Your language school is not invincible


We all know the problems we face working in the English teaching industry. Challenging them can be a daunting task. 

Maybe you work in a small school alongside the owner. In an environment like that, relationships are personal. Owner-managers aren’t above emotional manipulation: you’re made to feel guilty because you´ve raised issues or concerns. 

In the big chains, management may pay lip service to caring about “the team”. But we know whose side HR is really on. And we can be sure there’s a team of lawyers to back up the bosses when push comes to shove.

But no language school is invincible. Even EF – the biggest, baddest language school of them all – has been routinely held to account when we’re willing to stand up, stand together, and stand strong no matter what the bosses throw at us.

The following article is a collaboration between two EF teachers.

A case study of EF: Education First


IF YOU WORK AT EDUCATION FIRST (EF) you may remember when, for about a month, the wallpaper of every EF computer stopped showing endless promo shots of the cycling team and, instead, began making the somewhat ridiculous claim that EF are the world’s best possible employer. 

Some of us were sufficiently intrigued to investigate. We discovered that a local newspaper in the US city of Boston published this article claiming EF – apparently the number one large company to work for in Massachusetts – “helps its workers pursue their passions.”

However, one of us recalled a petition making the rounds in support of the teachers at the very same branch of EF.

It seems the company so lauded for helping its workers “pursue their passions” was denying those same workers “fair pay, a paid vacation, and health insurance”. 

How strange: A 2019 article claims the EF is the number one large place of work in Massachusetts. Yet we know that in 2017 workers were in the middle of a unionisation drive to secure “fair pay, a paid vacation, and health insurance”:

In fact, those teachers in Boston were the first EF workers in the US to win union recognition – and the accompanying improvements in pay and conditions. Part of that unionisation struggle involved a legal challenge to the fact that the teachers were classed as ‘independent contractors’.  And they won.

How much did they win?  A lot!


The Massachusetts Attorney General forced Education First to pay $160,000 in restitution and penalties for wage violations against 160 workers.

So, ask yourself: what made EF a top place to work in Massachusetts? 

Was it some enlightened management bestowing a living wage, decent contracts, and good conditions on a hard-working staff? Or, was it the concerted activity of the workers themselves – organised in a union and fighting for their rights – that was responsible?

But that’s not the only substantial victory workers have had against EF in recent years.

Here are five examples:

  1. The TEFL Workers’ Union has just won tens of thousands of pounds in unpaid holiday after the threat of an employment tribunal. We suspect the total number may actually be over £100,000!
  2. We also won back pay for scores of teachers across the UK for unpaid health and safety training earlier in the year.
  3. In Dublin in 2014, teachers forced the company to rescind a 15% pay cut by threatening strike action.
  4. EF schools in the US, in places like Boston and California, have won union recognition resulting in improvements to pay & conditions and a voice on the job
  5. As outlined above, in 2018 EF teachers in Massachusetts were awarded $160,000 due to being misclassified as ‘independent contractors’.


Do you work at EF? Do you want better pay and conditions? A voice on the job?  Dare we even to dream of paid prep time, permanent contracts, and paid sick days for all? If so, join those of us who are already members of the TEFL Workers’ Union. Join the fightback.

If you live outside of the UK, the following unions organise within Education First:



United States: