Career Clinic

This week, Professor John Howson answers questions on master's degrees, post-maternity moves and mentoring

Master or disaster?

I intend to enrol on a master's programme this autumn, which will run in the evenings. I feel like not telling my headteacher in case she doubts my commitment. What is your advice?

Frankly, any head who doubts the commitment of a teacher willing to study for a degree in their own time needs their brain examined.

I am always filled with admiration for the many teachers who juggle school, home and study, and still give 100 per cent to all three aspects of their life. I don't know whether you live alone or have a family, but if it's the latter then negotiating with them the changes in lifestyle is very important.

I would tell your head, and emphasise the benefits to the school, assuming you aren't just doing this study in an area totally unrelated to your teaching.

Who knows? The school might even have a fund for continuing professional development that you are unaware of, which could help with the fees. Arranging a lighter timetable and your planning and preparation time on the days where you are studying in the evenings would be a helpful gesture, even if they have no finance available.

The mother of all worries

I'm back from maternity leave and have taken on a temporary post: a one-year maternity cover, as second in a department. Now a job has come up at another school - a very good school - for the same post, but permanent. I had intended to start looking in January for a possible Easter start but the job that has come up begins in January. If I leave I know it will have an impact on the department. If I don't go for it, another job in a similar school might not come up. Is it too soon to leave after maternity leave? The school removed my own TLR (teaching and learning responsibility) position while I was on maternity leave, so I don't feel they have done the best for me, but I still feel a sense of duty. Will the school think I'm being selfish?

Every conscientious teacher feels as you do. But, as you say, it is your career. In the present job market, you must apply for any suitable vacancy and let the school worry about the consequences if you are successful. They didn't worry about the effect of cutting your TLR on your income.

You may not be appointed, but you really would be foolish not to apply, and if it left you unemployed next summer that would be a tragedy. If the school you are at really wants to keep you, they can either offer you a permanent post or ask the other school to delay your appointment until Easter if you are offered the job. But fill in the application form now.

Mulling over mentor move

I am a very experienced primary teacher, completing a diploma in specific learning difficulties. I am very interested in working as a learning support teacher, but the opportunities are few and far between in my area. The role of trainee Senco also appeals, but again there is a shortage of jobs. I have seen a learning mentor post advertised and must admit that I find it quite an appealing prospect. My worry is, though, that this would be considered a step down, career wise, and might not look great on my CV.

If the learning mentor post is not paid as a teacher I would avoid it, since it probably would be a step sideways and might have a negative effect on your next career move in a few years' time.

If you live in an area with mainly small primary schools, you may struggle to find a specific post in the special educational needs (SEN) area, and might have to consider either a TLR with general teaching and learning that also covered the SEN brief or even a deputy headship.

There are now those who consider that many children listed as having low-level SEN actually have other issues, such as missing school time through continued absences or problems at home impacting on their learning.

Labelling a child with SEN is sometimes convenient, but there may be other underlying problems such as looking after younger siblings or even a parent facing life challenges that are responsible for the slower than expected progress of a pupil. The NASEN website ( offers useful advice.

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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