Zanib wasn’t sure whether to apply for the assistant head post that had come up in a nearby school.
She didn’t know the school, beyond occasionally spotting local children wearing the uniform.
She knew it was time for a new challenge, but would leaving a job she was happy in be a risk in the coronavirus lockdown, as she couldn’t go and see the school for herself?
School visits are really useful. They give you a chance to really get a sense of whether or not a school is right for you.
How to visit a school virtually
However, such visits just aren’t possible at the moment. And due to clashing timetables, caring commitments or simple geography, they’re not always possible during normal times. So what can you do instead?
1. Do some virtual digging
Start on the school website and read absolutely everything on there. This should include newsletters, the calendar, the social media feeds and every single word in the "about us" section.
If the school is part of a multi-academy trust, also read about the other schools in the trust.
What are you looking for? First off, everything on there will give you an idea about the school ethos. Many schools will claim to have a vision, but does that come through across the whole site?
You should be asking yourself if what you find matches what the advertisement promised. As you read, ask yourself if it seems to fit your pedagogical values.
2. Read the reports
Look at what people say about this school. Ofsted reports and other formal inspection reports are a given, but also take a look at local parenting groups on Facebook, for example.
It is also useful to use a school comparison website, like this government one. You can see how the school performs in comparison with other local schools.
Independent schools are not inspected by Ofsted, but you can use the Independent Schools Inspectorate to check instead.
3. Ask for a chat
A useful way to "visit" a school is to ask to speak to a middle leader. The advert will typically include someone to call to ask for more details, and so call that person and ask if you can speak to a teacher from the school for an informal chat.
In this conversation, you can just ask chattier questions about the school: what is parking like? What is the staff body like? And so on.
This will give you a flavour of what working life is like at the school.
4. Maps, maps, maps
You need to make use of Google Maps and Google Earth.
Commutes really matter when changing jobs so before you know if a job is for you, you have to figure out how you’ll get there.
You can check the school’s location out online and see what the area is like around the school. You should be asking yourself things like: where is the nearest supermarket? How close am I to transport links? Does this road look like I could run or cycle to school if I need to?
Childcare may be another consideration. If you have children, work out how far to their childcare provider, or their school.
Once you have those distances, check the impact traffic will have on your journey. Most route-planning websites will let you do this.