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Career Clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about headship ambitions and brushing up on skills

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions about headship ambitions and brushing up on skills


I am one of the people out there who aspire to headship, but I have hit the dreaded 40. My teaching experience has been in the primary sector (to date, in infant schools) and I would like to gain a headteacher post in the South East. However, I have not worked since 2005, as I have been raising four children and studying for an MBA. I hugely regret having pushed away opportunities in the past from heads who encouraged me in a leadership direction. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

The amalgamation of many separate infant and junior schools into primary schools has, unfortunately, cut the number of headships and probably made life more challenging for people like you with experience mostly of one phase. So what would I advise?

The view of many of the headteachers who post on the TES careers forum is that you should not worry about your age (as I might too in your position). They believe you should apply for leadership posts on the basis of your MBA.

However, as you have not worked in the UK since 2005, it may be necessary to take a job as a classroom teacher for a period, perhaps with a key stage 1 responsibility - if you can find a post where they are not seeking a cheaper NQT.

Until you test the waters with some applications, you will not know how you are regarded by those making appointments. It may be that a period of supply work will help you understand the changes in UK schools since you last taught, without committing you to a particular job until the new recruitment season opens in early 2013.

The good news is that, with the increase in the birth rate, those with experience of the younger age ranges should be in most demand, and the South East is one of the better places to be job hunting in schools at the present time. I am sure that with sufficient drive and determination you will achieve your goal.


I'm planning to return to teaching when my child starts school. I am worried that when I do return to work, I will be looked down on by prospective employers. What I can do? I am a qualified secondary science teacher, specialising in chemistry and biology. Is there a course I can do, something that is free as my finances are low?

As you do not say how old your child is, it is difficult to be precise in answering your question. There are effectively no retraining schemes at present, although that is not to say there won't be if schools find recruitment more of a challenge in the future.

I assume that you do not currently have a job where it would be possible to arrange "keep in touch" days during your maternity leave. Instead, I suggest you monitor the Teaching Agency website as any useful courses should appear there (bit.lyP28z7U).

The Association for Science Education, the Society of Biology and the Royal Society of Chemistry may hold continuing professional development activities for teachers to help them maintain up-to-date knowledge of their subjects. This may be a better option than waiting for the government to hold any courses.

Occasional supply work is more difficult to find than in the past, but can offer a route back into the classroom that need not be full-time. It will give you a chance both to regain and hone your classroom teaching skills, and also to get to grips with changes in curriculum, assessment and other aspects of teaching that have taken place during your absence.

Marking and tutoring may be activities you can undertake from home, and can offer a way back into the basics of some aspects of teaching, although obviously not the key skill of classroom management.

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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