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Help!. Your career and pay questions answered by John Howson

Q I have been teaching for the past four years and would like advice as to when I should start applying for posts with some responsibility.

A This is a question that concerns many teachers. Indeed, deciding when to make a job move is always a concern and will remain so throughout your working life. Without knowing much more about your personal circumstances it is difficult to offer specific advice.

It may be worth dividing your future career into three parts. These can be described as goals, aims and aspirations. Goals are what you want to do in the near future; aims are your medium-term ambitions; and aspirations are the long-term career objectives you want to work towards. Obviously, ambitions and aspirations can be fluid, as opportunities you haven't considered may arise in your working life. For instance, those who started teaching in the early 1970s could hardly have guessed at the effects of the IT revolution and the opportunities it would create.

But all this is in the future. You are considering making a move now. The job market in teaching is a mixture of buyers and sellers. Buyers - schools - will be looking for staff with a mix of experience, knowledge and enthusiasm. Sellers - people like yourself - will be looking for jobs that provide satisfaction, career development opportunities and financial and other benefits, such as a good working environment.

Where there are lots of sellers - that is, the job proves popular- schools can pick and choose; on the other hand, if there are few people interested or able to apply for a post, schools may need to adjust what is on offer to attract more interest. With senior posts, this often means higher pay, but it can be done in other ways.

If you have a career plan, you will avoid being enticed into applying for posts before you are ready. Equally, you won't leave it so long that you are a less attractive appointment than others applying for the post. This means looking at what schools advertising the posts you are interested in are putting in their advertisements. Send off for details of some posts so you can get a feel for the person specifications, and match your experience against what is required. If necessary, work on your personal development plan so you can meet what is required and then start applying. You may be lucky first time, but you may need several goes before you find a job you want and a school finds you are the person it has been looking for.

Good teachers recognise the anguish that the thought of leaving their post causes. Trust that your successor will do as good a job - or better.

John Howson is visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and managing director of Education Data Surveys. Send your career questions to him at

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