Just what the doctor ordered

4th June 2004 at 01:00
When a man is tired of London, said Samuel Johnson, he is tired of life. The same could be said about teachers working there, argues Janet Murray

To its detractors, London is overcrowded, overpriced and polluted. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you'll find a progressive city teeming with life. What's more, it doesn't have to be as expensive as you might think.

Adrian Jones, a primary teacher and key stage 2 co-ordinator at St Thomas'

Church of England school in north Kensington, believes the capital is a promotion-seeker's paradise. "If you are career-minded, the opportunities are fantastic," he says. "Because there's a high turnover of staff, there are excellent chances for promotion, even in the early stages of your career. London schools seem to be better resourced, too.

"Some schools around the country are just getting interactive whiteboards, for example. We've had them for years. There are so many new initiatives and so much money being ploughed into London schools - it all makes for an exciting working environment.

"The schools are so multicultural that in any one class you'll find children from a huge range of socio-economic backgrounds. It can be a baptism of fire, but it does give you a good grounding. It is tiring, which is why it's probably a good idea to do it when you're young, as the pupils tend to be incredibly lively."

English teacher Oliver Pinel agrees. A supply teacher in Newham, he has worked in schools across the capital. "There's something special about London kids," he says. "They seem to grow up more quickly and have more colourful experiences of life, which means they have a great sense of humour. They can be difficult, but they have this real sense of what they want and how they're going to get it, which is really refreshing. There is an indescribable buzz about city schools, a real spark that makes them interesting to work in."

And it's not just schools that are buzzing. The city is packed with pubs, clubs and theatres - everything you need for a lively social life. "Because staff turnover is higher than in other parts of the country, you do tend to get a lot of young, lively staff," says Mr Jones. "If you like to work and play hard, the possibilities are there."

But there is no escaping the fact that living in London can be a drain on your finances; the cost of living is much higher than in other parts of the country.

"At times, it feels as if you're spoilt for choice," says Mr Pinel. "You can easily blow pound;100 on eating and drinking well on a weekend, which is fine if you're young and single, like me. If I had a family, I'd be stuffed. I know of colleagues with families who have taken promotions just to get more money to support their family, which can be dicey, as you need people in positions of responsibility who want to do the job."

Expensive housing and a higher cost of living can put teachers off, but those in London receive inner and outer London allowances ranging from around pound;900 to pound;3,500, which helps ease the strain. Some boroughs even offer incentives, such as railcards or relocation packages, so shop around to see what is available.

But socialising in London needn't burn a hole in your pocket. If you know where to look, you can get in free or at reduced rates to many clubs, exhibitions, galleries, museums, concerts and theatres. But for many teachers, London's extortionate rents and property prices are still its biggest downside. Latest figures from the Halifax house price index show that the average London house costs pound;239,552. Renting a room in a shared flat or house is likely to cost upwards of pound;100 per week.

But help is at hand. "Teachers concerned about finding a home in London should be reassured by the number of choices out there," says Kevin Jones, assistant director of Tower Homes, a housing association that specialises in building and refurbishing homes for shared ownership. "Whether they're looking to buy or rent, initiatives such as key worker living have been designed to help them."

The key worker living programme offers teachers and other key workers equity loans of up to pound;50,000 towards buying a home, higher equity loans of up to pound;100,000 for teachers likely to be the future leaders of London schools, and shared ownership (part-buy, part-rent) of newly built properties. For those not looking to buy, there is intermediate renting at subsidised rates.

To qualify for the higher equity loans, teachers must work in a public-funded school in Greater London and be in a field such as advanced skills teaching, leadership or a shortage subject.

Those interested in shared ownership can contact housing associations in the borough where they teach, as key workers have priority for most shared ownership schemes. "At Tower Homes, for example, in Beckton, prices start at pound;66,000 for a 40 per cent share in a two-bedroom flat," says Kevin Jones.

But for teachers such as Adrian Jones, financial considerations cannot override the attractions of teaching in the capital. "It's so vibrant and diverse, which makes London schools dynamic places to work. I'd never teach anywhere else in the UK."


www.keyworkerliving.co.ukschemes offers information about this government-led initiative. Has links to housing schemes for key workers in London and the south east. www.towerhomes.org.uk is a housing association that specialises in building and refurbishing homes for the part-buy, part-rent scheme called Shared Ownership. www.teachlondon.com offers teaching jobs in London and throughout England.www.londontourist.orgfree.html has ideas for free or nearly free activities in London.

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