Interview green lights: 5 ways to spot a happy school

When you’re at interview, how can you judge if a school is a happy one? One teacher gives us her tips

Helen Mars

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Your smile is fixed on your face and you greet everyone with the enthusiasm of a children’s TV presenter.

Naturally, you have put your best outfit on, too, ready to deliver your very best lesson...it’s all about presenting a good impression, after all.

Yet, in a bid to show off your best side, it is easy to forget that a big part of an interview day is checking to see if the school is the right match for you. Does the school seem happy, are pupils engaged, does it make you feel excited?

These are the five things that you should tick off on your must-have list:

1. Smiles

It’s really important that you see cheerful staff. They should be happy: teaching your favourite subject in a school that chimes with your own values is the greatest job in the universe, in fact.

That’s not to say that if you come across a frazzled-looking member of staff, you should write it off – but do pay attention to how happy everyone seems.

2. All about the buzz

In the classrooms, you should see purposeful pupils. School is about them learning, and that should emanate in lessons around the school. 

Why does it matter? Well, mostly because that excited buzz in the air will keep you going through the dark days of January when you’re mock marking and getting through seven-week half terms. You’ll need it.

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3. A sense of direction

You’ve checked out the website, and read the person specification...but how does this compare to reality? 

Speak to the staff during the day to see if there is a clear vision from the senior leadership team and line managers on what the school vision is. Then it is up to you to decide if your ideologies are aligned.

Before you go, think about what you value in a pupil, a department, a school – and then look for it. Interrogate your future employers. You need to ensure you are on the same page as them or risk being frustrated and disillusioned.

4. A dose of reality

One of the most reassuring things to spot at a potential new school is a culture of realistic expectations and support. But how do you know when you’ve found a school that is genuinely looking to develop its staff?

Start off by asking what help you will be given settling in and once you are established in your role. Any murmurs about not needing help should signal you waving goodbye: teaching is a hard job and support is a necessary part of that, not an optional extra. 

Also, any sense you get that union membership is frowned upon in the school is probably one to avoid. Unions help teachers in disputes about unfair dismissal and much more, and someone who thinks you should be without that vital and legal cover is perhaps not someone with whom you should entrust your next half-decade or so.

5. Butterflies

We spend more time at work than we do with our own families, so you have to find a job role that you really want to do and a school you really want to be in.

Don’t ever feel like you have to take a job. If this school doesn’t feel right, then, to paraphrase some dating metaphors, there are plenty more fish in the sea. 

So, if you get to the end of the interview and you know in your heart that it isn’t right for you, then there is no shame in pulling out of an interview or turning down a job – you’re not doing a school any favours by taking a job you won’t give your all to because you don’t really want it. 

You need to know it’s the right role and place for you. The right job is worth holding out for.

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Helen Mars

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