Teacher Supply

Teacher Supply in British International Schools

In 2018, COBIS undertook a large-scale research project looking at Teacher Supply in British International Schools. The initial findings and interim report were presented at the COBIS Annual Conference on 14 May 2018. The final report has now been published, along with a series of supporting case studies. 
First page of the PDF file: COBISTeacherSupply_FinalReport_July2018
First page of the PDF file: COBISTeacherSupplyCaseStudies_web_final
First page of the PDF file: COBISTeacherSupply_InterimReport_web_final


There are currently more than 4,300 British International Schools worldwide – representing 45% of the international schools market worldwide (2). British international schools are now a leading export, valued at more than £1billion (3). In addition to contributing to the UK economy through franchises, use of educational goods and services, and repatriation of salaries, these schools send students to UK universities, and generate ‘soft power’ of incalculable value, educating thousands of global political, economic and professional leaders in scores of countries. The international school sector is growing at c.6% annually, with more than 450 new international schools opening around the world every year. In the next ten years, British international schools will require up to 230,000 more teachers to meet their staffing needs (4). 

In England, secondary school pupil numbers are projected to increase by more than 530,000 by 2026, and more teachers will be needed (5). DfE data shows an overall shortfall of nearly 10% in recruitment targets to initial teacher training (6), and in the DfE Analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility (Feb. 2018), 76% of schools reported "significant difficulty" with teacher supply with many considering there was a "serious shortage of teachers", and the majority feeling it was "getting worse" (7).

Key Findings

  • 77% of outgoing teachers are happy or very happy with their international experience; 81% of new international school teachers are happy or very happy with their experience.
  • Teachers choose to work internationally for many reasons. The main motivations are travel and cultural exploration (71%); and enjoyment and challenge (63%). Other contributing factors include: dissatisfaction with home education system (47%); career growth (45%); salary (44%).
  • Many teachers return to the UK after working abroad, with family commitments (44%) and a desire to return home (45%) cited as the main reasons. 26% of returning teachers worked internationally for 3-4 years; 71% of outgoing teachers leave the international sector within 10 years.
  • Returning teachers bring with them a wealth of experience and skills including cultural awareness (79%), global outlook/international mindedness (76%), adaptability (58%), and renewed enthusiasm for teaching (53%) as well as EAL experience, resilience, and professional development opportunities.
  • Nearly a third of teachers entering the international school sector (32%) were thinking about leaving the profession before taking an international job.
  • British international schools are already being proactive in improving recruitment: 57% with enhanced professional development and 51% with improved marketing in the last 2 years.
  • Nonetheless, 94% of British international school leaders now find recruiting quality teachers ‘somewhat’ or ‘very challenging’ (31% very challenging).
  • 93% of school leaders indicate that recruiting internationally-trained teachers is important, and yet more than a quarter of schools (27%) have increased recruitment of local staff. This could present an opportunity to upskill local teaching staff with UK teaching qualifications.
  • According to responding international schools, the services which would most help the international school sector with teacher supply in the coming years are:
    • Ability to act as a Teaching School for UK trainees (41%)
    • Conversion courses (to QTS/PGCE) for internationally-trained teachers (36%)
    • Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programmes to train local staff (31%)

All of these could additionally have a positive effect on UK teacher supply by increasing the pool of qualified teachers.

Proposed Solutions

The opportunity to work both at home and internationally makes teaching a highly attractive career.

Teachers in British schools overseas work in some of the best schools in the world – schools that are high performing, up-to-date and well-resourced. Erecting barriers, or a conflict between domestic and overseas supply, would be counterproductive. COBIS is proposing a new, co-operative approach, which will benefit both the UK and international education sectors:

1.    Promote attractive professional opportunities – positioning teaching as an international career option:  A co-operative enterprise among UK and international sector representatives, the DfE and DIT to promote the opportunities of teaching as a career, both in the UK and in British international schools located overseas. In addition to enriching the professional experience for teachers as they move and return home, this can enhance the attractiveness of teaching as a profession to increase recruitment to ITT at home and abroad, and support teacher retention.

2.    Increase international training opportunities – overseas teaching schools and recruitment overseas into ITT:  International schools could play an increasing role in training teachers in their locality as a means of increasing the teacher supply pool for British curriculum schools and upskilling existing teachers. This could include fresh solutions for recruitment of teachers to ITT programmes overseas to attract graduates including teaching assistants and support staff, alumni, spouses and local staff of proven quality, as well as expanded provision for ITT in the many high quality and accredited British international schools, with opportunity for teaching school status and QTS.

3.    Value overseas service – facilitate return to the UK: Ensure that teachers with international experience are welcomed, encouraged and supported to enter or return to the UK schools sector through recognition of valued and accredited service overseas.

The findings of the research and proposed solutions now form the basis of a new COBIS strategy to support teacher recruitment and training, both internationally and domestically. On behalf of COBIS schools and the wider sector, COBIS has recently shared these proposed solutions with the Department for Education and the UK Prime Minister’s office. These proposals have been well-received, and positive discussions are ongoing.


(1) This research project has been delivered in partnership with ISC Research Ltd with further support from C3 Education.  

(2) Figures on the current and projected size of the international school market are courtesy of ISC Research Ltd. British international schools are schools located outside the UK that teach a curriculum (wholly or in part) that would be recognised in the UK (such as the National Curriculum for England) and have a British orientation/ethos (which can include high-quality pastoral care, a range of extra-curricular opportunities, and reference to British values, freedoms and culture).

(3) UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity in 2015 (DfE, Feb. 2018; SFR12/2018) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/683043/SFR12-2018_Text.pdf

UK revenue from education related exports and transnational education activity 2010-2014 (DfE, July 2017)


(4) Figures on the current and projected size of the international school market are courtesy of ISC Research Ltd.


(5) National pupil projections – future trends in pupil numbers: July 2017 (DfE, July 2017, SFR 31/2017) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/627388/SFR31_2017_Projections_Text.pdf

(6) Initial Teacher Training (ITT) Census for the academic year 2017 to 2018 (DfE, November 2017, SFR 68/2017)

(7) Analysis of teacher supply, retention and mobility (DfE, February 2018)