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Dozens of jobs for NQTs are not advertised individually because authorities operate pool systems to save on time and costs. Sara Bubb explains how they work

Many local education authorities use a pool system for new teachers, particularly to fill primary posts. It's an efficient way for schools to choose new staff without doing it themselves: it saves them time, money and effort. Not all authorities operate a pool. Those that do generally advertise in this issue of First Appointments, but you should look at the websites of nearby education authorities too.

However, Daisy Duck, a correspondent on The TES website warns: "I applied to two pools last year and they were run in totally different ways."

Some authorities put you through a rigorous interview process, others just add your details to a database so schools can select candidates for interview. Some just keep all the application forms in a box for headteachers to look at. Others do a bit of both, running interviews for the primary pool but keeping the secondary people on a database for heads to tap into.

Contact your local authority's recruitment strategy manager. Spursgirl, who works for a local authority and posts on The TES website, says:

"Recruitment strategy managers will be happy to talk you through the process. I've done so already with countless students!"

How does it work?

You apply for each pool using their application form. Increasingly, this is done online. But don't let that tempt you into knocking something off without much thought. The person specification is worth reading again and again because that's how you'll be selected for interview.

The quality of your personal statement plays a big factor here - write it carefully against the person specification. It may seem to favour people near the end of a training course because of the level of information you're asked to write about, so if you have yet to do a long block placement make that clear - it should be taken into account - but try to make the most of what experience you've had.

You'll find that there are many examples that fit different parts of the person specification, so you need to decide which to use where. Show how you have gained the skills and knowledge through a practical example instead of a vague assertion such as "I have a clear understanding of the literacy and numeracy strategies".

When structuring your writing think of how to be helpful to the reader. Use the same headings or order as in the person specification. Express yourself with care. Don't use too much jargon, but get in the latest buzz words to show that you're up to date. Be relevant and concise, and don't include anything you can't back up at interview. If it's not on the person specification then it's not likely to be relevant.

Address any problematic issues that the reader is likely to have picked up in reading the application form. Try to turn things to your advantage.

Before you send it off, proofread it, then get someone else to check it - and then check it again! Spelling or grammatical errors are off-putting and may mean your form is binned straight away. Read it out loud to yourself; unlike a CV, your personal statement is prose and it needs to read well.

Most pools request two references. One will usually be your college tutor; the other the head or a teacher from your teaching practice school . Make sure you've asked their permission and warn them of key dates, as the turn around time is often tight.

Time scales Things can happen very quickly.

"I need sanity", another website poster, says. "I had a pool interview in the middle of Feb with three local headteachers, then I was head-hunted and offered six jobs two weeks later!" This year, Sheffield closes its pool on February 4, short-lists in the week beginning February 7 and interviews start on March 21. Harrow's primary pool closes even earlier on January 24 and interviews from February 23-25. The Black Country School Improvement Partnership organises the pool for four authorities: Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley. It closes its pool on February 18 and holds interviews from March 9-11.

The partnership is candid in saying that people who have not been contacted by February 28 should assume that they have not been short-listed. There is one particular area of bad practice that you need to get used to in education. Schools and authorities will often say something such as "owing to the number of applications received, it is not practical, or cost effective, to contact you if you are unsuccessful". I think it's bad manners.

Interviews Successful applicants are invited for an interview. In Lambeth, these last about 30 minutes and candidates are assessed against specific criteria through 10 questions relevant to their training course and the year ahead of them. The interview panel consists of three people: the recruitment manager, a headteacher and a school adviser. As with any interview you need to be prepared. The panel will have good memories and lots of contacts who will influence future opportunities.

Lambeth tries to write to people within two working days. Unsuccessful candidates are advised why and offered advice on future interviews. Kevin Ronan, the recruitment strategy manager, says: "Successful candidates are asked to say the type of school and location that would suit them and then we pro-actively match them to schools that have vacancies. Schools work closely with us and trust us to provide them with the right NQTs."

Matchmaking The disadvantage to the pool system is that the school chooses you rather than you choosing them, but you can turn offers down and you'll be returned to the pool until you're fished out by the next school.

How many offers can you turn down? Lambeth has an unwritten rule of three, but it depends on the reason why you reject offers - everyone realises that it's important for NQTs to find the right school. You should not accept an offer and rescind it at a later stage: that is unprofessional.

So, is it worth it? Kevin Ronan thinks so: "Half of our NQTs are appointed through the pool, 25 per cent through teaching practice placements and only 25 per cent through direct adverts - most of which are secondary."

Welsh Wizard, on The TES website, makes an important point. "Pools give you a chance to compete solely with other NQTs and not the full range of experienced applicants." He says that about 40 per cent of jobs in his authority are filled though the pool. Many schools won't advertise their vacancies so going through the pool is your only option. It also gives you a chance to find out lots about the authority and to make valuable contacts - the start of a beautiful professional relationship.

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