Friday, June 19, 2009

Another Peek at TWIN

This will be my last piece in the timely trilogy of five articles about the full horrors of working on UK summer schools. It’s actually a rerun of a posting I made a couple of years ago about the terrible Twin. Let it serve as an example – one of the worst - of the genre of less-than-ideal summer Tefl employment. And remember - if you willingly sign up for this sort of punishment, you really only have yourself to blame!


I came across a very caustic and damning warning about Summer Schools on St. Dave's a few weeks back (click here for the posting) from a frustrated Tefl guerilla called Robski. As a brief outline, just take a butcher's hook at these few examples...

I have noticed that Lewisham based TWIN have started advertising again for summer staff. Whatever you do, do NOT work for this organisation. I was employed on recruitment and then to run one of the summer centres. People were hired and then terminated after they had bought flights, made arrangements etc. Some were told they didn't have a job only days before coming into the UK.

Hmm, that sounds like standard Tefl cowboy practice, if my experience of Summer Schools is worth anything. But go on, Robski - tell me something I don't know!!

Other people were fired for complaining. Support from head office was awful and often management would just shout their way through problems. The staff turnover in Lewisham was very high; they really do like to fire people. In the first week local staff walked out because they realised the money was rubbish for what was being asked of them. As each one left the job got worse. Also, a member of the local staff was attacked by some students.

Well, that IS interesting! Usually it's the staff who end up attacking each other, especially after a long night at the Plough and Lettuce and nine pints of Old Speckled Hen. Anything else we should know, Robski?
Many other things went wrong, too. Too many things when you are trying to take care of other people's children. And there was a major gap with CRB checks - the company didn't even think about it.

Now that's very serious! It's actually an offence to employ anybody who has contact with young people without doing a CRB check. A clear case for the police, and especially Inspector McHammered of The Lard (deceased), methinks. Anyway, I got in touch with the author of the piece and asked for more stories from the TWIN House of Horrors. This is the scary stuff that I got back...

Dear Sandy, TWIN was by far the most crooked organisation I've worked for. I think what bothered me the most was that they really did not care either about the staff or the kids. They know too well that any shit tends to fall on centre managers should something serious occur.

The sad thing is that families send the most precious thing they have - their son or daughter - and companies such as TWIN still don't know for sure if they have beds for them all.

I was centre manager for Twin at Malvern Girls College. The college accommodation was okay, though a bit spread out. It was here that TWIN made a deduction from wages of all except senior staff for accommodation – non residential teachers did not pay this charge. I know for a fact that Malvern did not charge TWIN for accommodation provided to staff. The problems I had to deal with were phenomenal.

A further example: At Malvern we had what we called 'leaderless' kids. These were 6 very young individual Russian boys - 9 or 10 years old. Due to overcrowding in all buildings we had to house them in a building dominated by much older French boys – literally nowhere else to put them. Until we could relocate them to a safer house they were actually at some risk.

We had no leader who could speak Russian, and no leader paid to look after them. An Irish colleague of mine took them under his wing but TWIN did not pay him for the extra work he put in to looking after them. One day these kids were found playing on the railway line ... [and] ... One evening one of these kids had to go to hospital and it was pure luck that his mum was French and a local leader was able to speak to him in French. So we put him in my car and I took him to Worcester Infirmary - serious insurance issues here because I'm using my car for work purposes.

The company did not have a system in place for such problems, and no money was allocated to pay for taxis. (At this point we had no petty cash left at all.) Also about petty cash – we ran out. One night I had to cancel the disco and I did not want to pay for it myself from my own money. I had a very nasty phone call from a senior manager to complain at me, even though I had still not received extra petty cash.

A colleague who was supposed to be assistant / deputy to me was about to quit and I needed her to stay. I asked my line manager if I could give her 100 pounds cash to get her to stay. The answer was ‘yes’ and I was promised I would get this money back – but of course I did not get it back. In total, by the end, I was out of pocket by 150 pounds, and I did not get any petrol money for all the driving around that I did. At Cambridge TWIN did have to pay for every room – even for staff – which is why some were housed more cheaply off site. But then there was an issue about how many students there were for each staff member. I do not know the exact ratio, but it was too low.

At Salisbury the centre manager just walked out. At Oxford he disappeared suddenly. I never found out whether he was fired for complaining or he quit too. Before I was in Malvern, I was asked to work in Lewisham for a couple of weeks to 'help out' with recruitment. Whoever was doing it had in fact walked out and it was a mess. I SHOULD HAVE LEFT THEN. I recruited according to the numbers I was told, and more or less managed to staff the centres (Southampton, Oxford, Cambridge, Portsmouth, London). But after student numbers did not meet predictions, I was told to terminate a number of contracts - some of these people had bought plane tickets from Poland and elsewhere. We then had some people who dropped out and I had to recruit more people - MAD, MAD, MAD!!

And finally, when I got to my centre in Malvern, another one dropped out - which I had warned them about, as it always happens - and we were understaffed. Not enough to supervise, teach, or even keep the centre running right. The day before I arrived at Malvern TWIN asked me if I had had a CRB check. Luckily for them I had one from my previous job. If I hadn't had one I would not have been allowed by Malvern to enter the building. Only two other staff members at Malvern had CRBs. Also, since many leaders and teachers were coming in from Poland, Czech Republic etc. TWIN needed to do this straight away after offering contracts – yet they did not. In most cases, TWIN didn’t even take up references.

When I was recruiting in London the positions had to be filled, but you only had a certain amount of time to do it, and no time to check references. Again, I should have left then. When I had a problem or needed to know company policy about something (for example taking a leaderless 9-year-old Russian boy to the hospital) my line manager was usually drunk in the pub - really! (Graham Impey, was his name – the guy just couldn’t cope.)

So, there you have it. And it's not a vile slur from a 'disgruntled' Sandy McManus - it's actually entirely true, and a frighteningly accurate rendition of everything you can expect if YOU work for TWIN this Summer – or probably any other cheapskate outfit. Just think of it – they’ll rip you off financially, pile up the workload, have you working illegally, and then leave you in the shit when you can’t cope. Is that the way you want to spend your Summer?

Strangely enough (well, not really), I see that Twin are still advertising on for “Centre Managers, Activity Managers, Teachers, Activity Staff for Summer School” for their sites “Across the UK - Eastbourne, London, Guildford, Salisbury, Ardingly (Hayward's Heath), Cardiff, Portsmouth, and Saffron Walden” - even though their first SS is due to open on the 21st of this month!

The advert states that “CRB checks will be required” – but this not to say they will be done.

Anyway, if you still fancy taking your chances and are feeling desperate for a spell of humiliation, note that they are paying their Residential Teachers from £270 to £330 per week, depending on experience and qualifications. Why not call their ‘Vacations Team’ recruiter, Kate Melhorn, on 020 8297 0041, and tell her that Sandy McManus recommended you?!


Mitch said...

Sandy, what you're doing is sound, I reckon. I have worked on three summer schools, for three different companies, and what you have described could be applied to any one of them. I guess it's the norm, rather than the exception. Understaffed and overworked, I don't know how these things go off without a tragedy.

Keep it up! The world should know about these scandals.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Mitch - I need it sometimes, what with all these proto-assassins around.

Of course, if you'd rather slit my throat and dribble the blood over your tongue, let me know. I do realise that these cyberspace relationships can soon go awry, and I'd hate to let you down.