Choose the right school

Picking the right school is a tall order, especially for the newly qualified teacher who may be less able to sniff out the clues. And, of course, it’s imperative that a first timer gets it right: a good choice can turn a first year into a long and fruitful career or, conversely, turn the hapless NQT off the profession for good.

Experienced teachers need to do their homework, too, as assumptions that accompanied traditional categories of school are no longer reliable. Today, for example, there’s no clear space between independent and state school, experts agree. “Just as there are independent schools that are falling in student numbers, there are state schools that are becoming prestigious by way of their academic results”, says Michael Watson, director of recruitment for TES Prime.

The biggest factor in the performance of schools is the student population, the location, and to some extent, the local authority, says Watson.  An inner city school will always struggle because a higher proportion of the pupils face social disadvantage. “Teachers here may need to be of the ‘super social worker’ variety in order to be successful,” he notes.

Making a choice between independent and maintained schools is largely a matter of belief, therefore, and this may also determine a preference for a faith school. Making presumptions on the basis of faith can also be a risky business, however. “You may choose a faith school but discover that the head has a very different interpretation of your religion, points out Adrian Copping, primary PGCE cohort leader at the University of Cumbria.

Given that more junior staff will not have the luxury of meeting the head teacher and discovering his or her personal ethos, that’s not an option either. Instead factors such as:

  • Location: town, city or country have a big impact on school culture and also the journey to work
  • Size of school: do you like it small and intimate or bigger, where personal touch might be traded for more amenities?
  • Culture: a combination of the two above and others, such as the head teacher’s ethos

become important factors in the decision. Our teachers and recruitment experts  recommend the following methods for assessing whether a school is right for you.

Research its reputation
If you have children or know children in the area, they will give you the inside track of what a school is really like. Check the Ofsted report, which will note the culture and any particular challenges.

Don’t assume anything from the advert
Really good schools don’t have to sell themselves on paper and so may be quite complacent about the kind of advertisement that they publish. Equally, if a school is not performing well, this may be reflected in the quality of the candidate application pack. The only thing it’s safe to assume is that you can’t assume anything from the quality of the advert.

Ask the right questions at interview
“I was unhappy in my first job and may not have stayed in teaching if my present job hadn’t cropped up”, says Matthew Drury, teacher of Modern Foreign Languages at Bolsover School. He explains, “I felt I didn’t fit in with my department. Something you may not realise as an NQT is that you spend hardly any time with your other colleagues across the school, but most of your time with the department.” Given his time again, Michael would have asked different questions at the interview, such as:

  • Do you do any socialising together after school?
  • How do you assess students?
  • What are the marking policies?

Take the bus home
Chelsea Phipps, teacher of food technology and design did just that before accepting his first, and current job, at the Paddington Academy. “You want to see how the children behave when they come out of the school. We only read about the nightmare things in the papers. But if you get in there with the kids you can see other things, like whether they give up their seat if a woman or elderly person gets on the bus,” he points out.

A wrong can become a right
“I would never have picked my first school, if I’d had the choice,” confesses Adrian Copping. However as it was the 36th job he’d applied for and already the October half term after he’d qualified, Adrian felt he couldn’t be too picky. The big downside of the job, he thought, was a mixed class of Years 4, 5 and 6, something he’d never encountered during teacher training. Plus it was 40 miles away. However, as he now realises with hindsight, “it was a phenomenal learning experience and very worthwhile.”

Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking