Careers clinic

12th December 2008 at 00:00
If you have a question, turn to John Howson or Sara Bubb, our experts who offer advice every week

Q: I am training to be a secondary English teacher. I am highly ambitious and want to become an Ofsted inspector. How do I go about this and is it too early for me to be thinking of this? I have met some teachers who have become head of department within three years so I thought it may be OK to be ambitious early on in my career.

A: There is nothing wrong with being ambitious for yourself and those you teach. There are two main types of professionals who work for Ofsted: those who carry out the bulk of the inspections and the more senior Her Majesty's Inspectors (HMIs), where the role is more interesting and wide-ranging.

Posts are filled by open competition and vacancies are normally advertised in The TES, towards the back in the general section of the paper. Those successful can generally demonstrate a high degree of teaching and learning skills, probably with outstanding ratings in any inspections, possibly a relevant higher degree and some years of experience, as inspectors spend time making career affecting judgments on teachers and their schools.

By all means have this as a career aim, but don't expect to be appointed without some proved and varied teaching experience.

Q: I have eight years' experience of senior leadership in secondary schools, the last three at deputy head level. I want to move to headship, but within a primary school. I realise that I need some experience at primary level, but before I go down this route, how likely is it that I might be considered for primary headship with my experience? My job involves responsibility for almost 1,000 pupils within two year groups - will this count?

A: This is an interesting question. Until recently, there has been a problem filling primary headships in certain parts of the country and in faith schools. However, I haven't come across any examples of transfers at senior management level. There are now primary schools with more than 500 pupils where the head has a largely non-teaching role similar to that of a secondary school head.

The salary in these schools can be similar as well. As most of these are led by people with little experience of one of the three (key) stages within their schools you could argue that it is the leadership that matters.

If you work in an area where there is difficulty recruiting primary heads, then talk to someone senior about your ambition and see whether there is some authority-wide role that might help you gain experience of the primary sector without having to take a pay cut.


John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training. He is now a recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University.

Q: I'm starting a job in January with a reception class. Do you have any good ideas for what to do when I go in for a couple of days at the end of term? The class becomes "mine" in January and I feel nervous.

A: It's great to visit the school before you start working there in January so that you can familiarise yourself with planning, routines and procedures. Look at the planning and how it pans out in practice and find out what the planning expectations are for next term.

Spend some time with key people: support staff, teachers who you'll be planning with, the foundation stage leader, the head and deputy and your induction tutor. Definitely get on the good side of the admin staff and premises officer.

When you meet the pupils try to come across as friendly but firm - first impressions count. Get a feel for the standard of their work by looking in detail at a few high, average and low attainers so that you can bear them all in mind when you're planning.

See the classroom you will be in next term and make a note of what's in it. Take some photos of how things are arranged. Look at the resources. Have you got all that you need? Other stuff may be hidden away in someone else's cupboard so ask around.

What you want to avoid is worrying about it when you should be preparing - and building your stamina for the term ahead.

It may seem all a bit overwhelming and chaotic but remember that you're seeing the school at the busiest time of the year: with exhausted teachers and excited children. It'll be better next term - honest - and you'll have a fantastic time with your new class.

Q: I've been told to improve my questioning but I don't really know how. Any ideas?

A: You are not alone: questioning skills are something that most people need to work on. Find out what's not so good about your questioning at the moment or try recording yourself.

Analyse the difficulty of the questions you ask: do they need hard thinking or more basic stuff? Lower level questions should be relatively easy to answer, and get a right answer. As higher level questions require more thinking they'll be more difficult to answer.

How long do you wait for an answer? If the question is a closed, lower-level factual recall question, three seconds is about right but for open-ended, higher-level questions you might need to wait about 15 seconds. That's scary.


Sara Bubb was a primary teacher before becoming a teacher trainer. She is now an education consultant, lectures at the Institute of Education in London and has written extensively on induction and professional development.

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