London’s calling

June 2010


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London’s calling

KATE RUSSELL talks to Erin O’Shea about the landscape of early childhood teaching in the big UK smoke

Playground space is a premium for London’s toddlers, according to Erin O’Shea.

The New Zealand trained early childhood educator has been teaching in the UK since May 2009 and is currently leading a reception class of four to five-year-olds at Mount Stewart Infant School in Brent, North London.

After growing up in Hawera, O’Shea completed her three year bachelor of teaching in early childhood education at the University of Waikato in 2005. Before heading overseas she taught in New Zealand for three-and-a-half years to gain her teacher registration. She decided to go to London as she thought it would be a good base for her to work and earn money to travel around Europe.

O’Shea had no problems getting her qualification verified and finding work in London before she left. She joined a teacher recruitment agency which sent her qualification certificate, a copy of her teacher registration and a police check ahead of her. When she arrived in London she was also required to gain UK teacher registration and undergo a UK police check.

At first O’Shea worked as a daily supply teacher for her recruitment agency. “Going through an agency is a great way to become familiar with how early childhood services are run,” she says.

O’Shea then covered a six-month maternity leave position in East London before starting her current position.

She wasn’t required to retrain when she arrived in the UK, but if she plans to stay there for more than four years she will need to gain qualified teacher status. This involves collecting evidence of planning and assessment and sitting some tests.

According to O’Shea, there are some big differences between New Zealand’s and the UK’s early childhood education systems, and she admits it took her a while to adjust. In the UK there are nurseries which cater for children aged three to four, and then reception classes catering for children aged four to five.

“Nursery is really similar to how New Zealand early childhood services are run, and reception is between a New Zealand early childhood service and a new entrant classroom.”

It took her a while to get used to the different methods of planning and assessment, as well as taking on the role of the lead teacher. In the UK, nurseries consist of 30 children, one teacher, two nursery nurses and some are attached to schools. The reception class also consists of 30 children, one teacher and only one teaching assistant.

Resources are also limited, which restricts O’Shea extending children’s interests and creativity.

“New Zealand provides more resources to extend the whole child,” she says. “Most early childhood services in New Zealand have a great playground outside for children to extend their physical abilities. In London the school playgrounds are smaller.”

One of O’Shea’s biggest challenges is her current position in a reception class which involves more structured activities such as writing, reading, maths and recording child-initiated work.

As much as she enjoys teaching in London, O’Shea definitely wants to come back to teach in New Zealand when she has finished travelling.

“I think New Zealand early childhood education is amazing, and this experience has made me think how much I value teaching in New Zealand,” she says. “It’s been beneficial to experience another education system, and it made me realise I prefer teaching the emergent curriculum that I believe New Zealand does so well.”