I'm in my third year of primary teaching and am thinking of applying for a job in a very small school

20th February 2004 at 00:00
I'm in my third year of primary teaching and am thinking of applying for a job in a very small school. What are the pros or cons? What crucial questions should I ask?

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

I love small schools - when they are well run. They can be demanding places to work in, but they can combine the intimacy of their smallness with a real sense of achievement for teachers, who may find themselves teaching the children and grandchildren of former pupils. Unfortunately the reverse can also apply if there are problems. In one three-teacher school I've heard about, the headteacher and his wife fell out, leaving the third teacher feeling like an actor in Jean-Paul Sartre's Huis Clos, in which the central characters find that hell is actually being trapped with each other for ever.

Make sure the interview is a two-way process. To paraphrase John F Kennedy:"Ask not just what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school." You will almost certainly need to feel comfortable in the local community, as many teachers in small schools live close by, so there is no escape if you hate each other.

It would be a big mistake not to visit the locality in advance of the interview. It's a chance to get a feel of what the people who live there are really like. What do they do for a living? What are their hopes and fears for the children and for their community? Read the local newspaper.

There may be pressing issues that particularly affect that area, even if they are not significant elsewhere. Remember also that the views of people such as parent or community governors on the interviewing panel will rightly have a significant bearing on the final decision, so give them due respect.

You say

Make sure it is the right place for you

Working in a small school can be a fantastic experience if you are the right person in the right place. Everyone has a number of curricular and non-curricular responsibilities, so it can be excellent professional development at the stage you are at in your career. You will see far more of how the school works and have a greater opportunity to take responsibility than in a bigger establishment. Relationships and teamwork at all levels are crucial in small schools, so make sure you feel it is the right place for you, particularly if the other staff are long established members.

In a small school you will get to know all the pupils and their parents very well. If the school is in the place you live, do you want to be that close? You may end up teaching some pupils for two or three years. How do you feel about that? Find out about what links the school has with the community and neighbouring schools. These are important in enriching and enhancing the curriculum, and development for pupils and staff. Small school life doesn't suit everyone, and it is not an easy option, so think carefully about what your real priorities are before you apply.

Wendy Adamson, small-school head, Nottinghamshire

Envisage yourself in your new role

Small schools can be magical places, but take a reality check first. Try to arrange an informal visit before you reach the interview stage, and then envisage yourself in the new role. Ask yourself lots of questions first.

* Could I work happily as a member of such a small team? This is vital in what will probably be a close-knit community.

* Would I find it a stimulating professional environment?

* Am I recognised for being adaptable and versatile?

* Would I enjoy being responsible for several subject areas, and meeting the challenge of teaching mixed-age groups?

* Can I accept possibly having to do playground duty several times each week and having minimal non-contact time?

* Will I miss bouncing ideas off members of a larger team?

Sandra Chambers, email

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