So why did you leave the UK?

I left the UK a year ago to join a growing number of teachers who had left for sunnier, Ofsted-free climes. I remember talking to my union rep in the countdown to my departure, she asked if I knew how many had gone for my job. I said the Headteacher received over a thousand applicants for it and I sighed. And I sighed because that’s 1000 teachers who wanted to leave the UK teaching profession. But with constant criticism and degradation of the profession, it isn’t surprising.

There are some definite upsides to teaching internationally especially here in Bangkok but there are also some downsides. I am lucky enough to be part of an amazing community of ex-pat teachers who have shared some of their experiences with me.

One definitive upside is the weather, we all agree that an escape to Ko Samet is possible most weekends and there is no horrible November feeling when the nights last longer than the days and your workload feels like an impenetrable fog.

The international teaching day is longer, lessons start early when most UK teachers are huddled around a Nescafe but this is counteracted by more non-contacts. In the UK, your non-contacts are protected by the Teacher’s Pay & Conditions. In International schools, there are no such agreements and although pay can be higher, the contracts are for two years and if your face don’t fit, you could be out the door.

The anxiety caused by two year contracts permeates staff rooms, there is a lot more jostling for favour and as a rule, unhappy teachers just put and shut up. This itself leads to insular and very retrogressive teaching styles; death by PowerPoint and copy and comprehend exercises. But then it is no surprise when CPD (Professional Development) is seen as expensive and unnecessary by some international schools.

Pity the poor international school leaders, they live in fear of ‘personal problems prevent me from returning’ emails which is code for I got a better offer elsewhere. A headteacher in Bangkok told me schools within the city had an unwritten rule, like a code of honour, a promise not hire anyone breaking  contract. There are pressures like performance related pay and school numbers- these exist in the UK too as the academisation of UK state schools unfolds. However, allowing a student to drop a subject is far more acceptable than palatable.

Do I leave at 4pm swishing my handbag like a comprehensive school RE teacher? Yes because my day allows me to mark, plan and prep everything during my contracted hours. A dream for most UK teachers. Can I hit that beach this weekend, yes. Is my marking up to date? Yes. Is anyone checking? No.

International classrooms can be more creative and are often equipped with new technologies which lends itself perfectly to collaboration from peer marking to Skyping classroom’s further afield. Have I become a better teacher? I hope so mostly because I am no longer on the battery hen production line of data driven, too – little – too late interventions and unrealistic targets set by managers in offices who rarely come into contact with children let alone pupils.

I have smaller classes, more time to actualize personal learning, to realise potential and to raise aspirations. To work one-to-one with a struggling student or provide something extra for the Gifted and Talented pupil. We can connect via email, use VLEs to their full potential, international teachers move in different circles not bound by some of the more stringent rules. There are no behaviour issues to deal with but support for SEN and EAL can be sketchy and varies from school to school. It isn’t perfect, but no where is.

Underneath all these layers of pros and cons, lies the heart and soul of any good school, the pupil. I have met the most wonderful students but  the international school is not at the heart of a community like a UK school. The parents offer no loyalty, just high expectations and can (and do) move their children at a term’s notice. Education is a commodity; it is a transient world, where teachers, schools and parents are interchangeable and replaceable.

Would I swap it, change it? Not for the world. Ok maybe not for England right now.

Previously posted on September 2013


About milkwithtwo

A blog about my experience as a Head of Year, looking at some of the issues faced by young people and teachers in the UK. Offering straight-talking child-centred advice.
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7 Responses to So why did you leave the UK?

  1. The Lighthouse Under The Stars says:

    I have to totally agree with this. Whilst the country we live in might not meet all of our expectations, we no longer see ourselves returning to the mother-land. Sometimes this is a raw and sad emotion, there’s definitely things/ppl/places I miss, but I would never return to the 12 hr working day, the threat of Ofsted or the constant complaints from clients…

  2. MARY KNIGHT says:

    Died this mean you’re not coming back to the uk to teach again? X

    Mary Knight London, UK


  3. Hello again, This is awkward! I pressed the send instead of save button! Please disregard my last email. I was drafting an email to see if you were still interested in collaborating over email. Perhaps trading strategies? However I see you’re now at an international school (I’m assuming IB?). Are you still using similar strategies? My current school is a diverse but stereotypical country Australian school – not unlike the white working class schools of England. In the new school year – we run January to December – I was looking to try and bring in a more “international” flair; exposing my students to different parts of the world through English. I’m trading filmed questions with a school in the US, and am always looking for new ways to expose my kids to “real” communication strategies. Is that an avenue you’d like to pursue as well? Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks, Cathryn From: To: Subject: RE: [New post] So why did you leave the UK? Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2013 17:47:13 +0800

    Hi there, I commented on your blog not too long ago about using different strategies for disengaged, fidgety kids, and said I’d get in touch to collaborate Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2013 07:25:03 +0000 To:

  4. Hi there, I commented on your blog not too long ago about using different strategies for disengaged, fidgety kids, and said I’d get in touch to collaborate Date: Wed, 30 Oct 2013 07:25:03 +0000 To:

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