It depends what you teach. A secondary mathematician writing to a school that has tried to fill a maths vacancy for months may find a chauffeur-driven limousine outside the door five minutes later. On the other hand, a school that has just had 250 applications for a job may lob a stranger's letter straight into the bin. An enquiry to local authorities may produce a vacancies list, but many leave appointments to individual schools, unless there is a difficulty.
Many heads will tell you that vacancies will be advertised in The TES, so you should look out for them. Some may even be a bit sniffy that you even wrote, as they get plenty of mail each day. However, you may need to try every avenue, including temporary or part-time work, so keep an open mind.
Sometimes fragile-looking opportunities turn out to be fruitful later, as schools will try to keep good teachers, and you would be on the spot should a job come up eventually.
If you do write to heads, remember (a) that they are busy, so minimise the verbiage, and (b) that you need to bring out your strengths. It is usually more straightforward applying for an advertised post, as the job description will usually spell out the age group, subjects, whether the school wants IT, sports coaching, management expertise, or whatever.
Omni-purpose "blind" letters cannot so easily address a particular post.
You may be better sending an email asking if you can phone a senior person about possible vacancies. That way they can be prepared with relevant information and you will get the right person. Keep your options as open as possible. If you are over fussy, you cut down on possibilities.
Get a foot in the door supply teaching
You have a great deal to gain from a minimal investment of time. It's a good idea to let local schools know of your arrival in the area. You never know what staffing circumstances they are in and you might be an answer to their prayers. A brief introductory letter and CV addressed to the head and supply co-ordinator may yield unexpected results. Include a testimonial and a photocopy of your Criminal Records Bureau form.
In the letter you should also indicate that you're available for cover supervision; this gives you an opportunity to have a look at local schools and build up your reputation. Schools like to negotiate with their own pool of supply teachers to avoid paying exorbitant agency fees.
Staffing arrangements within schools can change rapidly during the course of a year, with maternity leave and colleagues moving on. As a co-ordinator of cover and supply, I would immediately turn to a tried and tested teacher who had already formed relationships with our students, when looking for a staffing solution.
Kieran Earley, Cheshire
Stress your flexibility
There is some research showing that a surprisingly high percentage of jobs are filled without the vacancy ever being advertised. Given the high turnover rate in schools, it would be odd if this did not apply to teaching posts.
It is likely that, in any given area, a number of heads are waiting for good applicants who will be the answer to their staffing problem. So a well-presented CV landing on their desk at the right moment might pay dividends.
You would normally "tweak" your CV for a specific post, but if you are going for a blanket approach and intend to send the same CV to a number of heads, then you should stress your flexibility and adaptability. Send an accompanying letter giving the range - and make it as wide as possible - of teaching roles that you are capable of taking on.
Patrick Dale, Brighton