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Scale those career heights;Subject of the week;Career development

If you have the head for it, now's the time to get on the promotion ladder, says John Howson

The promotion prospects for many younger teachers are better than at any time for the past decade, and are possibly the best for 30 years. There are reports of primary headteacher shortlists in single figures and secondary maths vacancies attracting only one applicant.

More money is being channelled into schools to create new teaching posts. Also, pupil numbers will continue to rise until well into the next decade, at least in secondary schools, and some schools are reinstating deputy-head posts lost in the past. Moreover, the age profile of the profession means that a significant number of teachers will leave in the next few years.

However, any teacher keen on promotion needs to audit his or her prospects.

Flexibility, interpersonal skills and information and communications technology expertise will become key factors. The pace of change will also require a commitment to lifelong learning and professional self-development.

Where you want to teach, what you teach and how, and what extra skills you can offer a school are other important considerations.

When you started teaching can affect promotion opportunities - even in shortage subjects such as maths. The class of 1985 was less than half the size of that of 1993. When it comes to competing for promotion to head of department, those who entered in the early 1990s may find it more difficult than those who entered between 1984 and 1986.

For some subjects, such as English and PE, supply has usually been healthy and competition for promotion fierce. Career development may mean looking for opportunities to branch out into new areas.

For primary teachers, obtaining a first post or returning to teaching may now be the hardest step. Current vacancy levels for heads and deputies, means that an experienced, ambitious primary teacher has a good chance (more than 1:10) of ending up as a head or deputy.

But, in the current market, perhaps the most important factor is where you are willing to teach. For example, teaching at a school in special measures can offer rapid promotion, but it also brings the risk of losing your job if the school is closed.

It is also worth noting that the further you are from central London the more intense the competition for teaching posts seems to become. More than half the primary head posts in London advertised between September and December were not filled at the first advertisement.

John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs and education research company. E-mail

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