This kind of question is thrown around all the time and one I struggle to answer without an extended story. My experience of teaching agencies in London has been mixed. I hope this post can help at least one person to make more informed decisions. Furthermore, I’m not putting my experience out there to rag on particular agencies that I had negative experiences with. This is not a name and shame post – anyone who wants more information can DM me on twitter. However, I know if I had done more research and if I had read a story like this one, there are mistakes I would have avoided for sure. Bullet point advice at the bottom of the post.
I came to London with one agency organised months in advanced and was spun a convincing story that they would be able to get me a permanent placement before I arrived. As D-day drew nearer I became increasingly concerned that no viable schools were on the table. The closest we got was a school in Canvey Island which is a 2 hour commute from central London. I was expecting to get at least a Skype interview before arriving in London, however, the only interview that eventuated from this agency was scheduled for two weeks into term with no work prospects before then. My response was to search for jobs myself and send them to this agencies saying ‘what about these?’ One of those turned into trial and a job offer. But after experiencing that school I turned it down for a range of reasons. It wasn’t right for me. The job interview that eventually came around was promising, but I wasn’t offered that position because I didn’t have enough UK experience. No further job interviews or opportunities came up before I left the agency a couple of weeks later.
I found this agency lacked relationships with London Secondary Schools. While I often want to support the little player – a agency without connections is not much use in this market. I found that their consultants to be inexperienced in education and were poor communicators. Furthermore, their lack of transparency around pay lead to massive complications and they were responsible for losing my DBS certificate which became vital later on down the line (and actually lost me a few days of work). It took four months to be paid for the two weeks of work I did with them. Throughout that time there was countless emails and answerphone messages. It took contacting the CEO to have the matter resolved and get the pay sent to me. I am still trying to get a pay receipt for that sum for tax purposes so the nightmare is still not over.
My next move was to sign up with multiple agencies. I contacted six over a weekend and started back to back meetings on Monday. By Tuesday I had signed up to three more agencies and the race was on.
Agency Two – ANZUK
I had a really positive experience with ANZUK. Their specialty is day-to-day supply and short term teaching placements for largely inexperienced teachers from Australia and NZ. I starting working for them only a day after our first face-to-face meeting (they fast-tracked my clearance) and their systems for on the day supply are exceptional. The communication is clear and they are connected to a large range of quality schools around London. They also host a range of events and this can be a great way of connecting with people in a similar situation. I did several one-off days at various schools with them and one four week placement. It wasn’t 100% positive: they did unprofessionally promote an umbrella company on me (more on this later), and I found the quality of their professional development fairly poor. It’s worth mentioning that this is the type of experience one can have when supply teaching, but I think there’s a lot to learn from this too.
Agency Three – SMART Teachers
I also signed up with SMART Teachers. Of all the introductory meetings and interviews with agencies I had, I was most impressed with Kayleigh from SMART teachers, she got me and my experience straight away and listened to me in a way that made me feel valued. I’m disappointed that I didn’t end up working with a school via this agency. They didn’t win the race, but I would have no hesitation in recommending this agency.
The last agency I signed up with ended up winning the race. They were connected to a school with a position that was a superb fit for me. I did a trial day, which quickly evolved into an interview and it was a done deal very quickly.
My first impressions of this agency were really strong. It was great at establishing a relationship that was personable and friendly. However, these first impressions didn’t last and things quickly fell apart. As the process went on, I felt increasingly uncomfortable about things I was told that turned out to be…shall we say…a stretch of the truth. The worst interactions came between the job offer and my acceptance of the job. Even though I owned the decision in the end and said yes on my terms, I still felt manipulated. Disappointingly, it was several months after I had started the job when the conditions of my acceptance actually all came through (this included salary, start date, and subjects I had agreed to teach). I am certain the agency is more at fault for this than the school. The money situation was the worst, as I was put in the uncomfortable position of being between what the school thought they had agreed to, and what I had agreed with the agency. We came to the right resolution, but I should never have been in that position. Finally, I found out from my HR department that they are one of the most expensive agencies the school has ever hired from. I did not feel good about this.
I would absolutely not recommend this agency as they also ended up owning me money that took over two months to settle. The kicker was after I sent my last polite email confirming that the money had arrived, the reply that came was:
Pleasure, the least I could do!
- Sign up to multiple agencies. At least three. Each will have different contacts and relationships with different schools; it will maximise your chances of getting in the right school for you.
- If possible, request a day of relief as an interview. It’s a much better way of getting a feel for a school and it offers the school a way of getting a feel for you. A trial lesson is fine, but it suits the school more than it suits you so keep that in mind.
- On a related note, I never got my head around how to read a school from the outside. Some of the worst days teaching were at schools with the best online appearance. The only effective way of judging a school I found was spending a day on the ground.
- Get your head around Umbrella Companies as soon as possible. It will come up. I believe that when you weigh it up, the benefits are largely the agencies, and you will be worse off. I felt forced into an umbrella company contract and had I been informed I would have not gone down this road.
- Use email as much as possible and have all promises and agreements from the agencies in writing.