Pre-interview school visits

Don’t be fooled into thinking a visit to a school is a quick show around with a few introductions. It can and should be much more than this so make sure you go prepared. It’s definitely worth doing this groundwork because you’ll get the essential lowdown before you sign on the dotted line and hopefully avoid ending up in a job that isn’t really for you.

Jayne Halliwell, headteacher of Park Walk Primary School in southwest London encourages visits as part of the job process. “It is a golden opportunity for people to find out whether the school is right for them and shouldn’t be passed up,” she says.

No two schools are the same, and there are many things that make a school unique, from the diverse intake of children to the management style of the headteacher. The spirit, feeling and intention of a school, or ethos, probably count more than anything else so that’s where your focus should be. And the best way to find out about this is to have a few questions in mind when you visit. Here are some pointers:

How are you greeted by front-of-house staff?
A warm, cheery hello could signal a happy workforce, but if you’re ignored or staff seem cold and indifferent then perhaps all is not well. 

Do children seem happy?
Tense, unsmiling faces or withdrawn children are always a cause for concern. Children’s wellbeing should be high up on the agenda of a good school so find out how they promote this area. 

How do the children relate to each other?
Do they get on well, and show consideration for each other? Of course, there will be disagreements but if you see chaos, disorder and fists flying, then you can safely bet that behaviour is a big issue. 

Do staff seem happy?
If teachers feel valued and fulfilled in their jobs, they are likely to be enthusiastic, good teachers (although this can be difficult given the continual onslaught of government initiatives.) Even so, a good headteacher will contribute to staff morale by interacting and communicating well. She will expect and get the best from staff and provide good opportunities for continuing professional development.

Find out the aims, values and objectives of the school and if they resonate with you then this is a good sign. If not, then move on.

Always have some questions ready so that you can get useful information that will help you to decide whether you want to apply for the job, says Jayne. She suggests asking the following questions:

  • What is in the school improvement/development plan? 
  • What are the priorities within the plan? 
  • What is the staffing structure? 
  • How much support is there for EAL/special needs/EMAG children? 
  • Does the school have any special characteristics?

It’s also worth asking about rates of staff turnover. Although high turnover does not necessarily mean that staff leave because they are unhappy, it is still worth asking what the underlying reasons might be. Or if that seems a little too confrontational then take a look at the last Ofsted report and you should get some indication of this as well as other evaluations. But remember it’s not an interview so don’t bombard the school with questions.

Of course, you’re naturally good with kids and enjoy being around them (why else would you be teaching?), so grab opportunities to show off your skills by talking and interacting with children if the opportunity arises.

Lastly, be yourself, smile, act confidently, dress smartly, and be courteous to everyone you meet.

Do you have any tips on visiting schools that you would like to share?  Post below to let others know. 

Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking