Australian teachers lash out at ‘unsustainable’ UK workload
Australian teachers say they take up jobs in the UK not aware of rising living costs or the workloads they’re taking on
By Eryk Bagshaw
Australian teachers, parents and recruitment agencies have lashed out at deceptive marketing practices which have turned the working-holiday dreams of some young Australian teachers into “unsustainable” experiences.
The migration of young Australian teaching graduates overseas has boomed on the back of a chronic shortage of teachers in the UK and an oversupply of teachers at home, where up to 47,000 remain on a waiting list in NSW.
Contracts that “trap” teachers in poor conditions where up to 40 per cent of wages are taken through commission are just two of the concerns outlined by Australian agencies and teachers working in the UK.
“The turnover is just incredible, the workload is unsustainable, when you are working 65 hours a week, there is no time for a holiday, there’s hardly time to do your shopping,” said Renée Butcher, the mother of an Australian teacher based in the UK who asked her daughter not to be named to protect her future employment prospects.
“I don’t want other kids to have the same experience that she has had. She didn’t go in blind, our next door neighbour went over and she was so traumatised that she never taught again.”
Australian agents have spoken out about the marketing practices of recruitment agencies keen to get their foot in the door of the lucrative industry, which has a history of giving many teachers a positive start on their career path.
“You get recruitment consultants selling teachers to schools with high margins,” said Carly Liddell-Lum from the Point to Point agency.
“You might be told you are earning 130 pounds (US$159) a day but the schools are being charged 205 pounds (US$251) a day for a teacher so there is a push from the company to get as many teachers into schools as possible.”
Ms Liddel-Lum said under a guaranteed supply contract, which often covers the airfare to the UK, unhappy teachers can be locked into a particular school until they have paid off the cost of the ticket.
Teacher-turned-recruiter Patrick Kearins said the growth in the industry meant that prospective teachers had to adopt a “buyer beware” attitude.
“It’s not always a rosy picture, agencies are still really benefiting from teachers who have no real idea,” the owner of Being Teach UK said.
“I was getting paid 130 pounds (US$159) a day in 2004, and if they are dealing with a teacher with no information they will offer them 130 pounds a day now. Meanwhile Tube prices, cost of living and rent have all gone up.”
The country manager for Protocol Education, Sam Swain, said with the increased demand for Australian teachers, umbrella companies had sprung up in the UK offering to take care of paying teachers on behalf of schools and agencies.
“The agencies outsource their payroll to the umbrella companies and then they take up to 4 per cent out of the teachers’ pay packet.”
Ms Swain added that many of the opportunities in the UK were not necessarily in the top schools.
“It is a lot more admin heavy and the expectations are a lot higher. British teachers are working extremely long hours and agencies should tell people that.”
Mr Kearins said agencies were often not informing graduates they were being sent to schools that had been marked as “special measures” or “falling short of acceptable standards” by education regulators and therefore subject to strict regulations.
“There are plenty of agencies out there that will offer a people a job and not mention that it is in special measures, and then do the old sink or swim, (telling them): ‘If you aren’t doing ok then you are probably not a good enough teacher’,” he said. “Out of 10 teachers, one will come home and tell horror stories.”
Ms Butcher’s daughter, who has worked at a school which has had four Australian teachers leave in the past four months, said she was told to ignore the “special measures” rating applied to the school by her agency.
“I have never known my daughter to shed so many tears,” Ms Butcher said. “The workload is unbelievable, in her words ‘it’s hell’. Regardless of progress made by the students, if a box is not ticked, the teachers are disciplined. She is fearful that this experience will have destroyed her passion for teaching.”
Other teachers who spoke to Fairfax Media confirmed the level of demands and administration work in the UK is significantly higher and that tough conditions in the London suburbs can be confronting but that it can be a rewarding experience.
“The idea of teaching in the UK is fantastic, but the reality is very hard,” said Ms Liddell-Lum.
“Marking every child every day, that is a massive ask. It can be a great opportunity for career progression, but you have to be prepared to do the hard work”.