Leaving London: why I moved to a rural school

For London teachers looking to start a family, leaving the capital for a more rural existence is an appealing option. But is the countryside dream all it’s cracked up to be? We speak to one teacher who has left the bright lights for the great outdoors.

Tes Editorial

An Underground Train In London

London teachers looking to settle down and start a family are increasingly opting for more rural areas. For many, remaining in the capital just isn’t a financially viable option. While many enjoy London and the challenges that working in an inner city school present, the vastly inflated cost of living mean many of the capital’s best teachers are leaving London and relocating to countryside beyond the M25. 

But adapting to a rural school isn’t always easy. A different pace and more traditional methods are often cited as hurdles London and other inner-city teachers face when relocating to the country.

After having their first child, Richard Hollowbread and his wife, Becky, left their teaching jobs in London and moved to the New Forest, Hampshire. Despite enjoying the culture of the capital, balancing busy careers and the strains of raising a child became too much. 

Family life in the city

“We had our first child in May,” says Richard. “My wife had maternity leave until the summer and when we returned in September we both worked four days each with our son going to a nursery for the other three days. After Christmas we both went back full time and our son was in nursery all day.”

“We found this situation intolerable. He was the first dropped off and often the last picked up and we felt sick with the thought that the carers in the nursery were seeing more of him that we were.”

Raising a family in London on one salary was not an option, so the search for work outside of the city began. Both Richard and Becky started their job hunt in Hampshire. Having prioritised parenting over career, they agreed that the first one to find a job would take on the role of sole breadwinner.

“We started looking initially in Bournemouth because we were worried about the jump from central London to the countryside,” says Richard. “In London we enjoyed a life where we went out a lot. We went to the theatre and could eat in lots of different types of restaurants. I was scared of leaving that behind.”

As the search for work in Bournemouth proved unsuccessful, Richard took a job in a secondary school on the edge of the New Forest. The couple moved from Greenwhich in London to Milford on Sea on the edge of the New Forest; a circumstance that Richard describes as “full-rural”.

“We ended up living in this cottage which was surrounded by about 40 acres of woodland,” he says, “it was really quite an incredible location. Even now I still drive right through the New Forest with cows and horses walking across the road. It really couldn’t have been further away from driving through South East London.”

Changing classroom culture

While the roaming wildlife made for a wholly different type of commute, life in the classroom was also pretty alien to what Richard was used to. 

“Because I’m a Geography teacher I was always able to draw on the experiences of different people from different cultures in my classroom,” says Richard, who enjoyed the multicultural communities in which he previously taught. "I had to really change my approach as a teacher as a consequence of that.”

As well as tweaking his lesson plans, Richard was also able to dial down his behaviour management. Having worked in state secondary schools in Islington, Tower Hamlets and Southwark, Richard was often faced with some challenging behaviour.

“Working in those schools was emotionally really tough,” says Richard. “The expectation of being able to know what to do with these really complex kids that come from some very complex situations, I found that increasingly challenging.”

"We do have our challenging kids here but they're outweighed by the lovely kids, so on the whole your experience with the students is incredibly positive.”

A different pace of life

Having moved schools three times in an eight-year London career, Richard had entered a world where your first teaching post could represent a job for life. With fewer schools to choose from, the opportunities to move around and climb the career ladder were limited.

“In London the turnover is really fast,” says Richard, “because if you want to move on there are thousands of schools and everywhere is relatively accessible. People move around pretty quickly, so you’re constantly getting refreshed with ideas and it becomes very dynamic.”

“The staff here are very stable,” he says. “You get people who get a job here and they will stay for 35 years. One teacher began her career here as a student teacher at 22 and she retired when she was 68. She never worked anywhere else.”

“When I arrived I found that I had to battle for recognition of what I did,” he says. “All the achievements I’d made in London and promotions and things that I’d lead, people weren’t really interested in it. I’ve talked to other teachers that have come here as experienced teachers and they’ve found that as well.”

Despite a significant pay cut and some initial teething problems, the improvement in quality of life had a significant impact. With Becky at home and Richard’s work-life balance in check, the charm of his new school began to take hold.

“It felt very homely,” says Richard, who has now been at Burgate School for over 12 years. “It was like going to your gran’s house and they’ve still got the furniture they had from the 60s. It was homely, it was comforting and it was very nice.”

No regrets leaving London?

Although he admits to occasionally reminiscing about life in London, there are no regrets following the big move.

“If I miss anything it’s the London that I had when I was in my 20s and early 30s when I didn’t have kids. If I went back to London now with my three kids that’s not what my life would be like.”

“Now we live by the forest and by the sea,” he says. “It’s incredible waking up on a Saturday morning and just knowing that whatever you do is going to be lovely.”

Is there really a London recruitment crisis