Helen Murray - Teacher Supply Case Study

Helen Murray, Wickham Market Primary, UK 

Read the results of our Teacher Supply research here

PROFILE

Helen completed her teacher training through the Graduate Teacher Programme and subsequently taught at an inner city school in Manchester before moving to the Middle East. After five years in Muscat, she is now back in the UK and is currently head of a school within the Avocet Academy Trust in Suffolk.

MOVING TO A BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

After completing the Graduate Teacher Programme in Hampshire, Helen moved to Manchester to work at an inner city school. This was a struggling school with a high proportion of special needs and EAL pupils and a significant level of pupil premium. But for Helen, the challenges at the school were a godsend in terms of her own development.

I was in a challenging school, but had the opportunity to take a lot on – phonics training, early reading work with the Local Authority, etc. I was there for a couple of years, and really it developed my skills as a leader.

When Helen’s (now) husband was offered a job in Muscat and they considered moving abroad, her first thought was absolute panic.

I had been put on a trajectory for fast track after only two years of teaching, and I thought I was giving it all up to go abroad.

Helen remembers her first experience of visiting the school in Muscat ahead of their relocation.

I thought I would just potter along, get a little job to fill the time, but I suddenly realised how incredible the school was.

The school was striving to be outstanding, and this experience was clearly going to raise the stakes in my teaching. The resources, training and number of experienced staff was a different level to what I had been used to.


Before moving abroad, Helen thought her career wouldn’t progress in the international sector, but quickly realised that this was not the case. She joined the school as Maths lead and transferred to English lead after one year. She was in a management role, managing a team across the whole primary school (age 3-11), including highly experienced teachers.

It was a wake-up call that I needed to pull my socks up in my teaching before I could go on the fast track to leadership. I went to BSM and that’s where I learned to be a really good teacher. I consolidated my experience by working with experienced teachers and being part of a year group team.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN UK AND INTERNATIONAL TEACHING EXPERIENCE

For Helen, one of the biggest differences between her UK and international experience is linked to the financial position of the schools.

It is frustrating. Financially, there is a block on what you can do [in the UK]. You can’t always realise your vision. Money is always at the forefront of your mind – we have such tight budgets.

Her current school site has incredible facilities, but the site is aging, and there are cost implications for the upkeep. She has found that she has to consider employing less experienced teachers at a lower salary point in order to offset the funds needed for essential maintenance of the school site. This, in turn, puts pressure on the rest of the team.

For Helen, one of the biggest impacts from her international experience is her increased expectations for what is possible in a school.

In Manchester, I had gained a huge amount of knowledge about special needs, EAL, pupil premium. What I hadn’t encountered was how amazing some things could be – performances, assemblies, parental engagement days, international days. What my time abroad did for me as a Head was to set my standards and expectations for the school very high.

RETURNING TO THE UK

After five years in Muscat, Helen and her family moved back to the UK for her husband to take up a new job. Helen was met with some resistance when looking for work from abroad, and reluctance from Heads to do remote interviews. She decided to wait until she was back in the UK to start looking for work. In the end, when she went to look around a school for her own children, she was offered a job on the spot. She worked there for 18 months, but was frustrated and felt that her skills and experience weren’t being used to their full potential.

I had been managing a subject with oversight of 30 people, had been delivering training to 150 people, had been managing a significant budget. I had invaluable skills that could have been utilised. I felt totally frustrated, and realised that I was ready for a senior management position.

Helen worked as a freelance consultant in phonics and early years, and was then advised that she would be well suited to a role as an English lead across a trust. She managed to arrange a meeting with the CEO of an academy trust in the UK, told them about her time in Muscat, her frustration since returning, and her skills. It was a forward thinking trust and they could see the potential of having an experienced lead across a trust. Within a term Helen was working for Avocet Academy Trust, initially as English lead supporting four schools, moving quickly into an assistant principal role, and then into a Head of School role with one of the bigger schools within the trust. She has been with the academy trust for three years now.

Reflecting on her return to the UK, Helen thinks the UK schools sector could benefit from increased awareness of the high quality of experience many teachers gain from the international sector.

I think UK schools are missing a trick with international schools. They are developing really high quality teachers – consolidating their knowledge of teaching and accessing high quality training.

She points to the fact that the international sector is much more flexible and accommodating in terms of recruitment (including Skype interviews) to ensure they get the best possible candidates. But in her current role, she is able to bring her knowledge of the international sector to the recruitment process in her trust, helping to break down any perceptions about teachers who have worked abroad. She is also happy to recommend international experience to teachers considering their next move, and would consider a return to the international sector herself in the future.

ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE OF TEACHER SUPPLY

Concerns about teacher workload is a common theme in the UK. Helen suggests elements from her international experience can help address this.

What reduced teacher workload internationally was having specialist teachers on hand. Daily non-contact time away from children meant more time to digest, to research high quality lessons. Specialist teachers reduce workload because you’re not teaching as many subjects. As a trust, we have tried to look at employing specialist teachers in some subjects such as PE and music but there is still a way to go with this.

She also points to disaggregated professional development days with two-hour twilight sessions, and strict policies on communications to support teacher wellbeing. But at the end, she comes back again to the funding of schools in the UK, and suggests that this is biggest challenge that needs to be addressed nationally.

Find out more about our Teacher Supply research findings here