Teaching in the UK: An Irish Perspective by Claire Sayers!

Nina Boniface
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People always question how I found teaching in London… We’ve all heard the tales but do we believe everything we hear?

“Was the paperwork awful?” “Was it all admin?” “Was the behaviour really tough to handle?” “ Was it all work and no time for a life?”.

I graduated from UCC with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Irish in 2006 and found myself faced with the inevitable question “When are you applying for the dip (Teaching Diploma)?”. The truth of the matter was that I didn’t know at that point if I even wanted to be a teacher! As luck would have it, I was approached weeks later with an offer of subbing in a secondary school in North Dublin “for a few months”. Fast forward 2 years, I found myself with a permanent job in that school and in the throes of a Graduate Diploma in Education at DCU. I graduated with my GDEd in 2010.
While I absolutely loved my time teaching in North Dublin, by the time seven years had galloped by, I was ready for a change. I applied for a career break and off I set on my travels (trying to find myself of course).
I returned home on St Patrick’s Day 2014 with a face full of freckles, a skeletal bank account and absolutely no idea what to do with myself. My friend got in touch to say he was working with Engage Education doing supply work in London and advised me to contact them – so I did! At the beginning of my initial phone conversation with the consultant from Engage Education, I didn’t know if I was at all interested in moving the UK. By the time I hung up, I was ready to pack my bags!
I went to iday in May and interviewed for English teaching roles with 9 schools. During the 9th, the headteacher who was interviewing me threw me a curveball! He asked me if I would be interested in taking on a middle management position as Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at his school. While I had experience in SEN, pastoral leadership and curriculum leadership from my time in Dublin, I was bowled over at this opportunity. Later that week I visited the school, met some of the students, taught a lesson and spent some time with the senior leadership team. By the time I returned home on Friday I had accepted the offer of SENCo and was eagerly (and somewhat anxiously) awaiting my start in September.
I spent seven terms working as SENCo in West London and I honestly enjoyed every single day of it. The school had an Ofsted rating of “Requires Improvement” when I started there. Some may be put off by that, but for me, it was so exciting to be part of a school that was constantly striving for improvement. Eight months later when Ofsted returned, we were rated “Good”!
Teaching in the UK is different to teaching in Ireland. Different – that’s all. Sometimes difference is a very, very positive thing!
Any time that is given to paperwork is repaid by being handed your schemes of work and lesson plans, thereby reducing the time spent planning lessons. Children are children. Sometimes they misbehave – same as they do in Ireland or Canada or Australia. The structures for dealing with behaviour issues are watertight in UK schools. They have to be or else you’ll have Ofsted to answer to!
As for having a life outside work, YES I did! I was living in London for heaven’s sake! I took charge of my work/life balance and I made the most of all the opportunities that were an Oyster fare away. There was the occasional Saturday morning where I found myself eyeballing a stack of Year 11 English Mock papers and the Monday deadline for marks loomed. Those mock papers and I would jump on the tube and head into Hyde Park where we’d spend a few hours together with a bottomless cappuccino and a red pen!
It is what you make of it. Hand on heart, I believe that anyone pursuing a career in education should spend some time teaching in the UK. Opportunities are there to be taken. Progression is possible, even in the first year having QTS. CPD is part of your weekly diet. Classrooms are awaiting your arrival. Friends are there to be made. Home is just a flight away.
You return with a wealth of curricular experience. You taught children with SEN. You worked with EAL learners. You were a form tutor. You were a Duke of Edinburgh leader. Your CV is colourful and healthy. Your CV will stand out. You will realise that going to the UK was the best decision you could have made.

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