A testing time for everyone

26th May 2006 at 01:00
This is the test and exam season, and not just for secondary schools but almost all children over six-years-old. It's not just hard on the children, it's stressful for teachers too; how the kids perform reflects heavily on those who taught them. It's a good time of year for horror stories, such as the one about the boy who answered on half of the questions on the science tests: "Miss hasn't done this." Mortifying stuff.

You may have found it hard to see children's progress because you're so immersed in the day-to-day teaching. For many, the test results will be a good news story, but some of you will be having an uncomfortable time, because despite teaching as well as you could, the children don't seem to have made enough progress. It might seem perfectly understandable that pupils will learn more with an experienced teacher than one who's just qualified, but try telling that to parents, heads and inspectors.

Don't take things to heart if your pupils' results don't match up with classes taught by more experienced teachers. There are no qualified teacher status or induction standards that say pupils must have made progress, so it won't mean failing your induction year. Mind you, if test results are disappointing, heads will want to know why and might go through areas covered by the standards, such as your planning, assessment, subject knowledge and expectations.


The end of May is also the deadline for resignations of teachers not planning to be in school in September. This is significant in several ways.

Many of you will have been put on temporary contracts or just employed for the year. As soon as headteachers know who's going, they'll be clearer about whether temporary contracts can be made permanent or extended. If you're in this situation, find out what's happening. Some schools will require you to be interviewed again.

Maybe you want to move on, in which case you'll have to hand your notice in by the end of May. What do you want from a new job, and why? And what aspects can be compromised if the dream job doesn't come up? Too often people are reactive and search for the opposite of the context in which they've been unhappy, bored or ineffective without thinking about all the factors. A music teacher said to me: "I'm disillusioned with teaching at a place with poor behaviour, in a depressing environment, and in a neglected music department that has no Year 10s this year, so no GCSE next year." He wants to work in a school with flourishing choirs, orchestras, and a team of peripatetics teaching the whole range of orchestral instruments to a high standard. But is it really wise for him to move to a place where music already has a high status? Even if he found such a job, he'll find it hard to make an impact - it's hard to change things when they're successful.

Perhaps if music is at such a pinnacle in the school, the only way to go will be down. Choirs, orchestras, instrumental exams all mean lots of management and hours of extra-curricular time. Is he ready for that?

There are many ways to develop a career in the same school without crawling up the promotion ladder, and which can give tasters of directions to go in, or to enrich experience if you want to stay in the classroom. Developing pastoral experience might be one direction. Perhaps you want to organise a trip; work with pupils on an assembly, play, publication, school council, website or radio station; or get into counselling pupils or helping them with peer mentoring. Some schools are involved in "trading places" projects where teachers swap jobs with someone in the same or another school for three days. That can be a great taster of another year group, phase or subject.

If you're very talented and fancy helping other staff, you might think about applying to become an advanced skills teacher (AST). There's no minimum time period that you have to have worked before you can apply to be an AST, and you don't have to have passed the threshold.

If people are really great teachers and want to stay in the classroom, becoming an AST is a financially viable alternative to taking the promotion route into management because the main duty of ASTs is to be an excellent teacher in their own school for four days a week. For one day a week they have to help other teachers - not only in their own schools but also in others. However, the application form is gruelling and you have to provide supporting evidence under each of the AST standards, and the assessment day itself is like a personalised inspection. So start gathering evidence now and in the next few years and look out for opportunities, especially in demonstrating that you are excellent at advising and supporting others.

Sometimes people want to branch out into another educational setting, going for instance from mainstream into a special school, or from secondary to primary. This can be like starting all over again. You have to get used to a different curriculum and a completely different style of teaching - your whole teacher persona may need to change.

In some areas, it's hard to get a job and so you have to be as flexible as possible. Take this month's case study, Sarah Banks, who started her induction year at an infant school where she spent one term, moved to Severn Vale secondary school on supply, and then got a contract at Easter.

Even if you're feeling vulnerable, take heart from her story - you never know how things will turn out.

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