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It's time to apply

Your covering letter is key to securing your first job. Gail Robinson tells you how to get started

You might be recovering from that post-New Year hangover, but here's a sobering thought for you: most trainee teachers will have sent out at least 10 job applications by Easter. So you can't put it off any longer - it's time to start scouring the papers, filling in those application forms and drafting those all-important personal statements.

If you know whereabouts in the country you'd like to work, it's worth starting your job trawl with the relevant local education authority's website. Most post their teaching vacancies online. If they don't, they'll certainly tell you where they do.

It goes without saying that you should scour the pages of The TES religiously, but if you want to work in a denominational school, you should also check out The Church Times, The Universe, The Jewish Chronicle and Pakistan's Daily Jang.

Some local authorities also run job pools: NQTs who want to work in the area apply to a general pool rather than to individual schools. In this time of teacher shortages, pool systems do seem to be becoming less popular, but you might still find them useful for primary school applications.

Applying to a pool involves filling in a standard application form about your training, skills, achievements and so on. You'll also be asked your preferences on where you want to teach, what kind of school and what age group. Authorities do vary in how they manage the pool: some simply add your application to a database, while others will call you in for interview. The schools then have access to the pool of applicants and they choose the candidates they want to pursue.

Milton Keynes' primary pool is one of the more rigorous systems we've come across. Applications have to be made by February 10, 2003. Candidates are then interviewed; if successful, they leave the interview knowing that they have a guaranteed permanent contract for September and will be paid from August 1. Specific school placements are decided after the interviews through a process of school visits and mutual negotiation between NQTs and headteachers. (More details at

The pool approach might sound a bit impersonal but it does have its benefits. For example, it allows you to be flexible. After all, you might be committed to a particular geographical area rather than to a specific school. And it means you can get away with only making the one application and perhaps only having one interview, rather than spending weeks agonising over forms and interview boards.

And don't forget when you're applying to a pool you're saying you want to work in a particular area, so make it clear in your application exactly why you want to work there. You should also check out closing deadlines now. Authorities work to their own timescales and, as you can see from Milton Keynes, the closing dates could be looming soon.

Ask yourself a few questions before you apply. Do you want to live in a certain area and do you want to teach in that kind of school? Will you be able to teach the subjects you've been trained in? If the answer to those questions is yes, it's time to fill in the form.

* It's worth making a photocopy of the form first, and then having a go at filling in the photocopy, that way you won't make a complete pig's ear of your application. Oh, and before you send your completed form off, remember to make another copy, you'll need it to refresh your memory for the interview.l If spelling and grammar are not your strong points, make sure you get somebody else to read over your application before you send it off.

* Fill out the form in black ink and keep it neat. The headteacher wants to know that the kids are going to be able to read your scrawl.l Make reference to the school in your application and tell them why you want to work there. Don't just send out a blanket boilerplate application for every job you go for.

* Explain any gaps in your CV.

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