As a travel lover who comes from a teaching background, working with a teaching agency was one of the easiest ways for me to live abroad. Working with a teaching agency in London is very common because they are always in need of teachers! There are plenty of other really popular destinations for first-time teachers to live abroad, but this was the choice I went with!
But no matter how confident you are as a teacher and traveler, moving abroad is a very daunting and stressful task. I know it was for me. It’s a big deal! It’s scary and there are a lot of unknowns. So if you’re anything like me, you might have a lot of questions.
After having gone through the process and having lived in London for 2 years, I thought I’d help answer some of those questions. I hope that this is helpful to fellow teachers who are considering going but are scared or have already agreed to go but don’t know what to expect.
Disclaimer: everyone’s experience is of course different, so what I am sharing here is my personal experience. This article outlines the experience of a Canadian going to London, UK with a teaching agency for 2 years from 2019-2021. I am also not a professional in the field of visas, teaching agencies, taxes in the UK, or anything to that effect. The goal of this post is to simply share my experience to hopefully provide clarity to anyone going through this process.
*Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
What are teaching agencies?
So let’s start with the most basic question. What even is a teaching agency? A teaching agency in London, or in other cities or countries, is the middleman between teachers and schools. If you are registered with a teaching agency, they will find your supply and teaching jobs for you. You are a representative of your teaching agency, you work for them.
What is the onboarding process?
From my personal experience, I registered with a teaching agency before leaving Canada. In my final days of university, a teaching agency from London came to pitch their agency to the soon-to-be graduates. They caught my attention because I could live and work abroad while receiving support with my documents and help to get me transitioned into my new life.
How did I apply? First, I recommend researching the different teaching agencies. There are a tonne of agencies in London so take the time to browse the options. After you’ve chosen one, you apply like any other job. I had to submit my resume and had a virtual interview with someone.
How to choose the teaching agency right for you?
From what I found from research and from speaking with other teachers in London, there isn’t much difference between the teaching agencies. Most of them offer the same things and the experience is very similar.
Here are some things you can look for when you are researching:
-Read reviews of what other people say. What are the people working at the agency like? These are the people you will deal with all of the time!
-Some agencies offer bonuses and incentives. Mine had some discount codes for cinemas and groceries as well as bonuses throughout the year.
-Look for “guaranteed pay” if you’re a supply teacher. Some agencies will offer that even if they don’t find supply work for you, they will still pay you your daily rate.
How do they help you transition to London?
My teaching agency in London provided me with a list of things that needed to get done before my arrival date such as applying for my visa (mine was the Youth Mobility Scheme – Tier 5), getting my UK police check (DBS), and picking up my BRP (biometric residence permit). I want to note that they do give you information and tips on finding a place to live or setting up a bank account, but you are the one responsible for getting everything done and on time. There isn’t much support they give you beyond that.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, I mean I wasn’t expecting them to hold my hand or anything but just be prepared that once you actually arrive, you’re on your own. But they can help to some degree. For example, I needed proof of employment in order to get my bank account set up and the apartment sorted. To avoid hassles with bank accounts, I HIGHLY recommend using Wise. Wise has been my bank for over 4 years now and they make moving money across currencies super easy. I cannot recommend them enough!
What is the role of a teaching agency?
When you begin working, the agencies are responsible for finding you work. In certain areas of Canada, schools are organized into school boards, and a teacher applies for work with them directly. In London, specifically, there are no school boards. A teaching agency will have contacts with schools across the city. A school will notify the agency they need a supply teacher or that they are interested in hiring a full-time teacher. And the agency will look at their list and find someone who is the right fit.
What they don’t tell you
Of course, they are a business so remember they take a cut of your pay. Because of this, they might strongly encourage you to find full-time work at a school. They most likely will do this because this is where they make the most money. Once a full-time teacher is registered with a school through them, they continue to take their cut without doing much more work for you. Remember, their main role is to find you work, so if you are a supply teacher, they are finding you work every day. But if you’re full-time, they do it once only but continue to take their cut.
You do not NEED to work full time. I personally wanted to stay a supply teacher. But they continued to encourage me to find full-time work. Also, remember those bonuses I mentioned earlier, my agency, in the end, didn’t pay all of them. Apparently, they were for ‘full-time’ teachers only, something that wasn’t mentioned when I applied or anywhere since. I really wasn’t impressed by this so it’s something you should be aware of and ask about!
What are the contracts like?
From my personal experience as a supply teacher, I was given a contract for my first full term and then afterward, I had a contract for every half term. In London, the autumn term usually runs from September until December, the spring term runs from January until April and the summer term is from May until July. A full-time teacher, from my understanding, should have a contract for the school year, depending on their specific agreement.
This is where I started to see some discrepancies and them trying to push me to be a full-time teacher. I started in the autumn term with guaranteed pay, but by the spring term, they took that off my contract. There weren’t many large differences between my contracts but I did notice little changes like this. Be sure to read the contract and ask questions if you’re ever unsure!
I am sharing this because I personally understood that I would have security with guaranteed pay for my 2 years in London. So when they started to take that away, it gave me a lot of stress. I am sharing this experience so you can have that expectation going in! When I asked about it, they couldn’t really give me a good reason. Be aware that some of the promises they make at the beginning might not last.
How do you keep track of your schedule?
I assume this works the same for all agencies, but from my personal experience, I had access to an online portal through the agency’s website. Here you can access your calendar, pay slips, and other important documents.
At the end of the week, I had to submit my timesheet in order to be paid the following week. On your calendar, you will see the information of the schools you were assigned to that week. All you have to do is simply confirm that you were there and once the school confirms on their end, you be paid the following week!
How much do you get paid?
You will have to register with an umbrella company in order to get paid. This is one of the things on your original to-do list before arriving. Essentially, it is a payroll company and it doesn’t cost you anything. The agency just needs their information in order to pay you!
I was being paid weekly basis and my daily rate was 130 pounds. This isn’t an hourly rate but a daily rate. Under my guaranteed pay agreement, if the agency didn’t have work for me then I would still be paid my daily rate. The same is true if they only found a half-day position for me.
As I mentioned earlier, you MIGHT be entitled to some bonuses. Because I was supply teaching, I didn’t qualify for all of the extra bonuses. The ones I did qualify for, I had to remind them about. They do not get added on automatically, you need to ask for it and advocate for yourself. Keep track of dates you are supposed to be given bonuses and don’t be shy to remind them. It’s what was promised to you!
Something really important for teachers who want to work in a full-time position, there is something known as the 12-week rule. This means that, as an agency worker, after 12 weeks of working under the same employer, you are entitled to the same rights as someone who is hired directly by the employer. This includes pay! As a full-time teacher working in a school, after 12 weeks, you have the right to be paid the same as any other teacher in the school – which is not the same rate you will be earning through the agency. Because I was working as a supply teacher, this didn’t apply to me! Read more about your rights here!
How much holiday time do you get?
As mentioned above, in the UK there are 3 terms. There are holidays halfway through each term and at the end of each term. Typically you get 1 week in October, 2 weeks in December, 1 week in February, 2 weeks in April, and 1 week in June, and your summer holiday starts in July. Reminder: you do not get paid over the summer and over holidays. Make sure you have some money aside to cover your expenses during those times.
What schools will I be traveling to?
It might depend on your teaching agency in London and which schools they have contacts with but you can end up all around the city. Sometimes I was assigned to a school where I wasn’t officially in the city of London anymore. So it’s important for a supply teacher to have a larger budget set aside for transportation expenses. Just in case! And for navigating around London, I always used the app Citymapper. It was the best and most accurate I found!
What is your daily life like as a supply teacher?
Sometimes, schools will know in advance if a teacher is going to be off, meaning your agency might contact you at least the night before. If you didn’t have a school assigned the next day, you have to call the agency at 7 am to notify them you are ready to work. They will then call you back when they have an assignment for you. Typically, I would receive a call back within in 10-30 minutes but I had to stay available to work until 11 am at the latest.
When you receive the call, you are given the name and address of the school. Depending on when you receive the call, you should arrive before the start of the school day (typically between 8-8:30). If you are called later (which has happened to me many times), you just need to get there ASAP rather than at the beginning of school.
Arriving at the school
When you arrive at the school you will look for the reception and check-in, they should be expecting you. They will give you a visitor badge, your timetable for the day and you will be told where to find the cover work. Sometimes you will be provided a map of the school, or someone will show you around quickly. Make sure you know where the staff room is because this is where you will be spending your lunch.
Cover work & Supplying
In terms of cover work, it depends on the teacher whom you are covering. Sometimes it was ready for me on the desk, other times I picked up instructions at the reception, and a lot of the times I went to the subject staff room. In the UK, the subject and/or year teachers do the planning together. All students are learning the same things at the same time. So if you speak to the other subject or grade teachers, they will know exactly the plan and can give you the proper materials!
Before the lesson begins, make sure you’re there a bit early to find the materials you need (ie text books, workbooks, etc.) You are expected to do the attendance (which in the UK is called the register) and get straight on to the cover work. Students will try and kill time and want to chat with you. Which is ok for a little bit but don’t let it get out of hand. Your main job is classroom management and making sure they are getting their work done.
If you need help, you might have other support teachers in the room with you. You should have other classroom teachers nearby, so sending a student to ask for help should be no problem. I won’t lie, I dealt with some really rowdy and challenging classes while supplying in London. At first, I didn’t want to bother others and show that I was competent. But honestly, if things are getting out of hand, it’s better to ask for help. You can only do so much as someone the students have never seen before and who doesn’t know the rules of the school.
At the end of the day
At the end of the day, which is usually around 4 pm, make sure you leave the classroom as you found it. I always liked to leave a quick note specifying how it went and what got done during the lesson. You can also leave a list of names of students that were really great and others who were rowdy. In the UK, they heavily use points and award systems. So telling students you will leave a list of names can help motivate them and remind them to behave.
Return your visitor badge and materials back to the reception at the end of the day. They might ask you if you are available for the following day. If you do agree to come back another day, just be sure to notify the teaching agency. If you really didn’t enjoy a school and do not want to be sent back there, you can notify the teaching agency of that as well.
Important Takeaways about working with a teaching agency in London:
✅ You have a job lined up for when you arrive in London. This was a big stress relief for me!
✅ They are responsible for finding positions for you. This takes that worry away when you are in a new city and still unfamiliar with how things work.
✅ Teaching agencies help you transition to London by giving you tips and information about moving abroad and getting set up!
✅ You have a relative sense of income and job security when moving to a new city.
❌ Advocating for your bonuses and your rights under the 12-week rule is necessary! They do take a cut out of your pay so these things make a difference.
❌ If you are a supply teacher, your agency might pressure you to become a classroom teacher full-time. And they might not disclose if you do not qualify for certain bonuses or incentives.
❌ As full-time classroom teachers, they continue to take their cut without doing much work for you compared to supplying where they are finding your positions daily.
❌ You might be given guaranteed pay at the beginning. BUT this might not be provided for your entire time at the agency. This is also true for other bonuses or promises that were made at the beginning.
❌ They do give you information about transitioning, but remember it is your responsibility to do it. After they’ve given you the information and tips, you’re on your own to get yourself set up!
In the end…
In the end, I worked in London for 2 years and I supplied for 6 months with the agency and I finished my time working directly with a school – no agency. There are of course pros and cons of working with a teaching agency in London. For me the fact that I was able to live in a new country, with a job lined up and someone telling me what I needed to get done and when, was a huge stress relief. I know how scary it is to move abroad. For me, working with a teaching agency in London was a great way to take that leap with a relative sense of security!
I know I had so many questions when I was moving abroad. And I might have missed some here! So if there are any other things you’d like to know or if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment! I’d be happy to answer and help in any way I can!