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NQTs are the losers in this lottery

'Job-hunting' is a misnomer for the first-time applicant's ordeal. We're the prey in the employment jungle, writes Rupert Segar

Across the UK, student teachers like myself are still scouring the ads for the perfect post. But before they get any job, most will experience needless discourtesy and be treated like cannon fodder conscripts in the First World War.

As newly qualified teachers, we are deeply grateful for the chance to fulfil our vocational calling under the careful tutelage of our first school; we NQTs know our place. The first year of teaching is a crucial and formative stage, and passing the probationary period is the only way to become a properly qualified teacher. But getting your first job can be gruelling, because the application process has all the refinement of an underachieving Year 9 pupil - in short, it is uncommunicative, rude and inconsiderate.

Finding a potential position is remarkably simple: you buy The TES and let your fingers do the walking through the thousands of posts available. My paper girl has asked for a forklift truck on Fridays because of the number of jobs supplements she delivers to my door. Most local education authorities publish vacancy lists, which can be found pinned to staffroom notice boards. All of it is, of course, on the internet.

Colleges and universities give student teachers masses of guidance on how to apply, what to say, how to dress, but the most comprehensive blueprint for success is to be found in Getting a Teaching Job in Schools, published by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.

By Easter, most trainee teachers on their last lap had sent out 10 or more applications. Many received no replies. Every day, on return from college or teaching practice, you approach the letter box with hope, only to find an electricity bill and a reminder to renew your car tax, but no interview summons. Almost all application forms have a let-out clause: "If we do not reply within six weeks you may assume you have not got the job." Usually, a couple of weeks' silence signals that you have not been shortlisted. A month-long pause is enough to let you know that all hope is gone. But your failure is compounded by a lack of manners on the part of the school that refuses to write to say you have been unsuccessful. As a result, many PGCE and BEd students spend the spring and summer terms counting the days on their calendars and crossing off the jobs with a sigh.

Headteachers claim their unwillingness to correspond is to save money on administration and postage. This excuse is, I suspect, a cover for a reluctance to bear bad news. It is also a feeble excuse in this internet age, when every trainee teacher and state school has access to the web, and contacting a million unsuccessful applicants costs no more than a local phone call.

Before I leave the subject of ICT, let me tell you about a supposed hi-tech school and college that recently rejected me (I think - I still have not heard). The advertisement boasted of electronic whiteboards, computer suites galore, laptops all round and more. Unusually, those wanting more details were invited to email the school. I did, and was surprised to receive an email back asking for my postal address. Four days later, by which time I had accepted a job elsewhere, an envelope arrived containing five typewritten sheets.

"Job hunting" is not an accurate term for NQTs because we are the prey. After each term's resignation date, big holes appear on timetables everywhere and it's open season on NQTs. We are the Polyfilla of school timetables.

Job advertisements that say "may suit an NQT" loosely translate as "not if we can find anyone else to do the job first". This means that, several weeks after the fixed notice dates, aspiring NQTs will get a rash of interview offers (unless, that is, your application was unreadable and your references unspeakable).

Finally, after weeks, if not months, of waiting incommunicado, then being lightly grilled and most probably forced to teach a demonstration lesson, you are offered a job. Marvellous, well done!

But there's more outrage to come. "Do you want the job?" they ask. "We need to know now," they insist. If you hesitate, you lose, and the next-best candidate is wheeled in and offered the job instead. If you accept, you are honour-bound to teach at that school for at least three years.

Asking prospective teachers, who are dazed and wrung out by the interview process, to make an instant decision is unfair and unnecessary. I can think of no commercial industry that would get away with such a practice.

That teaching has got away with its arcane appointments system for so long is amazing. But with growing staff shortages, market forces are working. Business pressures are bursting the current, cosy, gentlemen's agreement on appointments. Whether freeing up the employment market and giving more clout to teachers will be beneficial for teaching and pupils, I cannot say.

Meanwhile, much to my own relief, I have found a job at an excellent school, Trinity high in Redditch - an employer that had the courtesy to reply promptly to my application and gave me time to decide to take the job.

Rupert Segar is a writer, broadcaster and PGCE maths student at Warwick Institute of Education

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