Before I begin, this is completely based on my experiences, and that of my friends. I can only tell you what we experienced, and not what anyone else has. I am a high school teacher, so my experiences will also vary from primary teachers. Take from it what you will, but don’t use this as your only source of information.
So, are you interested in teaching in London? I say go for it!
My time in London included some of the most challenging and rewarding times of my life, so far. It won’t be easy but it has its perks. If you are considering or have decided to teach in London, here are some things you should consider:
Teaching agencies Vs. direct to school (for long-term/ongoing positions)
As much as it sounds like a great idea for security reasons, I do not recommend getting a job before you move over. When you interview for a school you get a tour and are able to meet staff and students during the day, and ask them any questions you have about workload/community/etc. Then you can consider if it is really the right fit for you. If you apply via a teaching agency you should be able to get into schools for interviews relatively quickly, but you may feel pressured to accept the first job that comes your way and you obviously need to account for lower pay and no sick or holiday pay.
Ongoing positions directly are what you should be aiming towards if you see London/the UK as a long-term option. What you do need to account for is interviews will usually take most of your day up, and unless you go through an agency, these won’t be paid. Also, if it worries you, most schools pay monthly. However, there are obvious benefits like leave, holiday pay, regular work and classes.
Supply/ Casual Relief teaching
I wish I had started with this when I first moved to London as you get a chance to see a wide range of schools, areas and students whilst also getting to know the curriculums. It will not be easy and there’s always a bit of chaos but as a learning experience I would recommend. Additionally, if you have some money saved and want to travel being a supply teacher will give you more chances as most agencies will not guarantee work on at least the first and last week of each half term.
Agency daily rates
This is probably the question I get asked most by those who message me about London. ‘What daily rate should I accept from a teaching agency?’ I can’t give you a specific number and it isn’t a one size-fits-all approach within agencies, let alone between them. Different agencies have their own policies, some with strict policies that align to your work (contract or supply) and years of experience; whilst some differ from how determined you are/aren’t and who you talk to. What I would say is to be upfront and say you are talking to other agencies and be honest about what they are offering you. At the end of the day, if you work through an agency, they get paid. Therefore, they want you to work for them. If you think the daily rate is too low, it probably is. If you think you deserve more, say so.
I never really understood those cartoons of teachers buried in mountains of marking before I moved to London. I’d dealt with exam marking and report writing but in the UK it never stops. Every school has their own marking policy, but of the ones my friends and I have worked for, there has been a high expectation of how much should be marked and the quality of it. For example, at one school i had a three-week marking cycle. That meant for every class in three weeks I had to have at least one teacher mark, one peer assessment and one self-assessment/ re-write activity. These were done in different pens and on different coloured paper so that when my books were checked it was clear who had contributed what. It sounds, and is sometimes, overwhelming but effective teams will already have ways to ease the burden through templates or will have individuals to share resources around to make marking easier.
Every school has their own policies but I found a huge difference in the management of behaviours between Australia and the UK. My observations were that policies in the UK appeared more formal and were so ingrained in students that you needed to ensure the policy was followed every step or there would be upheaval. This included policies that were stepping stones to various punishments, that eventually led to removal from the lesson or other consequences. All of this focus on punishing negative behaviours accordingly led to a large use of my, and colleagues, time on documenting and dealing with behaviours according to policies instead of keeping up with marking, planning quality lessons or, Heaven forbid, having our allocated lunch breaks.
That is not to say that there was not focus on positive behaviours, but with strict procedures regarding negative behaviours, tight deadlines for marking or other tasks and lessons to prepare for, something’s gotta give. I for one, was definitely guilty of this.
Working towards target grades
In almost every teaching program I know, we are taught that standardised testing is not an accurate way of demonstrating student understanding, and yet in most education systems around the world this what inevitably is used for student’s final marks. Whilst Australia is no exception, the UK takes this further by measuring student achievement in high school against target grades that are assigned to them before they even reach high school. It is pretty backward to think that there is little room to account for all of the things that can influence a child between the beginning and end of their high school life, but alas, that is how it is done. These grades will also be used to evaluate the performance of teachers, departments and schools.
I’m three years into my teaching career and having taught more than half of it in London, I’m a little biased in saying that some of the students i’ve met and taught there will stay with me for a long time. There is definitely that 5% that give London schools the reputation that you hear, and these students will take up 90% of your time. But the 95% of students who will greet you in the morning, spend hours at home doing their homework or additional tasks, follow instructions or learn from their mistakes, open doors for you, do nice gestures for you and their peers; are worth all of the negatives that come with teaching in London. Some of them live in such a small bubble of their small local area in London, that they need teachers from around the world to share more than just what the curriculum says to share.
What will you get out of it?
If you work in a supportive environment that allows room for you to learn and grow, you will become a much better teacher than you were when you landed. I’ve improved my organisation, communication, linking to objectives, use of technology in classrooms, methods of streamlining marking, exam writing skills, feedback skills, use of data to inform lesson creation, and so much more. If you want to test yourself and learn on your feet, London is one place you will be forced to do so.
If you’d like to hear some more tips, check out my instagram or listen to the podcast i made with Mase Abroad about teaching in London!