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Career clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about the next steps for an AST and a Senco

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about the next steps for an AST and a Senco

How can I further my career?

A quick question - what's the next step for an advanced skills teacher (AST) looking for promotion? Is it as easy as it is for heads of department to look at moving on to the leadership scale, or is it more complicated than that?

My sense is that it may prove trickier as many ASTs lack the direct experience of leading other staff, budget management and the many other skills a head of department develops as part of the job. However, they may have whole-school experience and experience of working across several sites that can be appreciated in federations and chains.

If you have developed appropriate personal continuing professional development, such as a higher degree with a leadership component, that might help if you want to move into a school leadership role. In the past, ASTs might have looked to develop roles in advisory teams and other cross-school activities, but in the present climate such posts have all but disappeared. Their replacements in institutions such as training schools are yet to emerge as the landscape of schooling is still undergoing some fundamental changes.

Unfortunately for you, the number of nationally advertised entry-grade leadership posts has fallen away over the past two years, with little sign of an upturn in vacancies, especially in the secondary sector. So competition from heads of department, faculty and year heads will be intense.

You will need to tailor your application to ensure you demonstrate the skills laid out in the job description. However, if you feel on reflection that you are unable to meet many of the essential requirements for an assistant head post, a move to a head of department or faculty position for a couple of years might be necessary. This will almost certainly be the case if you find that, despite your first-class application, you aren't being shortlisted for leadership roles.

What are my options?

I've been a special educational needs co- ordinator (Senco) for three years and I really love it. Having only been in the job at one school for three years, I am not yet ready to change career direction beyond the school, but I'm thinking of the future and the need to prepare. Where might I go?

At present, there are two avenues for you to consider. The main one is a leadership role in either the mainstream or the special school sector. The other is teacher training or some other sort of support role.

You can probably rule out local authorities for the time being as their future is highly uncertain after the recent cuts to their budgets. That will mean fewer advisory teacher-type roles - in the past, such roles represented a career path out of schools for many teachers, some of whom then went on to be leaders in their fields.

There are also likely to be few AST-type roles as schools conserve cash.

If you don't have a higher degree, now might be the time to invest in one with a focus on special needs teaching and learning. By the end of the course, the landscape might be a little clearer, and you would have gained insight into higher education.

If your school is involved in training teachers, it might be worth investigating what part you can play in developing their awareness and capabilities in relation to pupils with special needs. Many PGCE courses may have relatively little formal input on the range of needs a teacher may encounter, and a Senco can help relate the theory to the practical implications on the ground in a school. There may be a need for more emphasis in this area, especially in the secondary sector, as the annual report from Ofsted's chief inspector commented last year that there was "variation" in how trainees planned for "those with special educational needs". Good luck.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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