10 things to know about ..schools

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Where should you apply and when? Anthea Davey explains the important bits to remember when you start looking for a job

Gone are the days when headteachers desperately rang prospective candidates for teaching jobs at home to tell them not to bother with the application, interview or even finishing a PGCE, but just asked when they could start.

Now competition is tougher and it's tempting, under such pressure, to jump at the first appearance of a job in the right subject, or for the right year group, even if it does involve a daily commute from Bognor to Bradford.

However, while it's important to look regularly and see what's around, the majority of vacancies arise in the spring term. Unfortunately, this does tend to coincide with college deadlines and the inevitable exhaustion that comes with a PGCE. But on the plus side, after half a term or more in the classroom, it's easier to know what you're looking for in a school, and you're likely to have acquired enough experience to be able to sell yourself on an application form. Deciding where and how to apply for a teaching job can be a daunting experience, so here are 10 tips to help you on your way.

1Size mattersHopefully your teaching practice has given you an insight into what kind of school you do or don't want to work in. I have worked at both ends of the spectrum in terms of school size, from one with 2,000 children to one with 300, and there are pros and cons to both. In a large school, there are more likely to be opportunities for promotion and - this is not to be sniffed at - a good social life. Alternatively, a small school can result in fewer discipline problems as you get to know all the children quickly and there is more of a community feel. The challenges you face at either type will largely depend on point number two.

2Intake The atmosphere in a school is largely dictated by the type of children who go there, and don't let anyone tell you differently. Leafy suburbs have a very different catchment to areas of urban decay. Euphemisms such as "improving" shouldn't put you off, though. Schools with more difficult intakes often have a strong camaraderie between the staff and that support is very useful in your first year. It can also be very rewarding to work with children for whom school represents more than a means to an end.

3 Ethos A difficult one to pin down. Unless the ethos is dictated by a religious outlook, it may be hard to know what kind of attitude a school wants to foster. If there is no uniform and pupils call teachers by first names, you can expect the school to have a liberal bent, while if all the staff wear university gowns to assembly and the school song is in Latin, it suggests a more traditional outlook.

4 Opportunities Opportunities for partying and promotion may both be important to you. It will depend on a number of factors, such as the average age of the staff and the size of your school. In larger schools there will inevitably be more responsibility points, but you also may want to consider where your ambition lies and see how much room for movement there is. While a rapid turnover of staff could be a worrying indication of low morale, it may also mean you could be headteacher within five years. Go for it!

5 Location Ideally, your school should not be so near where you live that you bump into students on a Saturday night while staggering drunkenly along the road - you or them- but not so far that after parents' evenings it seems more worthwhile to sleep overnight in the staff room. Teaching is exhausting enough without a long commute. Personally, I like to be near to shops and other signs of civilisation as a contrast to the reality of my working day.

6 Facilities Have a look at the staffroom, the toilets and the classrooms.

The school may have bought high tech wizardry such as interactive whiteboards and individual laptops, but is there loo paper in the toilets? The basics that mean everything to me are: tea and coffee provided at break time, a good canteen so I can have a healthy meal and the children aren't all insanely wired on sugar after lunch, and a designated work space. Then there are the subject specific resources that will make all the difference to the quality of the work you do and, perhaps more importantly, indicate how valued your subject is to management.

7 Pay Some questions to consider are whether your school awards points for recruitment and retention and whether it will pay you over the summer. As with all these things, there is a catch. Typically, if there are problems with recruitment which necessitate extra pay, you will often find there are reasons why the angelic pupils aren't sufficient to entice teachers. Find out why you are being offered these incentives and decide if they are adequate compensation for your troubles.

8 Visit If you can, try and go for a visit - you can't always tell from the advert what a school is like and the advertspeak, which typically describes schools as "challenging" or "successful", does little to help. Visiting will show you are keen and give you more of an idea of the school than the fancy prospectus with pretty pictures of joyous pupils. Even if you decide not to apply, seeing other schools is always useful as a point of comparison.

9 Ofsted You might want to have a look at the most recent inspectors'

report. Or you might want to know when the next inspection is so you can avoid it.

10 Apply Finally, the application form, which is generally quite time consuming and set out in such a way that you can't just summarise your CV.

Photocopy a couple of copies to practise on if you are unable to apply online. Mention extra-curricular activities undertaken during teaching practice to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Match your skills and experience to the job description to demonstrate quickly and effectively that you are their perfect candidate.

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