Recruiting and Training Educators within the International School Sector | Nalini Cook

Recruiting, training and retaining educators and specialist staff is the largest expense and one of the biggest challenges for international schools. The search for good teachers with international school experience is brutal and relentless on a global scale. Within the highly competitive Middle East region, there are additional challenges related to recruitment, including mandatory local licensing laws and specific requirements that relate to a teacher’s degree and the subject they can teach.  

Some emerging practice and solutions being adopted by a few international schools were detailed in the ISC Research Recruitment and CPD in International Schools report, which was released last year.  

Recruitment begins sooner than ever 

The data in this report highlights how challenging the business of teacher recruitment is right now. 60 percent of the specialist international school recruitment agencies researched for the report said that international schools are beginning their recruitment process earlier in the year.  

Some of the best teaching jobs for commencement this August and September (2022) were advertised as early as November last year (2021), and this recruitment schedule is expected to continue and be adopted by more international schools in forthcoming years. Sixty-two percent of the recruitment companies we interviewed said that most international schools they support are now hosting or participating in virtual recruitment fairs to expand their candidate reach. 

Alternative routes to recruitment 

Our research also identified an increasing number of international schools that are adopting alternative recruitment routes. As well as sourcing from a more diverse talent pool, some of the most powerful initiatives focus on training teachers on the job and developing local teaching talent through a rigorous and highly structured CPD programme.  

The report shares detailed case studies of good practice towards this outcome and highlights the impact this has on contract extensions and staff longevity. 

80 percent of the specialist recruitment companies we interviewed for the report said that international schools are considering more teaching candidates from the host country of the school than in previous years, and 58 percent said international schools are considering teaching candidates from a wider range of originating countries or nationalities than in previous years.   

The impact of staff diversity 

Analysis of faculty demographic data by ISC Research shows that the range of staff nationalities – including local staff – has been increasing within premium fee international schools for several years. In some cases, as a strategic move by the school to improve diversity and equity within the staff. This has also been reflected in our research into DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion and justice) within the international school sector and was discussed at the ISC Research Edruptors@School conference this June. I shared highlights from this insightful panel conversation in a feature now published in IS Magazine.  

During the conference discussion, I raised the issue of diversity and equity within international school recruitment. The slow change in diversity of educators is often blamed by schools on a desire by parents for white, Western or native English-speaking teachers. The panel was adamant that schools have to take accountability for this. “Parents rely on us to understand why this [diversity] matters for their children,” said Joel Llaban, the newly appointed Director of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at International Schools Services who was part of the panel.   

Joel argued that change will not happen within international school staff diversity “until leaders reimagine this business model of what parents want, to what students truly need.”  

Estelle Hughes, Secondary Principal at the International School of Dakar, who was also on the panel, called for international schools to “recruit for potential and train each other. Diversifying your staff and leadership is not a threat to quality in your institution,” she said, explaining that research shows that a lack of diversity leads to lower standards. “Excellence looks different in different cultures and we need to learn from other cultures,” Estelle said.  

In the field research with international schools that is conducted by my team, we are hearing from a growing number of international schools around the world that are working towards this change. Committing to action is one thing, how to proceed is something quite different. The more that school leaders open up to dialogue and support to guide this change, the better for all.  


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This article was written by Nalini Cook, who is the Head of Global Research at ISC Research which is the recognised source of data and intelligence on the world’s English-medium international schools market, supporting schools and partners with research to inform school improvement, development and acquisition.  

At the Outstanding Schools Middle East 2022 Conference, taking place in Dubai on the 5th and 6th of October, Nalini Cook will be speaking on a panel discussion about 'Navigating the Challenges and Opportunities around Workforce Recruitment and Retention'.