There have been quite a few blog posts and articles regarding the working conditions for many private English language schools in the UK and abroad. Most of the constructive feedback regarding the private EFL industry revolve around remuneration, or the lack of it. I wanted to share my experiences of working in the UK EFL industry and what made me quit my permanent job.
I should say that this blog post is not a wholly critical look at the EFL industry but rather (I hope) a balanced view of my experiences and what led up to me leaving my last employers.
I have worked in the EFL industry since 2005, teaching in South Korea, Romania and the UK. For the vast majority of time (now), I have spent my years teaching general English and young learners in the UK. Only recently have I managed to dip my toes into academic English teaching and was involved my first pre-sessional English course in the summer.
Nevertheless, I had reached a stumbling block with regards to my employment. I had worked for the same organisation since 2009 (on and off), with the last five or six years permanently. At first, I enjoyed my job and the responsibility that I had. I was able to develop the young learner curriculum and was involved with projects throughout the year. I learnt a lot and I still appreciate the experience that the organisation provided.
I received recognition twice during the preparation of the British Council and also the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) inspection. Both inspections take up a lot of time with all staff members involved in the preparation, writing lesson plans for the week and getting things ready. It is usually a very stressful time and most staff are reminded on the process of lesson planning and how best to divide time with planning for classes.
Anyhow, my motivation started to wane last year. During my annual appraisal, I reminded my line manager (the Director of Studies) that I hadn’t received a pay rise for (what was then) four years. He was very supportive and told me that he was in the same position. This is not what I wanted to hear. All I required was that my unhappiness was communicated to the owners of the organisation and that I would (hopefully) hear of any decision regarding my salary review. There was no news or update for a number of months, so I enquired again but was told that the business was being sold so there was no position to review any salaries in the organisation.
Meanwhile, what was really annoying was the fact that, not only permanent members of staff but also those on casual contracts, had limited hourly rates of pay. There were fewer and fewer EFL teachers wishing to work for the school and the Director of Studies was forced to approach a local company offering agency teachers (non-EFL qualified) to cover classes. I was required to devise a lesson for each cover teacher (sometimes up to three at a time) as well as my own. The quality of teaching was questionable, the pay for agency staff were greater than EFL teachers and the experience of agency staff was best suited to the state sector (primary, junior or secondary education). It felt rather disheartening to see other people coming in, being paid more, without the professionalism that other EFL teachers had. It made me question what I was doing.
Anyhow, I gave the company the benefit of the doubt and waited till my next salary review. The British Council inspection was a success and my role and contribution was mentioned in the report and this was high-lighted in the annual appraisal. I said, “As I have contributed to the organisation and supported the most recent inspection, I think it only fair that my salary is reviewed”. Again, this request was declined and it went no further than the Director of Studies. So, I decided to take drastic action.
I approached both directors of the organisation with information regarding the fees of all young learners charged for the last five years and any increase. Armed with this knowledge, I calculated what my salary would be if it matched the increase in fees that young learners were charged. They were surprised and didn’t know what to say – requiring a few days to process this. I was called into the office and told that they couldn’t afford to review my salary. I told them that if they couldn’t match my salary, then they could consider offering a few more extra days paid holiday. This was declined and then the big reason which made me reconsider what I had been doing.
One of the directors then told me that I had a salary increase but it wouldn’t seem like a pay increase as they were contributing to my private pension. I told them that it was a legal requirement and that they wouldn’t do it had they not been forced to by law. And the whole idea this being a pay increase was absurd. If you look at your take home pay, it was decreasing as I had to contribute more and more to a private pension. You look at HMRC and on my P60, I would be earning less. I thought why am I putting so much effort into trying to get my salary reviewed or increasing my holiday entitlement when the directors don’t wish to accommodate anything?
Soon afterwards, I handed in my notice and then managed to secure summer employment with a local University and the rest is history. I am now gaining more experience teaching academic English and was most recently involved in a pre-sessional programme during the summer months, preparing students for their post-graduate studies at the University. It is incredibly rewarding, professional and a very supportive environment.
So, what should the EFL industry in the UK try to do better? Well the industry must reward teachers for their preparation time, not just the in-class hours. With the national minimum salary increasing year on year, the gap between menial jobs and professional English teaching careers is narrowing. There was discussion that the living wage would soon be £10 or more. Surely the rate of hourly pay be nearer £25-30 in the private EFL industry?
They should also review the rates of pay for teachers who have committed a lot of their working career to this profession. More and more EFL professionals have a lot more experience and qualifications (DELTA or equivalent), but the opportunities are not commensurate to those accreditations gained. And, there needs to be a nationwide union to support EFL teachers who need help rather than being disbanded during the quieter periods of the year with their language schools.
I do hope that the EFL industry in the UK evolves and that teachers are rewarded and recognised for their contribution.