Northern lights: why I swapped London for Tyneside

Moving your career and your life 300 miles to the north of England is a big ask. We speak to one teacher who left London to make a new home on Tyneside

Tes Editorial

One Teacher Talks About Relocating From London To Newcastle

To young and ambitious teachers, London might look like the epicentre of education. With more than 3,000 schools to choose from and the transport links to make them accessible, the opportunities to climb the career ladder are everywhere. With such a diverse make-up of pupils from a range of backgrounds, there’s also a chance to make a real impact.

Outside of the classroom the array of culture, history and nightlife make it easy to see why the UK capital’s bright lights attract so many teachers from the rest of the UK and overseas.

But all this comes at a cost. The city is one of the most expensive in Europe and the average house price is £485,830, roughly 11 times the average salary of a teacher working in the capital.

Although improved pay for those teaching in Greater London eases some of the burden, many teachers decide to leave the city in search of more affordable accommodation. But leaving the culture and buzz of a vibrant capital city behind isn’t always easy.

Despite finding a school that was a great fit and enjoying her time in the city, for primary teacher Amy Lutton, the desire to have a place of her own forced her to think about a life outside of London.  

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in London,” says Lutton. “It was brilliant. It’s high stress but I think you get that in any teaching job. I absolutely loved my school and I was so sad to leave, but I was just fed up with the living situation in London.”

The cost of living in the capital

Having trained through Schools Direct at a primary school in Elephant and Castle, Lutton remained to complete her NQT year in south London. As part of a close-knit team, she enjoyed her role and the challenges that come with working in an inner-city school. But outside of the classroom, certain elements of London living were taking their toll.

“The road outside our school is one of the busiest in the UK,” she explains. “I didn’t really notice it but it was probably having more of an impact than I realised. I used to cycle to work and I was probably taking my life in my own hands a bit.”

Despite the inner London salary weighting, making London’s teachers the best-paid in the country, Lutton’s ambition to live in a place of her own meant looking outside of the capital.

“I just didn’t want to be in a shared house anymore,” she says. “I would have had to use most of my salary if I’d wanted to get somewhere on my own in London. You could get by, and a lot of people are a lot worse off, but it wasn’t a particularly high standard of living.”

Moving on up

Having previously studied in Newcastle and knowing a few friends in the area, Lutton decided that the North East offered the work-life balance she was looking for. 

With London experience on her CV, Lutton was offered a number of roles before taking up a long-term supply contract at a Newcastle primary.

In moving out of London, she was expecting to leave behind the diversity she enjoyed, and was pleasantly surprised at what she found when starting her first role.

“The school I’m in is really diverse, which I didn’t really expect but I really like,” Lutton explains. “But apart from that, I don’t really notice much difference. Maybe they have slightly less attitude than the kids in London.”

“Attainment wise, I’ve found the levels are actually a bit higher,” she says. “We get a large number of refugees, and there’s a specific English as an additional language class here, which has a much bigger impact on their learning than I expected. They catch up a lot faster than they do when they’re just thrown into the main class, like in London.”

Balancing the books

Despite new teachers getting paid almost £6,000 more in inner London, that soon gets sucked up into the costs associated with living in the capital. Trying to save money for a mortgage deposit can feel like an impossible task.

Resigned to the fact that she’ll take a pay cut when she accepts a permanent position, Lutton still feels like a financial weight will be lifted.  

“Day to day it’s noticeably cheaper up here,” she says. “You can get a pint for £3.50 whereas it’s as much as £6 in London. Commuting is a lot cheaper; eating out is cheaper.”

The driving force behind Lutton’s move to the North East, the reduced cost of accommodation, has also become immediately apparent. With average house prices in the region just a quarter of what you’d be expected to pay in the capital, the idea of saving a mortgage deposit suddenly becomes much more realistic.

“I’ve actually just bought a house this week,” she says, “and I could never have done that in London; ever. It’s just so much more affordable. I could never have imagined buying even a flat in London.”

Where countryside meets culture

In an area that, to outsiders perhaps, has something of an industrial reputation, it was the countryside that helped convince Lutton that a return to the North East was the right move.

“You can get the Metro out to the coast in 20 minutes where you can go surfing and kayaking,” she says. “Or you can drive into Northumberland in an hour and go for countryside walks; there’s just so much to do on your doorstep.”

But when asked whether this new life has had a cultural cost, the reality doesn’t seem as bad as she first thought.

“That was one of my biggest worries, actually: not being able to go to the theatre as much,” she says. “But they still have a lot of things on and there are a few smaller theatres, which probably couldn’t survive in London.”

Amy Lutton is a classroom teacher and ICT coordinator at Christchurch CE School, Newcastle