Is COVID-19 having an effect on international recruitment?

Our members share their views about the future of international teacher recruitment following the coronavirus pandemic

A British international school provides a tremendous opportunity for teachers to develop themselves personally and professionally.

Our 2018 Teacher Supply research showed that teachers choose to move abroad for reasons such as travel, cultural exploration, enjoyment and challenge. It also gives them the opportunity to develop international mindedness and a global outlook, as well as the experience to teach children whose first language may not be English.

Since the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been keeping regular contact with our member schools and have been pleased to see how they continue to be supportive, collaborative and rewarding professional environments to work in, even during these difficult times. 

Recruitment moves online

As we prepare to enter our second month of lockdown here in the UK, British international schools overseas are starting to see the first signs of impact on recruitment. Whilst some have decided to put their recruitment plans on hold, many schools are proceeding with interviewing remotely.

‘We have largely continued recruiting as normal throughout the Covid-19 period. The only change is we had to move recruitment online. We’ve seen a downturn in numbers of applications but have still been able to move forward with interviews and offers’ says Rowan Bell, Senior HR Director from Wellington College China.

Head Christine Williams from St. George’s British International School in Rome says that they’re also shifting to using the internet as their first channel to meet candidates. ‘We have used video conferencing for the early stages of recruitment for many years now, so it is simply a case of relying more heavily on this and following safer recruitment practice to the letter, as always’.

Schools remain uncertain over the impact on recruitment

As yet, schools are not experiencing the effects of a teacher shortage, and recruitment for September doesn’t seem to have been negatively affected so far.

‘We’ve have had a very small number (single figures) of new staff dropping out who were due to join this summer’ says Bell.

‘Some teachers already in good international schools have said that they will stay put for another year and wait until the following year to move’ says Tom Arnold, Director at recruitment agency Compass.

Diane Jacoutot, recruiter at Edvectus, notes that ‘schools anticipating a hoard of western teachers leaving China will be disappointed – those numbers are down, because teachers have either left to stay home and hunker down, or are happy teaching online with the prospect of returning to China with its high salaries and low cost of living, and which is currently ahead of the Covid- 19 curve’.

Other schools though are noticing a rise in applications because their areas have been less hit by the pandemic.

‘St. Paul’s school in Brazil interestingly have received applications from people in worse hit areas, seeing Brazil as a safe haven’, explains their Head Louise Simpson.  

However, the situation is still very fluid and uncertainty remains over the far-reaching consequences for recruitment.

Given the current travel restrictions, there are still questions about whether teachers will be able to relocate in summer to join their new schools.

Arnold points out that there may be issues concerning possible delays in obtaining police checks.

There is also concern that teachers might not be inclined to travel overseas, because of the feeling of being away from home if something goes wrong.

‘A lot of schools are likely to face an impact on admissions’ numbers which may lead to decisions on staffing and possibly a decline in new job opportunities in the short to medium term’ says Bell.

Another school says that the impact could range ‘from little change to our pupil numbers to a large change of around 10% for September. There will be many parents who have contract work for large companies who may be suffering a hit from Covid-19’. 

Candidate numbers are dropping

As borders close and people are being forced to stay put, in the short to medium term the sector may see an increase in the number of teachers choosing to stay at home close to their families.

Recruitment agency Edvectus is already seeing a decrease in candidate numbers. 

Their latest data indicates a significant drop in teacher interest from 1-16 March 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019, and they expect this trend to continue as the crisis worsens.  

And the gap to meet the current teacher demand is widening, according to Edvectus, as there are more vacancies to advertise than ever before, with a 50% increase year-on-year in jobs added per new teacher registered in the time period of 1 January to 16 March.

Is retention the way forward?

In the long term, recruitment for international schools overall could potentially become more challenging.

As a result, many schools are likely to promote staff retention or hire more local staff.

Jacoutot suggests that schools need to make sure teachers are happy and feel well cared for. ‘Promotion from within, good communication from senior leaders and HR, and competitive packages that reward staff loyalty make a huge difference’.

Bell highlights that a focus on staff engagement and wellbeing is critical as well as recognition for the work staff are doing on e-learning. And an empathetic and supportive response to challenges and anxiety staff may be facing about family back home.

Director Andrew Wigford from TIC Recruitment echoes this by stating that schools need to keep in touch with their existing staff and new hires on a very regular basis. ‘They should reassure their teachers that their jobs are safe and salaries will be paid’.

For new hires, Arnold from Compass recommends alleviating concerns candidates may have surrounding contractual obligations and their health cover, and whether these will still stand in the event of a continued lockdown.

But recruiters remain hopeful for the future – ‘there will always be a demand for international schooling’ says Arnold. ‘Whilst we may see some international schools closing, those schools that remain will still need to appoint excellent teachers’.

And Wigford urges schools who have put recruitment on hold not to leave it to too late. ‘The longer they leave this the greater the danger that they will be in a highly competitive situation, as far as teacher candidates are concerned, later in the year’.

Finally, our team at COBIS remains confident that the high-quality British international school sector is well-equipped to navigate the current challenges, and we’re certain that our member schools will continue to help communities and students thrive, offering a fulfilling experience to anyone looking to broaden their horizons and develop as a professional.

Watch out for our 2020 Teacher Supply report coming out soon, providing novel insights on teachers’ movements into and out of the British international education sector.