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From the Long White Cloud to the Big Smoke

From the Long White Cloud to the Big Smoke

Just over a year into teaching in London and I’ve done a mix of long term supply and daily supply, teaching at least a block in every year level from Nursery (three year-olds) up to Year 13. I’ve come a long way in adjusting from teaching in NZ but that’s not without numerous fish-out-of-water days. If you’re curious about what teaching in the Big Smoke is like, here’s a bit of a rundown of the differences that stood out most to me:

Structure of the school year

Instead of being divided into four terms, the school year over here is split up into three terms (Autumn, Spring and Summer), each of which is made up of two half-terms. Gotta say, this is a big plus. Just as you’re on the downhill with declining energy levels and growing piles of work to catch up on, you get a magical one week off to catch your breath. It may be just that – a chance to catch your breath – but it is welcome nonetheless. 

School buildings

Walking down the street, you can pick out a school building with pretty high confidence; it’s not from the luscious green field and lollipop lady but rather the distinctive Victorian building style. Many schools sport the same sandy-yellow exterior with orange brick detail and white-framed sash windows. In addition to this, the school buildings are always surrounded by brick fences which tower over children and adults alike. Talk about imposing. Not quite the dinky neighbour’s fence that a child could easily vault over to fetch a soccer ball in NZ. 

Curriculum, Planning and Assessment

You’ve probably already heard this; the curriculum over here is very prescriptive. Coverage of the curriculum is planned out down to the week, day and lesson. Especially with shared team planning, there is often little to no scope for flexibility. On the plus side, you get this crazy thing called PPA a.k.a. RELEASE TIME every week for 10% of your timetabled teaching time which you can use to plan and prepare resources for the next week. Brilliant. I haven’t had any experience with SATs but the glimpse I had into preparing Year 1s for their Phonics Screening Check (before Covid hit) was enough for me to get a sense of the intense stress on teachers, students and parents over standardised assessments. 

School lunches

Sorry I should say “dinners”. For children in Reception, Year 1 & 2 as well as students from low socio-economic backgrounds, free hot school meals are provided at school every day. Outside of this, most students in primary schools also eat these hot school meals for a small cost. It’s quite a different sight to the lunch boxes of sandwiches, fruit and a bag of chips that I was used to seeing. Most meals look pretty tasty and throw in a few veggies; the most popular meals amongst the kids always seem to be the stuffed jacket potatoes and Fish & Chip Fridays. School dinners can be a huge logistical nightmare for schools, especially during lockdown closures, but it seems like a great initiative to me and would be cool to see introduced back home.


My first thought on this front was: What? No teacher laptops?! I had 100% been banking on getting a work laptop when I arrived in London so to find out that I’d be relying on a desktop computer in my classroom and then a computer lab for planning was a bit of a surprise. Pre-Covid, all lessons involved bookwork; there had to be paper evidence of work in every child’s book EVERY lesson; at minimum a page of photos of students doing the practical learning task with a WALT at the top. Yes, there were ipads to share across the year levels and SMART Boards but I did feel like I’d taken a step back in time (especially seeing the inky pen cursive writing from Year 3 upwards). 

Then came the pandemic. Schools were far less prepared to transition to online learning than in NZ. So many students just did not have access to devices so lessons couldn’t be taught online – instead paper ‘learning packs’ were printed off at schools and picked up by parents. It’s only nine months later that remote learning has really been getting underway and there are still many students who are unable to access lessons on an appropriate or reliable device. 


Obviously this varies. Before I came over here, other teachers had told me that students over here were just ‘different’. What could they mean? Surely kids are always kids. I see what they mean now and it is kind of hard to put your finger on. The best explanation I can come up with is that it is generally MUCH harder to build a rapport with students over here. I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was because of the cultural differences or me not ‘getting’ them, but I’ve felt like I’ve had to work extremely hard to get a smidge of respect from students over here – even the young ones who you would usually expect to adore you from the second you called their name on the roll. 

There have been some really challenging students that I’ve had to deal with across several schools. I’ve been brought to tears in a lesson by the actions of one of my students, which was up there with my worst days of teaching in the past five years. Also, purely anecdotally, I’ll have to say that teachers over here – including TAs – end up yelling a lot. I’ve never been a shouty teacher so it came as quite a shock to my system. The students I’ve seen seem very much acclimatised to it though… The same kind of reward systems like ClassDojo, school value charts, traffic lights and house points are widely used in schools so in that respect, behaviour management is familiar territory. A big perk is that you’re usually not alone in the classroom as there is often provision for Teacher Aides, Teaching Assistants or even a T2 (second teacher for team teaching) during core subjects which is a huge help. 


Ah. So I’ll have to admit that I didn’t do enough research on this early on when I was looking into finding a job in London. I had a self-recorded video interview to complete for a teaching agency and one of the questions asked me to explain what teachers needed to do as part of their safeguarding obligations. I was squirming in my seat as I tried to bluff an answer and quickly proceeded to the next question with a forced smile. It’s not that it’s anything you couldn’t figure out but you’re likely to get caught off guard about it because it isn’t taken so seriously in NZ. When you start work for a school or agency, you will need to take part in training to ensure that you understand what you need to look out for and how to respond appropriately to any safeguarding concerns.

Schools are much more pedantic over here; at some schools, if a kid gets so much as a cut, grazed knee or bruised shin, it needs to be documented. A bump to the head (which happens literally every day in the playground) requires a concussion form to be filled out for parents or a call home. At the end of each day in primary schools in London, students must be lined up and delivered directly to their parents or designated caregiver. Also, it is not okay to have your phone out in schools – some schools go as far to request that you leave it in a locker throughout the day.

Accents, Lingo and Names

“Miiiiss can I have some war-ah (water)?” This always drives me insane. Another thing that really triggered me for a long time was kids correcting me for saying “aitch” (H) rather than “haitch”. I really miss the Kiwi accent and would do anything to hear a “yous” or “sweet as”. 

Don’t get me started on lingo; it took me a solid six weeks to stop saying “Come and sit on the mat” and instead call it the “carpet”. Same with saying the “roll” which must be “register” and “sneakers” which must be “trainers” (this so-called “error” caused the biggest uproar of laughter from one of my Year 8 classes). A BT is an NQT, ERO is OFSTED, ‘relieving’ is ‘supply’, ‘Health’ falls under the broader subject of PSHE, a ‘bus-stop’ activity is called a ‘carousel’ and so the list goes on.

A whole different demographic brought with it a brand new catalogue of names. I couldn’t rely on my old learning names trick of associating a students’ name with someone I already knew. I swear it took me 3x as long to learn the names of my students when I started out.

A bit of a random one to finish with…

I haven’t heard a normal school bell ring in a primary school yet but there’s a funny system here (I thought it was only done in one school until I saw the same thing happen at a bunch of other schools) where a handheld bell is rung by a teacher on duty who yells “FREEZE” at the top of their lungs to all the students in the playground…usually followed by “STOP”, an angry march over to a child who took two steps further and a hands-on-hips “YOU NEED TO STOP WHEN THE BELL RINGS!” The teacher then orders the students to line up by their class teacher and the motley crew of students magically fall into line. Voilà! It’s quite the operation and always taken very seriously.


So there you have it; a bite-sized dip into teaching in London. This has been a rollercoaster of an experience so far and I’m sure that I’ll continue to discover differences, perks and quirks as we press on through the uncertain waters of 2021.


Have you taken the leap and moved to London to teach? What differences stuck out most to you? Share your comments below! 👇

Katherine is a primary school teacher from New Zealand currently teaching in London. After five years of full time teaching in the primary years, she decided to shake things up and jump into the world of supply teaching. She’s been busy building a website with her partner called Check out her blog featuring living and teaching in London articles and her recently launched at the LAST minute teaching resources page for free, high-quality resources designed for those times when you just need an activity to grab and go!


IPhoto by Heidi Fin on Unsplash


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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