Moving from state to independent
Should I, could I, move to an independent school?
I have worked in three comprehensives, and have been a Second in Department for the last two years. I have just seen an advertisement for a Head of Department post. But it’s in an independent school. Should I move, could I move?
Should you, could you – two very different questions!
You are asking if you would want to work there, and if they would want to employ you.
Some teachers feel uncomfortable about working in a school where the majority of the pupils are there because their parents have the money to pay the fees. It is fair to say that in general independent schools provide pupils with an experience that they would not receive in the state sector. But it is also true that many parents take out additional mortgages, stop paying into their pensions, or receive generous help from the grandparents in order to pay for this experience.
My personal view (which is not everybody's!) is that people should be able to spend their money as they wish; you don’t say that everyone should always use the buses and no-one have their own car. So why shouldn’t people pay for their car, their house, their holiday, their children’s schooling? This is an issue where you are not going to get people agreeing, so just make up your own mind here.
Pupils in independent schools get a different experience.
And for teachers too, the experience is different in the independent sector. Yes, you often have longer holidays, and smaller class sizes means that the pile of books to mark can be less overwhelming. A financially-sound and well-run school will usually offer twice as much PPA as you get currently, although they are unlikely to call it that. Beware of spouting state-school acronyms all the time. 20%, rather than 10% of frees in all timetables was the norm in my school, equating to a full day each week (although not all at one time) to get on with the preparation and marking.
There will generally be fewer discipline problems in the classroom too, coupled with a SLT who insist on high standards in everything and will stand no nonsense when there are problems, as well as extremely supportive parents, who don’t want their money wasted. I have suspended pupils for three days for using the F word to another pupil (many state schools would be permanently empty if you did that), and had the parents phone to thank me for insisting on high standards.
However, the downside should not be forgotten.
Supportive parents can be pushy, very demanding, and this can cause pressures on staff. In the best-run indy schools, this pressure should be taken off you as much as possible by the Head and the Head of Department, but you will still feel it. The school day may be longer with lessons going on until 4 o’clock, followed by the expectation that you will “contribute generously to the co-curriculum programme”, as one London school says in its job advertisements. Parents' evenings will go on for ever (although we circulate with coffee and free Waitrose sandwiches), because generally every single pupil's parents will turn up. All of them. Every time. In a boarding school, of course, term-times can be very intense, as obviously somebody (but not always the same person) needs to be there 24/7.
There can also be more preparation for lessons, as little or no time is wasted on crowd control, asking why A has not done the homework, where is B’s book, just getting them to listen to you. I once had a teacher who had moved to my independent school from the maintained sector who came after the first half term to tell me that he would be leaving as soon as he could get another job, because the work he prepared for a week was all gone by Wednesday, and he preferred it when there was less preparation and more policing in the lessons.
Policing or teaching - which do you prefer?
For those who prefer teaching to policing, this is a plus point, of course, and it can be surprising to someone used to Educating Cardiff ,or a little while ago Tough Young Teachers, to see everyone sitting down, pencil cases, exercise book and textbook on their desks, waiting expectantly for the lesson to begin.
A colleague from a maintained school was walking round my school once when we came upon a room with a year 9 Maths class, the door open, no teacher, the pupils all doing something fairly quietly from a set of exercises. I enquired where the teacher was, and was told: She hasn’t come, so the Form Captain said we had better continue with the exercises we had been doing for homework until she turns up. Year 9 . . .
My colleague said that she would dine out on this story for the rest of her life – there hadn’t even been enough noise from the classroom to make us walk in, it was only the open door that attracted our attention.
Disciplined pupils, anxious to work hard and succeed: this may be the best thing that an Independent School can offer a teacher. And it's not something to be sneezed at!
You can get more information about the independent sector from some other articles; I give you the links here.
So what sort of teacher is an independent school looking for?
What they want is just what every other school wants: an outstanding teacher with high standards and high aspirations who will be committed to the school and its pupils. This will include, of course, a commitment to the wider experience, with clubs and activities or sports being seen as a welcome extra.
You will need to show in your application, with specific examples, that your philosophy of education consists of high standards, high aspirations, emphasis on learning more than the bare minimum, enjoyment of learning, pupils taking personal responsibility for their own progress, and much more.
But don't talk, in the application or the interview, about what you are hoping to get away from, about your awful experiences in an Academy or a Comprehensive.
We are not interested in people who say that they are refugees from the state system; we want those who come to us for other reasons, because they are attracted to something special about us, and wish to contribute to that. We are not going to appoint you for your benefit, to help you escape from Hell High. We will only appoint you if it is to our benefit.
Co-curricular contribution can be very important
Going the extra mile. Helping the personal as well as the academic development of the pupils. Make sure that your application shows how you would contribute to the wider school. Look at their website with its list of activities to see what you could contribute to. Look at the same thing on other schools' websites too, to think of ideas for new activities that you might think of setting up. Be clear in your application that you are keen to do this and to contribute fully to all aspects of school life.
If you can show them in your application that you are just that special teacher that they want, then your state experience to date should not go against you. On the contrary, you have a lot to offer.