A cold shoulder for the state school prodigals

7th November 2003 at 00:00
Heads may be wary of returnees from independent schools

After four years teaching English in the state sector, Mark Cromwell was ready for a change. While he had no aspirations to move into management, he did want to boost his salary. His answer: a new job at an independent school, which has brought more money, smaller classes and a lighter timetable.

"I'm so glad I made the move," he says. "I have more non-contact time, less cover and the students are easier to manage - they have to pass an entry examination, so they are all bright and motivated, which makes such a difference."

Mr Cromwell is happy at the moment, but if he decides to move back to the state sector, he might find it tough. Geography teacher Liz Wilkinson has just returned to state education after six years in an independent school and found the transition a lot more challenging than she expected.

"I took a part-time post at a small independent school when my children were young - because the school was close to home and the hours fitted in with family life," she says. "Once my children were settled at school, I took a full-time post at a grammar school, where I stayed for a couple of years - but I found I missed the challenge of state education."

Before having her children, Ms Wilkinson was a head of year, but couldn't see an opportunity emerging at the school where she was working. So she applied for a job as an assistant head of year at the local comprehensive, thinking it would be a good chance to get back on the career ladder. But she left the job interview feeling humiliated.

"The head grilled me about whether or not I'd be able to cope with children in the comprehensive sector, ignoring the fact that I'd had eight years'

experience in a comprehensive school.

"Then he told me I'd been in the independent sector too long to be considered for the job. I felt patronised.

"Independent schools are just as likely to have children with special educational needs or emotional and behavioural difficulties - and mine certainly did. Just because people can afford to pay for education doesn't mean their children won't have problems."

But Terry Creissen, headteacher at Colne Community College in Essex, insists that the majority of heads will consider well-qualified teachers from any background. "These days, it would be foolish to dismiss anyone from the selective or independent sector," he says. "Teachers of high quality are in very short supply."

He does, though, admit to looking more carefully at applicants from independent or grammar schools.

"I would be interested in their subject expertise and their qualities as teachers, but primarily I would want to know their views and opinions on comprehensive education and inclusion in practice.

"I want to ensure that my staff are committed to students' well-being, regardless of social background, culture, ethnicity or economic and academic standing."

Mr Creissen adds: "I have appointed some excellent teachers from selective schools, but I've said goodbye to some very good teachers who have departed the state comprehensive system in favour of a local grammar or independent school - which was a great shame."

Ms Wilkinson had three difficult interviews before finding a sympathetic head who didn't dismiss her experience in the independent sector. She is now in her first term as a head of year in a comprehensive in Kent and thoroughly enjoying it. But she advises those considering a move to the independent sector to proceed with caution.

"Think carefully before opting out of the comprehensive system," she says.

"If you're not certain you want to stay in independent or grammar schools, look for a state school that suits you better. You may find it's not as great as you imagined - and once you've stepped over the divide it's hard to come back."

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