Dear Ted

I am second in science and an exams co-ordinator in an independent school. Now I want to move to the maintained sector but can't get an in terview. Why?

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

Ted says

Try to imagine the recipient opening your application and thinking: "Here is a teacher from an independent school wanting a middle or senior position in a maintained school." Deep intake of breath.

The reaction to you and your situation may be entirely unjustified, but you can guess the stereotype that may flash into the reader's mind - this applicant probably has a cushy number and a leisurely lifestyle. She probably teaches small classes of scrubbed and motivated rich pupils and is knee-deep in new equipment. Now she expects to get a crucial post in a bog-standard comprehensive. Pass the shredder.

In reality, some private schools teeter on the brink of viability and are so squalid they make Dotheboys Hall look like Eton, but you still need to address reservations head on. Look carefully at the description of the post you are applying for. Bring out the relevance to it of your own experience.

What ability range have you taught? Can you cope with discipline problems? What exactly do you do as exams co-ordinator? Have you tried out any innovative teaching ideas? Does your school follow the national curriculum in science? Have you been on any Inset courses that are relevant to independent and maintained schools?

Address reservations about your experience at the beginning of your letter, showing you are aware of the problems of moving from one sector to another, and stating why you think you could manage it. You might even phone the school and discuss your application with a senior person, asking if it is worth applying, or whether you would be rejected out of hand?

If you get the chance, you can recycle your blood by visiting, or even teaching occasionally, in a maintained school. People have made the transition before, but success will be very much in your own hands. You must persuade sceptics that you won't fumble it.

You say

Show how relevant your experience is When many teachers in state schools are allegedly quitting for the independent sector, let's begin with the question of your sanity - although these days mental instability is no bar to an appointment. I have colleague heads whose sole recruitment criterion is whether or not the candidate exhibits vital life signs.

Seriously, though, it's more likely to be around the doubts heads might have over your ability to make the cultural shift, whether or not your knowledge, understanding and experience of the national curriculum are sufficiently robust and, critically, the degree to which you appear appointable to a management post. The cultural issue is significant, particularly as many of us will have recruited staff from state comprehensives in leafy suburbs who found it difficult adjusting even to outer-rim urban kids. Behaviour management often becomes a problem only when you're confronted with challenging behaviour. Add to that the fact you are coming from a sector which is not required by law to conform to the national curriculum - and unless you're in a Head Masters' Conference school, doesn't have a validated external inspection procedure - and you can answer the question yourself.

My biggest reservation would be how you would lead and manage a curriculum area and take it forward in your first year. Show me how your experience is relevant, offer to come and teach in advance, tempt me to look at you. I want to know why you wish to join us and what makes your transfer a real transformation. Most of us still have time for the prodigal returned. And if you're not lucky and really mean it, take a salary cut and apply as a teacher, not a manager. If you're good enough you'll get a job and, very soon, promotion.

Secondary head, Surrey

Keep trying

Your first problem is that you're an unusual candidate, and that can be a disadvantage. As an independent school teacher, you are one of the 7 per cent or so, not the mainstream 93 per cent, so it's not entirely surprising that you're not getting snapped up - yet. We all too often opt for what is safe and familiar - in short, the kind of animal we think we know. Assumptions are probably being made that you are teaching in an ivory tower, that you have no idea of the "real world", that you won't be able to handle discipline in a "real" classroom - and the rest.

Ensure that your letter of application and CV make clear that you started in the maintained sector, that you understand some of the preconceptions people might have, that you aren't out of touch and that you have a reason - indeed, a mission - for wanting to change sectors. Stress the strengths and the experience that you'll bring. Make sure it's obvious that you've done your homework and that you know all about the school you're applying to.

I've been in independent schools for 20 years now, but I've worked with people who have moved between the sectors. One youngish geography teacher came from a maintained school and, after a few good years, moved back with comparative ease. Two former colleagues are now maintained school heads, but they had to be patient: if you aren't a predictable, middle-of-the-road candidate, things can take longer.

It can be done. Don't give up hope. Keep on trying.

Bernard Trafford, Wolverhampton grammar school

Coming up: I want more responsibility

"I am 36 and have been teaching for three years, one in my present school, where there is a big emphasis on assessment and teachers are given little responsibility. I'm told I have a lively personality, and I want to do more than the routine. Should I move schools." What do readers think? Let us know at We pay pound;30 for every answer published

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