Following the closure of Grafton College, we have decided to publish stories from teachers about the effects of these closures on their lives. If you want to contribute your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org in confidence.
This is my story
My school closed suddenly in 2011. I had been working with them since 2003, it was my first school. As teachers, all we knew was that the numbers were dropping – the owner claimed that the Brazilian market had shut down (clearly not the case) and the Saudi Arabian students that we had were known for leaving schools as a group and going to a new one.
They had also made redundancies not long before it happened, which they did via a points scheme. Everyone gained or lost points depending on length of service, qualifications, whether they’d ever been in trouble with the manager etc. Some people quit straight away because they knew they wouldn’t have enough points to stay. This was mainly due to the new regulations at the time saying that evening classes were no longer allowed.
Out of nowhere
Then, in the middle of the school day, a manager went around asking us all to stay for a meeting that it was “important” for us to attend. She didn’t give any hint of what was happening. During the meeting, the owner announced that they were closing – effective immediately – and not to come in the next day. We were all pretty stunned. I don’t even know how the students were informed but I met some of them over the coming days and although the office staff continued working for a while to get their certificates out to them, they were all upset and worried as well. It seemed to take a long time for some of them to even get proof that they had done a course with us.
We had to attend several redundancy meetings where the manager “gave notice”, attempting to follow some kind of employment law, but not doing it in the right way. We were told we had no right to be at any meeting of creditors. We were paid wages up to the last day, which at least was better than some people’s situations, but waited several months for the notice pay and longer for redundancy money to come through. There was no external support of any kind and the ‘meetings’ were 2 minutes each where we had to take care to go in in pairs or groups and take notes for each other because we couldn’t trust the manager not to get us to agree to something not in our best interests. We knew she was trying to rush us through the process and none of us were really thinking straight. As for the owners: one of them had already quit during the ‘points scheme’ and he opened a new college which has also since closed. The remaining owner, according to LinkedIn, is in San Francisco, and the untrustworthy manager now has a cupcake business.
Lightning strikes twice
It was May and I was lucky, I only had to sign on the dole for a short while before I got some summer cover work and something semi-permanent at another school – until that too closed down in September! This time we were informed at the start of the month, so we were prepared. It was a small school and there were only 11 students. The students were absorbed by one of the bigger schools, we were properly paid, and I signed on again until I was lucky enough to get work with two schools in October. I know many of my colleagues were not so lucky and some have left the industry entirely.
Another school that I worked at was almost as bad at first. On my first day the DoS quit suddenly and there were 3 of us new teachers that nobody knew what to do with, so it didn’t seem like that was going to last long, but luckily they did manage to sort it out and it seemed more professionally run, at least from my perspective, although a later DoS thought otherwise. I was there about 2 years, one school in the mornings and another in the afternoons, until I got a promotion and worked with one school full-time.
My situation now
I’ve since moved to another school as a DoS. The owner here is much nicer and at least seems genuine when he expresses shock at the snap closures. But it’s still difficult to see a long-term future in the school (in any school), and very difficult to feel anything other than resignation when a teacher gets a better offer and leaves without notice. The owner makes noises about ‘loyalty’ but I’ve learned that none of us can afford loyalty, we’ve been through too many schools that haven’t been loyal to us in any way. How can we expect teachers to give their best work when they’re not feeling secure or paid well?
Teacher protections, or lack thereof
I really feel there should be as much protection for teachers as there are for students. So many of the ILEP and QQI rules seem designed to discourage schools from operating at all, rather than to improve things. They’re focusing on having the right number of hours and which levels we aren’t allowed to run, and making sure we discipline students for having low attendance and make them do a TIE exam – and then none of it matters when the student goes to GNIB because they don’t face any consequences there, but any little breach of a small rule will get us tossed off the ILEP. There’s no focus on making sure employers treat teachers well, pay them properly, give them sick pay or holiday allowance, contracts, etc. No focus on making sure the teachers don’t get all the blame when an inspection goes badly (this being mainly focused on the management area). Not even focus on making sure students don’t get thrown in the wrong level because “it’s a business and we’re not providing a class of a suitable level for less than 15 people”. Owners won’t focus on any of those things until regulations and inspectors do.
I do still want to be part of the industry but it’s very difficult to feel secure in any job. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from getting into ELT. It is still a rewarding job in spite of it all. But I’d make sure they know that in a lot of cases, you do it for the students and not for the pay.