Teaching agencies in London: supply or long contracts?

Teaching in London is exciting, challenging and rewarding. I can say my experiences shaped not only my teaching, but also many of my beliefs. If you are in contact with an agency (generally how overseas teachers get started) you’ll be asked a question up front: supply or contract? Each have their pros and cons, so you’ll need to consider which works best with what you’re after. I’ve used my own and my friends’ experiences but talking with a range of people will help you make the best call for you.

Supply

Pros

1. Extra holidays. Most half terms are not completely guaranteed so you’ll have the usual school holidays plus the first and last week of break to travel!

2. No planning. None. It’s great. You leave at 3:30 and you’re free until the next day.

3. (Secondary teachers) rarely any actual teaching. This is mainly because they can’t always guarantee you’ll be trained in the subject you end up teaching. I was once given a Spanish class, a language which I continually restart learning on Duolingo every few months but never quite retain anything. The students were given dictionaries and individual work. My job was more or less glorified babysitting to ensure students were behaved and stayed in the class.

4. Flexibility. If you have a bad experience, you can request to not return to a particular school again. Obviously you can’t continue to say this but it’s there. Your agency generally are aware of schools that can have troubling classes. Sometimes they increase the daily rate for schools to get teachers in.

5. Little travel. Most supply teachers will be called between 7-7:30 so your travel times are usually within an hour. If they aren’t usually and this was in your contract, don’t be afraid to say no.

Cons

1. Lots of holidays. How is that bad? Just like most casuals, you are only paid for the days you work. You can opt to have a holiday allowance taken from your regular pay to cover holidays, but that does significantly lower your pays.

2. Lower pay. Some agencies can be very sneaky and offer rates so low that you struggle between pay checks. Do not be afraid to argue for more, especially when experienced.

3. No respect. It’s not always the case, but expect to hear “supply!” yelled as you walk through a corridor or room. Some students will not respond to you as they expect to never see you or consequences after that lesson.

4. (Primary teachers) Marking. The UK has a strict marking focus and you will be required to stay back to mark what you teach.

5. No staff support. Obviously some schools are welcoming, but generally my experience was sitting by myself in the staff room at lunch because I was just another new face. Unless you are a regular at a school, you’re not going to have that support during lunches.

Contracts

Pros

1. The pay. The daily rate is higher in most cases because you are doing more work.

2. Greater experience in planning and teaching the UK curriculum. It’s going to be a strange thing to you for the first term or so, but the experience is invaluable for you to build skills for future positions.

3. Build relationships. Staying longer allows you to get to know staff and students in more depth and hopefully see some progress in students.

4. Develop content knowledge. My main subject, geography, is very different between Australian and UK curriculums so by teaching subjects I had never taught (or learnt) I was forced to continue learning on the go and now have more world knowledge to incorporate into Geography and other lessons.

5. Your own room. Some schools will have more strict policies on how to keep your room than others, but setting your room up to match your chosen classroom environment really sets the standard that your classroom is yours.

6. Snow days. Firstly, snow. Secondly, day/s off. And lastly, most agencies will pay contract workers.

Cons

1. Sick days. Most agencies will not pay sick days, yet work for your classes will be expected everyday regardless. Sometimes you will get a great subject lead and/or colleague who will step in to help, but not always.

2. Marking. I’m aware that primary supply teachers also do this, but when they are your classes, the marking and data collection is next level. Unless you develop an organised system to get through it all you risk two outcomes: either getting reprimanded or having marking overtake your life (taking books home/staying back/having weekends spent marking books).

3. (Secondary) Measuring student progress. Most teacher programs clearly state how standardised testing is not the best way to measure student achievement. However the majority of assessments will be exams. For students with additional needs such as low literacy, short attention spans, low attendance and more; you will have to administer the same exams knowing that those students will not be able to demonstrate their full knowledge of the content and skills.

4. Getting locked in. Some agencies leave little clauses of a free flight for X amount of weeks teaching or a 6 week notice period for positions. These are generally in place because there’s always a catch. At my first school, I was stuck with the second option. All I wanted was out of the school yet was forced to stay longer due to my contract. Read everything or get someone else to.

For more on my experiences teaching in London click HERE!

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