Interview With Andrew Wigford, Managing Director, TIC Recruitment

Andrew, you're Managing Director at TIC Recruitment. Tell us a bit about your background and what brought you to this role.

I was a teacher in the UK for several years before moving overseas to work at Mohne School in Germany, which was part of the Service Children’s Education Authority. I was then offered a job at an international school in Colombia. At that time there were not many international schools and none of my friends really knew what I was heading out to do.Many people thought I was going to teach English as a foreign language. I actually went to teach in a school that was mostly for expatriates and where all the learning was conducted in English. I became Deputy Head of Primary there, stayed for three years and helped to re-write the curriculum. Oh, and my daughter was born there also! I then went on to teach and became Head of Primary at Vienna International School in Austria. My wife was a teacher too and both of our two children were born overseas.

Throughout all my time hunting for jobs in international schools, and then later as an international school Head hiring teachers, the recruitment experience was not easy. Most teachers had to attend recruitment fairs and make decisions about accepting a job with very little knowledge of the school they were going to. There was virtually no expert support or advice.

That’s why I set up Teachers International Consultancy (TIC). We provide very service-oriented recruitment support for teachers and international schools by matching the right teacher to the right school. There are so many different international schools today; large and small, in almost every country of the world, providing very different types of teaching and learning, some following a British style of learning, others more American in their ethos. So it’s important to find the right teacher with the right skills for the right job. That’s what we do and it means that schools have great success with most of the teachers they hire, and teachers tend to be very happy with the schools they work in. This year TIC is celebrating its 10th birthday and I feel very proud that we have built up such a good reputation in that time.

What does your work entail? Could you talk us through a typical day in your life?

The TIC head office is based in Penarth, in Wales, UK. I walk to work which is a great start to the day. We have a team of skilled recruiters who are all specialists at recruiting for international schools. They are very friendly, caring people who understand the importance of providing honest and detailed advice. The first thing we do each morning is review the current vacancies and the teachers who are being recommended for the different posts. We spend a lot of time seriously considering individual skills, experiences, personal qualities, family needs, career goals and other requirements to help match the right person with the right role.

Most of my time when I’m in the office is spent working with international school leaders on their strategic recruitment plans; helping them to think about their long-term goals for the school so that they hire the right teachers and leaders who will progress as the school develops. I also handle most of the selection for Headteachers which is always a very big job and so important to ensure a school finds the very best person with the right leadership qualities.

Andrew Wigford visiting international schools in Kazakhstan

I do spend many days of the year travelling. I attend a lot of conferences to meet face-to-face with Headteachers and senior leaders of the international schools and to present about staff recruitment. I visit many international schools to ensure that all those that TIC recommends and works with are of a high standard and provide good quality work and living conditions. These visits are a great opportunity to meet with the teachers that TIC has already placed at a school and to find out how they are progressing. I also present to teachers at many seminars and on webinars about how to find a job in an international school. Many teachers want to learn more about the career opportunities and recruitment requirements for working in an international school and we try and advise as many teachers as possible.

If I’m in the office and a teacher is hired, we bang our gong. This can happen many times on some days! We’re always delighted when we know a school has found a teacher that’s right for them – and the teacher thinks the school will suit them too. It’s a real matching-up process.

What would you say are the most important qualities for a teacher to possess if they want to teach abroad?

A good international school teacher is one who is fully qualified with at least two or three years of teaching experience, particularly of the National Curriculum of England or one of the International Baccalaureate programmes (Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Programme or Diploma) which many international schools follow. They also need to be fluent English speakers as all the learning is delivered in English. They don’t need to have travelled or worked overseas before. However, they do need to have an accepting and positive attitude about different cultures and people of different nationalities. International schools are wonderful melting pots of teachers, leaders, students and parents, all from different countries and successful relationships between all these people are based on embracing differences. International schools also like teachers who cope well with change and have flexible, positive attitudes. You can be any age, single or travelling as a couple, or with a family.

In your opinion, what are the main differences between teaching in local schools and teaching in those following an international curriculum? What are the advantages and challenges of each?

Local schools might be government or state schools that have to follow specific government guidelines, a national curriculum and the local language. There are often strict standards and there can be little flexibility for creative teaching. International schools are independent schools that have much more autonomy over the curriculum they deliver, the approach to teaching and learning, and the qualifications they work towards. Because they are independent, international schools have to maintain high standards in order to attract fee-paying families. As a result, international schools work hard to employ high calibre teachers and so tend to offer good salaries, benefits and/or professional development to attract the right teachers.

International schools provide teachers with the opportunity to work with teachers and leaders from a range of different English-speaking countries (such as those from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United States, South Africa and Ireland) which all have good reputations for their teacher training and standards of teaching and learning. As a result, a teacher working in an international school can benefit from the best practice of their many different colleagues. Teachers often say this is one of the great benefits of working in an international school. Also many children attending international schools are local children who want to gain quality education in the language of English in order to get a place at a good Western university. These children are very motivated to learn and so teachers report very few behavioural issues in international schools.

How would you advise parents to make sure they're choosing the right international school for their children?

Most major cities and destinations for expatriate families have a selection of international schools these days. Dubai alone has over 250 international schools in the city, and several cities including Bangkok, Tokyo, Beijing and Doha have a choice of over 100 international schools. That can make it very difficult for parents to make the right choice. My advice is to try to keep your child’s curriculum the same as what they’ve been used to learning. That will help to give them some continuity during a time of major transition. Also with that in mind, try and find a school with similar characteristics to any school they have been particularly happy in; for example, a small school that can give attention to each individual child, or a larger school that has all the resources that they want, or a school that focuses on music if that’s what your child is passionate about, same too if they love the arts or a particular sport. Try to pick the school before choosing your accommodation as children can find long commutes to school very difficult and it can mean they struggle to see their friends after school hours.

Some of the best international schools have long waiting lists, so as soon as you know your new placement, get in touch with the international schools there and find out about enrolment procedures. Then start your selection process. It’s very time consuming but helping your child to find the right school is one of the most important things you can do.

Can expat spouses get jobs in international schools? If so, do you have any tips to get started on this route?

Expat spouses who are qualified and (especially) experienced teachers, who are English-speaking, and who are living or scheduled to move to a specific locality, are usually highly regarded by international schools because of their accessibility to the school and the fact that the school does then not have to worry about relocation issues. Therefore, achieving a full teaching qualification would be a huge asset for expat spouses.

International schools demand fully qualified, English-speaking teachers. This means potential candidates require a degree in teaching or alternatively, a conversion from a degree to a teaching qualification (in Britain this is called a PGCE – Postgraduate certificate in education). International schools do not accept TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualifications for teaching positions. People with TEFL qualifications can work at language colleges and other establishments where the focus is teaching English as a foreign language. An international school is a school that delivers a curriculum to any combination of infant, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English; these are typically schools outside an English-speaking country.

For spouses who have never obtained a degree of any kind, they will need to go through the process of getting a Bachelor’s in Education (usually a 3 year course) or a Master’s in Education (4 or 5 year course) or the equivalent certification of the country (in the US and Canada, this is also a BEd)
PGCEs can be obtained through distance learning so expat spouses already on the expat circuit can obtain their qualification this way. Up until recently, the only problem here was that the practical training had to be completed in the country of origin for the degree. However, for people taking the British PGCE qualification, their practical training and NQT year (newly qualified teacher year) can now be conducted in some of the British International Schools. Not all British International Schools qualify so it’s important to talk with the school to find out if this might be possible.

You've been a headteacher all over the world – which destination did you find the most challenging, and how did you address these challenges?

Different places are challenging for different reasons and at different times. We loved living in Bogotá, Colombia but driving around the city there was scary. Sometimes people complain about driving in the Middle East and Far East but these places are tame by comparison!

Often, one of the best things about any great place is the people who live there. We loved the Colombian friends we made; they had such a great attitude to life. Whenever more than four people gathered in a social setting there was a party and the dancing would begin!

In Vienna, we found quite a different attitude. The local people were sometimes very unfriendly and even downright rude. We were often made to feel unwelcome. You can generalise of course, and we did find grumpy Colombians and also extremely hospitable Austrians, but wherever we were and whoever we came across, we always tried to adapt to fit in with the local culture and local way of doing things. You get so much more from a place if you join in and take a positive approach.

Finally, when you're not recruiting international teachers, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I sing in a band called the Snorklers. We sing a lot of old punk classics from the 80s such as the Cure and Billy Idol. We’ve travelled all over the UK to perform at parties and events but it’s just for fun. I also love spending time with my family and dogs and, when the opportunity allows, going skiing.

Andrew Wigford spent 16 years teaching and leading in international schools before launching Teachers International Consultancy. TIC specialises in providing personalised, professional teacher and leadership recruitment for international schools. All support for candidates is free of charge. For more information visit www.ticrecruitment.com