Renata Alborough - Teacher Supply Case Study
Renata Alborough, British International School of Kuala Lumpur
Read the results of our Teacher Supply research here
Following an undergraduate degree in French and Spanish at Exeter University, Renata did a PGCE at University of Bath. She taught for two years in the UK before moving to Kuala Lumpur for two years. She returned to teaching in the UK for four years, and is now back in Malaysia, where she teaches Spanish in the Secondary campus of the British International School of Kuala Lumpur.
MOVING TO AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
Renata was in her second year of teaching in the UK when her husband, who was doing a masters degree, travelled to Malaysia for part of his research. He did some work with students from an international school, and came back impressed with the amazing opportunities afforded to those children. They started to consider the possibility of working abroad. International opportunities had not been promoted during Renata’s teacher training, and she had not planned to work outside the UK.
It wasn’t really on my radar. I was always thinking that I would get a job in the UK. I didn’t actually know anyone who was working internationally.
Renata started looking for work in Malaysia.
At the time, it seemed really brave of us. We didn’t know anyone in Malaysia. We just started looking and seeing what was out there.
They moved to KL and Renata taught in an international school, while her husband was doing charity work in his field (marine conservation). Part of the awareness-raising work he did involved running school trips. He decided that he would like to complete a PGCE, so although Renata was enjoying her work, after two years in KL they returned to the UK.
There is an increasingly wide range of options enabling people to complete teacher training qualifications in an international (e.g. iPGCE or Assessment Only QTS), but Renata and her husband felt this wasn’t the right option for them.
He didn't really consider doing his PGCE in KL. We felt that going back would allow us to keep our options open as completing a PGCE in the UK is better regarded, and definitely preferred in UK schools. We also know that the top international schools require 2-3 years experience in a school in the UK, so he wanted to gain experience in the UK education system.
After four years in the UK, during which Renata was teaching in Devon, she and her husband are now back in KL, teaching at two different international schools.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN UK AND INTERNATIONAL TEACHING EXPERIENCE
Renata taught in both the state and independent sector in the UK, but her impression is that in the international sector there is more scope for creativity.
I feel more involved in shaping how things work in an international school. There is more independence, and you don’t have to follow strict UK guidelines.
She also highlights the focus on innovation and technology, which she feels is always at the forefront in international schools. Renata feels her workload has reduced and she has a better work-life balance.
In the UK, I was teaching 33 lessons a week; here it is 22. There were also things like parents’ evenings or open evenings in the UK. At BSKL we have a parents’ day which is off timetable.
RETURNING TO THE UK
Renata has no immediate plans to return to the UK, but she and her husband have agreed that if their families needed them to be closer they might return. Her first experience of returning to the UK was very straightforward.
I was nervous initially about applying from abroad, and having to pay for flights for interviews. I wondered how many times I would be able to afford to fly back. But I was quite lucky – the one interview I went for, I got the job.
Renata had been warned that some schools would not value international experience, and might consider that she was out of date with developments in the UK from her time abroad.
It was actually a question at my interview, although it wasn’t their view – what if someone was to say you’d had two gap years [while teaching abroad] – how would I react to that? I was very adamant that I had been teaching and working.
If Renata were to return to the UK for a second time, she would bring with her a wealth of useful experience and skills, some of which are specific to her role as a language teacher.
Being able to teach Spanish to a class of children where everybody’s mother tongue is different has really helped me hone my skills.
She also feels that the international sector allows teachers more time to research, develop different activities, and practise different skills.
In the UK I felt I didn’t have the time. I had ideas, and would learn new things, but I had no time to implement or practise. I have a bank of good strategies now that I’ve had time to research, to implement, and to tweak.
ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE OF TEACHER SUPPLY
Renata comments on teachers she has known who complete a PGCE, teach for two years, and then leave the profession. She suggests that in some cases, financial incentives could help retain teachers, but backed up by the resources and facilities to allow teachers to do their job properly – more teachers, smaller classes, more time to plan.
If the work environment isn’t right, no amount of money would keep you in the job.
Renata is very positive about her time working in the international sector, and does think international experience can support teacher retention. She mentions friends in schools in the UK who are thinking about moving abroad because they feel the job in the UK is so tough.
It is a good option for teachers to come abroad to do the job that they have trained to do, and that they want to do, and that they can do well.
Find out more about our Teacher Supply research findings here