Many new teachers are so glad to find a job they accept the first offer they receive. It is only later they wish they'd known a little more about what to ask and look out for at an interview or visit to the school. It might be as fundamental as realising that you should have worked in a middle-class suburb rather than take on the challenge of an inner-city comprehensive, but often it's more about ethos and support. Here are nine issues to think about. It is not suggested that you tick them off during an interview, though a clever on-the-ball question or two doesn't hurt. The best time to investigate them is during a visit to the school - if you can arrange it.
What kind of planned induction programme is there?
A planned induction year is high on the government's agenda. At present, provision can vary because overall responsibility for induction lies with individual schools, with the local authority as overseer and in-service training provider. You should be allocated a mentor. You might also get a reduced timetable, some special Inset days and the opportunity to "network" with other new teachers in the area.
Ask to see a school's OFSTED report
An OFSTED report should cover virtually every aspect of school life, including management; the curriculum; the school's relationship with parents and behaviour policies. It will also give you an insight into the performance of your department and will include recommendations. Don't jump to conclusions, though. A less than glowing report may not mean that the school is failing. It may be already making strides.
Does the school have an effective behaviour policy?
Every school should have a behaviour policy which emphasises positive encouragement and sets out a hierarchy of sanctions which is consistently applied if the rules are broken. This policy should include strategies to deal with bullying and racism and for ensuring attendance. Would you know when it was appropriate to send a pupil to the head? What do you do if you suspect that a child is being bullied? You will feel very isolated when faced with situations of this sort or a disruptive class or individual if such a policy isn't firmly in place.
What are the opportunities for professional development?
Teachers need to have opportunities to update their subject knowledge and teaching skills. All schools are given a budget for training, but while some use it in an ad hoc fashion others have a planned approach to professional development. As one head said: "If I were applying for a job I'd want to know that the school wanted to train me and had thought about how to do it."
What is the school's attitude to children with special needs?
Early identification and intervention, more co-operation between agencies and services, and promoting the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools are three of the government's special needs priorities. Headteachers usually delegate responsibility for overseeing the operation of a school's SEN policy to the SEN co-ordinator. But it is the responsibility of all teachers to understand the Code of Practice and to be able to assess and teach children with SEN. If there are going to be children with special needs in your class you want to know that they and you are adequately supported.
Are children encouraged to read a wide range of books?
You can learn a lot by just looking round the school. Does it look as though reading is given a high status in the school? As well as the classics, are there books which address modern concerns, for example racism, family break-up? Are books well displayed and accessible? In a secondary school, the library will tell you a lot. Is it well stocked and in touch with new thinking? Is there easy access to ICT - the Internet, for example?
What is the school's attitude to parents?
As the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, puts it "parents are a child's first and enduring teachers", and there is strong evidence that co-operation between parents and school leads to academic progress. You will gauge a lot from just looking round: at notices, for example. Are parents' talents used in the school? Do they help in reading sessions? Are parents kept informed about the curriculum?
Does the school embrace information technology?
There is evidence that the use of information and communications technology helps children learn faster, enhances their career prospects, can provide useful material in most subjects and can greatly help children with special needs. Is the school positive about technology? Is ICT part of the training programme?
Where is your subject department heading?
Is this a well run, enthusiastic department with a clear vision? Is there a plan to raise achievement? This applies even if the department's performance, as judged, say, by OFSTED, is excellent. Complacency can sap morale. Will there be opportunities to discuss teaching strategies and styles? Do you get a sense of effective teamwork? A department's success depends to a great extent on its head so what you think of him or her is important.