Luna Williams argues that strict immigration policies are discouraging SEN teachers from staying in the UK
Historically, migrant teaching professionals have helped to prop up Britain’s education sector, with many opting to spend their careers and lives in the UK, teaching children in British schools.
With skills shortages to be found across the sector, including the SEN teaching workforce, this overseas talent is much needed. With this in mind, it is difficult to understand why the options for those choosing to settle in the UK permanently are so restrictive.
Currently, any teacher who wants to apply for settlement – called indefinite leave to remain (ILR) – as a working migrant will need to have worked in a role, continuously, for at least five years. They must be able to prove a high-level of written, spoken, and aural English (which is usually already essential for a teaching role) and they cannot have committed any offences during their time in the UK – a word which in this case could mean simply losing their job or getting a parking ticket.
Most would argue that these conditions are reasonable; it is, of course, important to ensure that those who wish to settle in the UK are serious about this choice, and that they will effectively contribute to British society when they become a permanent member of it.
Costs of working in the UK
As well as the ILR requirements, there is also a serious financial burden involved. In addition to paying income tax and national insurance (just as any working British national), all working migrants pay visa application and extension fees, which vary depending on their job role. For most teaching professionals, including SEN teachers, this amounts to £610 for an application and £704 for an extension, for a single applicant. For each dependant partner or child, an additional £610/£704 is added. What’s more, applicants also need to pay a health surcharge so that they can access the NHS (on top of their income and NI tax), which costs £400 per year for each family member.
In turn, the fee for an ILR application is £3,250 and a further £3,250 for each dependent family member who wants to settle.
But it is not only these restrictions and costs which are causing issues for migrant SEN teachers in UK schools.
Alongside these requirements, the majority of migrant teaching professionals wishing to apply for ILR must also be earning a minimum of £35,000 per annum. If a person is earning under this, they won’t qualify for settlement, and must continue to extend their work visa and meet the restrictions and costs that this involves.
Even in London, this is well above the median salary for an experienced SEN teacher, which falls in at £29,751, and £28,006 outside of the capital. In fact, even highly experienced teachers won’t reach this; a secondary school teacher with five to nine years’ experience earns an average salary of £32,405 in the UK. In practice, this means that most migrant SEN teachers, who have been working in British secondary and specialist schools for over five years, met every other restriction, and payed taxes and astronomical immigration fees, would not qualify for settlement.
This fact is particularly worrying when considering skills shortages across the education sector. According to the Migration Observatory Committee (MAC), several secondary subjects are in dire need of international skills and schools are physically unable to fill teacher roles with British PGCE graduates and teaching professionals alone.
Likewise, a review of teacher shortages carried out by the MAC in 2017 found that the same shortages can be found in the SEN teaching workforce. In this review, the MAC assessed a combination of factors, including employment rate, job vacancies and insight from stakeholders. The body assessed three main Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes: primary and nursery education teaching professionals; secondary education teaching professionals; and special needs education teaching professionals. Of these three categories, only special education teaching professionals were found to have passed the majority of the qualifiers put in place to indicate that the category is “in shortage”.
This means that migrants are not only helpful to the SEN teaching workforce, they are necessary, meaning the UK should be encouraging them to stay in the UK, teaching British children. Instead, unattainable requirements are in place which have the opposite effect; those who have taught in our schools for years and made sizeable payments into the British economy are still unable to settle here.
The Brexit effect
The end of free movement – which is set to happen in either a “no-deal” or “hard” Brexit scenario – will very likely make this matter worse. If this happens, EU nationals will be subject to the same immigration policies and costs as those from outside the EU; they will effectively be classed as migrants.
At the beginning of 2019, the number of teaching role applications from EU nationals had slumped by 25 per cent, with significantly fewer teachers from Spain, Germany and Greece applying for and taking on roles in the UK. Meanwhile, recruitment targets were found to be missed in the 2018 recruitment review, with almost every secondary school subject experiencing staffing shortages.
With European teaching professionals already clearly discouraged from taking on roles in Britain’s schools, there is a real concern within the education sector that, once free movement ends, skills gaps in the teaching workforce will drastically widen.
The majority of Europeans from neighbouring countries are likely to be put off by high fees and restrictions, particularly if they want to find somewhere to settle with their family permanently. As a result, these individuals would be more likely to choose another EU country’s schools as their professional base instead, where they can live and settle freely and easily.
Serious consideration must be put into the £35,000 minimum salary requirement for ILR. While shortages widen (and are set to continue to do so after Brexit) the UK must do everything in its power to recruit and maintain much-needed migrant SEN and secondary teachers.
About the author
Luna Williams is the Political Correspondent for the legal firm Immigration Advice Service.