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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 January, 2004, 15:40 GMT
UK 'should use refugee teachers'
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online political staff

Could refugees be the answer to teacher shortages?
Refugee teachers should be employed in UK schools in a bid to avoid staff shortages the Employability Forum said.

The organisation, which advises the government on refugee employment, held a seminar on Wednesday to look at making better use of new arrivals.

They say there are hundreds of trained teachers in the UK who are refugees.

The forum's Sarah Hayward said: "People are travelling miles to recruit teachers from overseas when the answer is often available on their doorstep."

Refugees' skills

The seminar, held in central London, brought together figures from central and local government, as well as teacher and refugee groups.

Refugee teachers need a funded fast-track re-qualification programme that recognises their previous experience
Refugee Teachers Steering Group

They were exploring "how refugee teachers' skills can be matched with the demands of the UK education service".

According to estimates, up to a third of refugees accepted for settlement last year have professional, graduate or diploma qualifications.

And the forum says that more than 500 teachers are registered with refugee organisations in the London area alone.

'Hurdles'

But major barriers exist to the employment of even the most experienced refugee teachers, say groups who support them.

Azar Sheibani, Chair of the Refugee Teachers Steering Group, said: "Refugee teachers face daunting hurdles.

"These include lack of clear information about re-qualification routes, lack of adequate and specialised advice and guidance services, lack of recognition of overseas teaching qualifications and lack of any customised re-qualification programme.

"Refugee teachers need a funded fast-track re-qualification programme that recognises their previous experience, identifies their current needs and provides them with the necessary knowledge, skills and work experience to teach in this country."

Guest speaker Bob Garnett, the director of education for the London Borough of Hounslow, asked how it would be possible to persuade the children of refugees passing through the school system that they had opportunities when their parents were being denied them.

Benefit to all?

He said: "So long as groups of people including refugees are suffering deprivation, so long as sections of our society are suffering poverty and depression through wasted abilities, so long as we've got children and adults who are denied equality of opportunity we simply do not live in a fair or particularly just society.

"It's not enough that racist jokes are generally out of place in polite society - that's good but what actually matters most is that the daily experience of the stateless, the homeless, the victims of torture is not a positive one and we have the means of addressing that if we have the will."

The Refugee's Council's Deng Yai told BBC News Online how he taught in Africa from 1985 until he left his country in 1994 but he had found his career came to a halt in the UK.

He said: "It makes economic sense to use people who are already here, who may be receiving benefits.

"It is an investment in these people to be able to work and contribute to the economy and in doing so everybody wins."

The Employability Forum is an independent organisation that leads work on training and employment for the National Refugee Integration Forum, set up by the Home Office in 2001.




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