Top tips for a London calling

9th January 1998 at 00:00
As many as one in three newly qualified teachers end up in the nation's capital. For those who feel the lure of London Phil Revell offers a wealth of invaluable advice on what the boroughs are offering, where to look for work, and how to set about finding a home

Thirty-three local authorities, more than 2,000 schools, serving a population of 10 million people. It's no wonder the London area draws in nearly one in three newly qualified teachers. These will need more than a spotted handkerchief and a trusty black cat, and the streets are paved with sleeping bags rather than gold, but London offers real opportunities for young teachers keen to acquire a whole range of experiences - not all related to the classroom. The problem is not so much where to find a job, as vacancies are abundant.

It's the practical details of finding somewhere to live, travelling to work and avoiding the awful isolation which can strike people who move to big cities without an existing network of friends and contacts.

Affordable accommodation is in short supply. In some boroughs rents are likely to be beyond the reach of a teacher's salary, yet the journey into work from cheaper areas can cost an arm and a leg.

Most young teachers are thinking about the kind of school where they hope to start their career. They would be well advised to also consider how employers can help with the move to the metropolis.

A TES survey of London boroughs reveals a very mixed picture, with some areas working hard to attract new teachers and others content to allow individual schools to manage by themselves.

Delegated budgets mean that the schools bear the costs of recruitment, either directly or indirectly, and some boroughs said it was "all up to individual schools". Yet others have worked with their headteachers and governing bodies to create recruitment packages which give practical and financial support in the vital first few months of a job.

Accommodation is probably the biggest headache that anyone moving to the Smoke is likely to encounter and 20 boroughs try to assist. This can range from a simple list of addresses, to vetted contacts, meetings with agents or borough-owned flats and houses reserved for teachers. A number of authorities try to tempt teachers with golden hellos of one type or another. Not quite up to City standards, they do at least represent a little bit extra in those first months after college.

Newham will pay newly qualified teachers a Pounds 500 golden hello next year and Barking pay the inner London allowance to all their teaching staff. A number of authorities will pay the first three salary cheques in fortnightly instalments and two offer interest free loans.

A good combination of financial and professional support is offered by those authorities that encourage schools to appoint the newly qualified on a supply basis in the summer term. This can last from a few days to a month and gives valuable contact time with the school as well as a welcome boost to the pocket. Barking and Lewisham take this one stage further and appoint from July, giving a six week salary bonus.

Some authorities produce a "survival guide". This is often part of the induction process and usually details advisory support and teaching resources in the borough. Most offer some kind of social support, even it is only an opportunity to meet other new teachers at the induction briefing.


"Nice two-bedroomed flat, sir? That'll be Pounds 400 a week. Or perhaps madam is thinking of buying, we have a very nice property available at a quarter of a million pounds, two bedrooms, en suite of course." Property in London can be astronomically expensive. Most teachers moving into the area will be looking to share, but that can still be prohibitive. It pays to cut the costs by comparing areas, but even then prices within an area can vary widely. In Hammersmith the average weekly rent for a room is Pounds 83, but London Research Centre's figures show that rents in the borough range between Pounds 35 and Pounds 166 a week. Inevitably you get what you pay for.

Few starting out in teaching would be in a position to buy. The cheapest properties in London are in the Pounds 50,000 region and a Halifax spokesperson quoted Pounds 381 as the likely monthly repayment on the mortgage needed. Banks and building societies like teachers. Teaching is seen as a "secure job with earning stability". Whether property in London is an investment or a millstone is a question teachers should address to their financial adviser. One estate agent told The TES that 1998 would be a good time to get into the market - but then he would, wouldn't he?

The real problem is that prospective tenants and purchasers need some local knowledge if they are to avoid being landed with a turkey. Buying is probably not a sensible option for someone new to London.

Barking and Richmond

Andrea, Andrew and Ginny are newly qualified teachers in Barking. They're living along with 60 other teachers in Butler Court, Barking's purpose-built accommodation for teachers in the borough. From the outside Butler Court looks like a university residence block and the feeling persists inside. It has single bedrooms, communal leisure and cooking facilities, a laundry and a warden. But Andrea and company disagree.

"It's much more up market," says Andrea.

Converted from two-tier garages in 1991, Butler Court rooms cost between Pounds 51 and Pounds 68 a week. This is inclusive of heat, light and council tax, and is remarkably good value. Priority is given to new teachers, though residents can stay on if there is room.

"They're sometimes a bit reluctant to move out at the end of their first year," says Ray Cox, Barking's personnel office with a brief to look after the scheme.

"Moving into a place like this," says Andrea, "you get to meet quite a few other people - rather than in a house with people you know nothing about. "

The teachers also appreciate the fact that, after a trying day at school, there are other people who will understand the problems and be able to offer support and advice. Shop is obviously a dominant topic of conversation.

Barking's recruitment package includes Butler Court, summer term working, pay during the long holiday and strong professional support. Andrew Birch worked for a month in his school during the summer, an experience he recommends.

"You get to know the school, the way it works, and the teachers," Andrea agrees, arguing that "it's a definite advantage because you are going into an environment in September you are already familiar with".

Barking's induction week is the first week in August and includes lectures on curriculum issues, child protection, a guide to authority services and a resource guide to the borough. All three teachers found it useful Also included was a "teacher box" with scissors, paper, holepunch, dictionary, notepaper and other resources.

"It's been invaluable," says Ginny, "I've still got it."

Across the city in Richmond, Alison Foster is sharing a house with three teachers and a French assistant.

The rent is just under Pounds 300 a month and includes bills. This compares favourably with the very high rents in the area.

Richmond provides new teachers with a comprehensive benefits package which includes the council owned "bedsits", close links with a housing association, a two-week summer placement in their contacted school and priority at day nurseries for mature teachers with children. In primary first appointments they work a 0.9 timetable.

Education officer Jill Marshall Andrews is keen to point out that most of Richmond's schools have signed on to the package. "After the recruitment crisis in 1990 we moved into recruitment and retention in a big way, she says. "We've simply kept it up."

City of London

Susanne Clough, who teaches a Year 1 class at Sir John Cass primary school, should be the most pampered newly qualified teacher in London. She has a local education authority all to herself. Susanne works in the City, and the Corporation of London has just the one school - hers.

The school is named after a City benefactor who set up a charitable foundation that supports two schools in the area and other projects.

"The school is well off compared with others," says Susanne. Her benefits package includes concessionary prices at the Barbican Centre, but London has proved a culture shock for a Yorkshire lass "I'm not used to cities, I get claustrophobic on the Tube and I spend a lot of time travelling, so I'm really tired when I get back in the evening."

Susanne had friends who worked in the City and fondly imagined that she might step into a lively social scene. "I've seen them once, the whole term."

Sir John Cass has a largely Bengali intake and Susanne still finds the cultural differences difficult to adjust to.

"And city kids don't really get outside much," she says. "They've got too much energy when they come in to school."


For much of London the car is not a practical means of transport. Parking is expensive and difficult and a journey longer than a few hundred yards can take two or three times as long as the Tube.

So Londoners endure the Tube, packed in like sardines and paying through the nose for the privilege.

But not Jean Curry. Jean teaches in east London and cycles to work.

"At first it didn't enter my head. It seemed a long way and there was the traffic."

Then Jean discovered the recommended routes provided by the London Cycle Campaign and her route now takes her through parks, quiet suburban streets and along the South Bank. She saves Pounds 27 per week and says that she feels "more tired and frazzled" on the occasional days when she forsakes the bike to go by the Tube.

"It's a great time to relax and plan my day. I try to get there pretty early, it takes 20 minutes to shower, freshen up and get changed. There are 8 of us that cycle out of a staff of about 70 - we all put our bikes in the staffroom. "

Why London?

PGCE students at London's Institute of Education are well placed to comment on the benefits of living and working in the city.

Sam Balhatcher had always wanted to work in London, "It's busy, I like big towns and there are lots of job.'' "The challenges are more intense," said Seth Atkin.

The student group The TES spoke to were most concerned about the professional support and ethos of the school they would be teaching in. Financial and practical considerations were secondary.

"Anything after a student grant will be a luxury," said Sam. "It's more important to work in a good school, one with a good ethos."

Seth was attracted to boroughs which offer recruitment packages, "It shows that they believe in schools and teachers,'' he said.

All agreed that London was an especially good place for the young and single.

"If you know London well enough it's quite easy to have an affordable social life,'' said Seth.

"I'm looking forward to enjoying living in London," said Matthew Clark. "With Pounds 16,000 a year I might able to afford to."

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