Careers clinic

If you have a problem, you know who to call - our experts. John Howson and Sara Bubb offer advice every week

If you have a problem, you know who to call - our experts. John Howson and Sara Bubb offer advice every week

Q: I am a head of humanities but struggling to get interviews for assistant head positions. Do you think it's because, at 42, I'm too old? My headteacher says that my CV and application letters are good, but I'm suspicious that these jobs are going to teachers from within the local authority, or to core subject teachers.

A: Last year, we tracked only one in eight appointments of assistant heads as being from the 40-44 age group, compared with 75 per cent who were under 40 on appointment, so you may well be past the most appropriate age. Even if your headteacher says that your CV is fine, it is worth seeking a second opinion.

I don't know whether the heads of core subject departments have an advantage, but they will have been responsible for more staff and bigger budgets. I would not be surprised if local candidates were given preference at this level, although this is always difficult to prove.

I assume you have asked for feedback and have received the sort of bland platitudes that are meaningless in reality. However, is there any common theme to them? It may be that you are always being beaten to the job by someone with more specific expertise.

It is difficult to know where you go from here. Even a sideways move plus the National Professional Qualification for Headship might be too late unless you are prepared to work in a challenging inner-city school. I think you need a frank talk with the most senior person you know in the local authority about how you might be able to progress your career.

If I was your head, I would be trying to find ways of motivating you, as you are clearly frustrated but have another 20 years or so of teaching ahead of you.

Q: I have an interview for a job in the same local authority but at a pupil referral unit. If I hand my notice in before the end of term can I leave at October half-term? My contract says that I must give two months' notice.

A: Normally, as you know, three months are required for notice in the summer and two in the autumn. Departure at other times is usually by negotiation.

As it is the same local authority, I would expect the officers to negotiate with your head and, depending on how difficult you are to replace, half-term would seem a reasonable compromise; otherwise the authority will need to keep the post open until January as it knows you will not be available beforehand.

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training. He is now a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University.

Q: I'm a humanities teacher from Sweden and eventually want a permanent job here, but at the moment I'm struggling to get supply work. I've got Qualified Teacher Status and I'm registered with the GTC, but how do I get more UK experience if I can't get work?

A: I'm afraid there is less demand for supply teachers, especially in secondary schools and for your subjects, because many are using support staff to cover lessons.

This time of year is always bad for supply teachers as there are fewer viruses laying people off sick and Year 11 and Year 13 pupils often go on exam leave from mid-May.

There probably will be more work next term, especially from October - but you can't rely on it. Have you got any feedback from the schools you've worked in? That might help reassure you - or give you something to work on improving.

Schools may worry that you don't know the system and curriculum well enough, as an overseas trained teacher. Some self-study will easily remedy that. The Training and Development Agency for schools ( m.aspx) has materials giving an overview of the system pitched at teachers from abroad. The QCA website is a good place to start for the curriculum and then look at exam board sites.

Q: I'm struggling financially with a big mortgage on a new teacher's salary. An obvious economy would be to stop paying into the teachers' pension. What do you think?

A: Being broke is miserable but you need to think carefully before you drop out of the pension scheme. I know retirement seems a long way off, but your pension contributions are a good deal. You pay 6.4 per cent of your salary but your employer pays 14.1 per cent, making a total contribution of 20.5 per cent. All is tax-free.

If you drop out you'll have to pay tax and national insurance deductions on that 6.4 per cent of income, which will bring it down to about 4 per cent. And you'll have lost the 20.5 per cent that goes into your pension. So all in all, it's probably not worth it. You can get more information and advice from the Teachers' Pensions website (, or by calling 0845 6066166. Remember that you'll get a pay increase in September as you move up the main scale. It's about pound;1,500.

Sara Bubb was a primary teacher before becoming a teacher trainer. She is now an education consultant, lectures at the Institute of Education in London and has written extensively on induction and professional development.

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