28th March 2003 at 00:00
Your career and pay questions answered by John Howson

Q. I have been teaching in the same school without a break for 20 years. I arrived as a probationer, and just never got around to leaving. At first, I taught 11-year-olds, but now I am a reception class teacher. This year, for the first time, I am teaching the daughter of one of my original pupils, and it's a bit scary. I would like to take a term out for reflection and renewal. Can I ask my school for this length of time off?

A. Your question raises personal and professional issues. Your employer has no need to grant any request you make for a term off, even without pay. But as you are probably approaching the halfway point in your career, it would make sense for you to undertake a sustained period of professional development, and a good head would recognise this. After all, if the Government believes short sabbaticals are useful for teachers with only four or five years' service, why shouldn't they also be of benefit to someone like you, with 20 continuous years in the classroom?

As an alternative, you could look for a new teaching post a term ahead, and create your own space. The best time to do this is during the autumn term - with the summer holiday added in, you can effectively create a five-month period away from the classroom. If you take this option, remember to allow yourself time for re-entry.

However, the most tax efficient time for a short break can be from half-term in February until half-term in May. This allows any loss of income to be spread across two tax years.

Q. I am thinking of applying for a new post at another school to start in September. When is the last date I can resign from my current post?

A. Usually, it is three months, or at the end of May for jobs starting in September, and two months at other times. But these dates can be flexible if both schools agree. The likelihood of this happening is sometimes, but not always, increased if the two schools come under the same authority.

Some teachers walk out giving little or no notice. Although it may seem a good thing to do at the time, it will almost certainly prejudice what the school might write in any future reference it is asked to provide.

John Howson is visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and managing director of Education Data Surveys. Send your career questions to him at

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