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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Australian teachers ease crisis
Adelaide city view
Adelaide: A long way to travel to recruit new staff
Head teachers from a London education authority have travelled to Australia to recruit teachers to fill their classrooms.

Education officials in Croydon launched "Operation Kangaroo" when faced with more than 40 vacant full-time teaching posts.

The high cost of living in the area, coupled with a national teacher shortage, has made it extremely difficult for Croydon schools to attract the staff they need.

But after four head teachers interviewed between about 90 and 100 teachers in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, 30 vacant posts have been filled.

estate agent for sale signs
Many teachers cannot afford to buy homes in the London area

A total of 25 Australian teachers will start work in Croydon schools in September, and another five in January.

Officials say about another 25 teachers are set to come over in January to fill any remaining vacancies in Croydon, as well as vacancies in other parts of London.

The operation was organised by the LEA together with the specialist teacher recruitment agency Timeplan.

'Strenuous process'

The four head teachers, two from primary schools and two from secondary schools, travelled to Australia in pairs. Each pair spent a week interviewing candidates together with Timeplan representatives.

Councillor Louisa Woodley, chairman of Croydon's education committee, said a working group monitoring teacher recruitment had identified the need for a significant number of staff early enough to take action.

The costs of the operation were covered by Timeplan, she added.

"The process was strenuous - the head teachers spent hours and hours interviewing. The heads of the other schools needing staff trusted their judgement to make appointments," she said.

"The cost of living in and around London means the teacher shortage is more acute here."

Induction course

The government's efforts to tackle the problem, such as its new recruitment policies and advertising campaign, were starting to work, and would be effective, but they were long-term solutions, she said.

"We needed a short-term solution, otherwise there may have been classes without teachers in September. We did not want anything to affect the quality of education provided."

Cllr Woodley said there was already a "sizeable minority" of teachers from Australia and New Zealand working in Croydon.

"There seems to be a surplus of teachers in Australia. I believe many teachers there are employed on short-term contracts."

The education system in Australia was similar to that in the UK, and teachers coming from Australia to Croydon would undergo a short induction course before they started teaching in the LEA's schools.


Thomas O'Regan, head teacher of Atwood Primary School, was one of the four heads who volunteered to travel to Australia to carry out the interviews.

He said that by the time the trip took place last month, he had managed to fill the vacancies at his own school, but was able to advise fellow heads back in Croydon about the most suitable candidates.

"We interviewed a lot of people. All our days were pretty well booked up. Some days we were interviewing until nine o'clock at night.

"Because I didn't need to fill any vacancies in my own school, I was able to be completely unbiased - I wasn't going to be taking the best people for myself."

Mr O'Regan said the interviewers had turned down a "significant number" of teachers who they deemed to be unsuitable, but equally he had met "a number of people who I said I would love to have working in my school".

The standard of teaching in the UK and Australia was probably about the same, and the two countries had similar approaches.

Another of the interviewers, Richard Warne, head teacher of Ashburton Community School, said travelling to Australia to recruit teachers for Croydon schools was drastic, but that "drastic measures need to be taken".

"There is a national shortage, particularly in a number of subject areas in secondary schools, and we're worse off in London."

Mr Warne has recruited two Australian members of staff for his school.

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