Just putting down everything you've ever done on your CV isn't going to get you the top job. But what does? Gerald Haigh asks seasoned interviewers what they're looking for
Teachers in search of promotion used to clutter up their CVs with long lists of short courses - anything from handloom-weaving, through road safety to the use of Cuisenaire rods, which were once used to teach number concepts to primary children. The aim seemed to be to have a longer list than anyone else - there was often no overall plan, and no real regard for the needs of the school.
That approach has largely disappeared. Today's good CV has a record of in-service work that is lean and focused - driven both by school needs and by the idea that professional growth should proceed along a planned path. So what should the up and coming teacher be adding to his and her CV as senior management and headship start to loom on the horizon?
The obvious people to ask are senior and successful teachers and heads. Their views vary, but what they do agree on is the need to show some kind of serious and reflective professional study. As Mary Marsh, head of Holland Park school, in London, puts it: "I know there can be problems with funding, but you'd be concerned if someone's career had gone on a long time without evidence of good in-service training."
Above all, it seems, particularly in secondary schools, the demand is for people trained in management. Today's head of department is charged with monitoring and raising standards, and this calls for someone who is more than a subject specialist.
According to Angela Preston, deputy head in charge of professonal development at T P Riley School, in Walsall: "A lot of teachers don't know what management is. They confuse it with administration. They should be looking at issues such as how to monitor the quality of teaching and learning."
But what sort of management qualification? Angela Preston says: "Obviously at senior level the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH). We've just appointed a new head, and I was surprised by how many applicants were doing the course."
However, NPQH can seem a drawn-out business - the standard route for someone doing the compulsory module plus three others, takes at least 18 months. "Aspiring heads want to get on with it," is how Pat McCarthy, of Eaglesfield school in Greenwich, puts it. The response, though, has recently arrived in the form of the accelerated route, capable of being done in two terms, for people assessed as being already on the threshold of headship.
Another view of NPQH is that it is inward-looking - all "in the box" of education, as the jargon has it. Mary Marsh thinks of NPQH as "looking backwards - accrediting what people have done rather than preparing them for what is to come."
She did an MBA, and quite deliberately chose a London Business School course which was not specifically aimed at education. "My MBA gave me the confidence to tackle some very difficult situations. You can't prepare for everything and you have to have confidence in your judgment."
Many ambitious senior teachers therefore find it hard to decide whether to enrol on NPQH or to spend large amounts of twilight time on university modules leading to a higher degree. It is no easy decision. As Mary Marsh says, of twilight higher-degree study: "The time won't come out of the job, it will come out of the rest of your life - evenings, weekends and holidays."
Just making this commitment, though, can give you a start over other promotion candidates. Pat McCarthy says: "What I look for is not just the qualification but how they have done it. If it was on top of the working day, then there's an indication of commitment. It's a telling factor."
A little thought, though, shows that NPQH and modular university courses are not mutually exclusive. Malcolm Hewitt, West Midlands NPQH Assessment Centre manager, believes that universities will begin to give credit for NPQH work. Finally, there is another way to gain "out of the box" experience, and that is to spend some time on secondment to industry. One of the last government's aims was to enable more teachers to do this.
Spending priorities have since changed, but the opportunities are still there - through schemes such as HTI (Heads, Teachers and Industry).
Importantly, though, teachers who want to make an industry secondment work for them professionally must not see it as a year out in the sabbatical sense. The aim is to return to school armed with experience and skills that can be put directly into practice - in budgetary control, for example, or ICT.
The trick, it seems, is to achieve balance between the tactical and the strategic - between training that keeps the teacher up to date with a stream of initiatives and more reflective training that has longer-term benefits. All of it, though, has to be planned and heading in the same direction.
How to build a personal professional development programme * Start thinking of management quite early. Enrol on a modular course that could eventually turn into a diploma or a higher degree. As an experienced classroom teacher, concentrate on curriculum management issues - monitoring, assessment, reporting, data handling.
* Keep up your ICT skills - and remember to look at courses on the management aspects. A would-be deputy who can handle a manage-ment information system will be ahead of many rivals.
* Keep a portfolio of evidence of the in-service work that you do.
* If you enrol for NPQH, remember that in-service work you have already done might be relevant, helpful and time-saving.
* Decide whether to do "out of the box" projects, such as a general MBA or a year in industry. The jury is probably still out on the MBA; a year in industry will be extremely useful provided the experience is in line with the way your own professional development is moving, and that what you learn can enhance your existing knowledge and skills. In other words it must not be just a career break.