians, and across the capital there are similar influxes of overseas teachers covering vacancies that otherwise could not be filled.
Not only do they cover for missing teachers, Mr Lucas says they also cover up the full scale of the teacher shortage - as gaps filled by these long-term supply teachers do not count as vacancies in official figures.
With the numbers of overseas teachers set to increase, Mr Lucas says that there needs to be greater consideration as to how such staff are prepared for their new schools.
At present, teachers are more or less thrown in at the deep end, crossing continents, cultures and curriculums, and expected to start teaching almost as soon as they arrive.
But what do the overseas teachers make of their new working lives in London?
Greg Morrell, who has travelled from East London in the Eastern Cape to this other east London, is still coming to terms with the weather.
And on this relentlessly grey winter's afternoon, it's difficult not to sympathise, as the weather in his home town is a distinctly sunnier 28°c.
Yolande Samaria, from Namibia, says that she is having to adjust to the high level of planning and paperwork that is part of the workload of teachers in England.
The strict template of the national curriculum and literacy and numeracy strategies are not part of the Namibian or South African systems, and the incoming teachers are having to get used to much more preparation and record keeping.
Another South African teacher, Iris Chetty from Durban, says that she has been surprised by the level of attainment expected of four year olds - and she questions whether too much is being expected too young.
Behaviour among the London pupils is better than the African teachers had expected, after warnings that they could face some tough children in inner-city schools.
But in comparison with the stricter schools of South Africa, they all say that the teaching style in the United Kingdom is much more informal than at home.
The school serves many ethnic groups - and in comparison with home, Yolande Samaria says that London feels more racially tolerant.
In terms of resources available for pupils, they say that schools in London appear to be much better equipped than state schools in South Africa, where in rural schools there could be 150 pupils per class.
And although teachers in South Africa are accorded respect, they say that this does not convert into high salaries - and that in relative terms English teachers are financially better off.
As well as the prospects of better pay and the chance to travel, South African teachers are also facing a reverse of the situation in the United Kingdom, with too many teachers chasing too few jobs.
This has encouraged more teachers to consider applying overseas - and the shortages in England have led to a growing migration of South African teachers.
But even though these young Africans mean that every class has a teacher, Mr Lucas says there are other problems associated with staff shortages.
Having no spare staff means that training becomes too difficult to arrange. And when it comes to appointing staff, the lack of applications for vacancies means that schools have much less chance of finding the right person for the right job.
"It is a real crisis," he said.
Ralph Tabberer answers your e-mails
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