Independents' day ... or just dazed?

7th May 2010 at 01:00
You've done a PGCE so you're going into a state school, right? Not necessarily. Friederike Heine looks at the pros and cons of independent schools

When Jon Pass started his PGCE in 2008, the country was already in recession. Just a couple of weeks into the course, Mr Pass and his fellow trainees began to fret about the daunting job hunt that lay ahead.

But one morning in early November he received an unexpected phone call from Richard Cairns, headteacher at Brighton College, a co-educational independent school for three to 18-year-olds, inviting him to come for an interview.

"My brother was attending the school as a pupil and had mentioned to one of his teachers that I was doing a PGCE course at the Institute of Education," he remembers. "After the interview, they immediately offered me a position as an English teacher."

Although Mr Pass had never attended a private school himself and felt wary at the thought of entering the independent sector as an NQT, he decided to take the position. "This was mainly because it took the pressure off looking for a job," he says.

Initially, he could not determine how he felt about teaching a classroom full of what he thought of as "rich kids" - he felt slightly alienated by the idea. In addition to this, his decision came under intense scrutiny from his fellow trainees. "I got a lot of hassle from my friends for `selling out' and still do now," he says. Many trainee teachers are currently finding themselves in a similar position - an uncertain job market has driven many new teachers to consider a teaching career in the independent sector.

"The independent sector can offer an interesting and diverse start to one's career," says Wendy Sutton-Miller, induction co-ordinator at the Independent Schools Council (ISC). "This ranges from the types of schools themselves - day schools or boarding, single sex and co-ed, highly academic schools or those that excel in the arts - a broad range of subjects not constrained by the National Curriculum, and the opportunity to become involved in the wider life of the school through numerous extracurricular activities considered an important part of a child's education."

Mr Pass soon began to realise what Brighton College had to offer. "I received excellent guidance from more experienced teachers, and was awarded a reduced timetable in order to coach sport," he says. "This year, I am going to be taking mountain leadership and sailing qualifications, funded by the school."

Despite the perks, Mr Pass is worried that re-entry into the maintained sector will be more difficult. However, according to James Hooke, headteacher at the Harrodian, an independent school in West London, movement between the sectors is common.

"Many teachers in independent schools have also worked in the maintained sector," says Mr Hooke. "Strong links exist at both national and local level, with schools in some areas sharing in-service training."

Mr Pass remains doubtful. "Although I am very open as far as my career progresses, I think it would be difficult to re-enter the public sector," he says. "The nature of the pupils in the independent sector allows for a very different teaching style that might not be compatible with the public sector. And I admit it would be hard to give up the perks."

Many trainees toying with the idea of applying for jobs in the private sector worry about not receiving a government-approved induction that will allow for an easy transition into the maintained sector later on in their career. What many new teachers do not know is that the government has authorised the Independent Schools Council Teaching Induction Panel (ISCTIP) to provide the statutory functions necessary for the induction of NQTs.

When making any application to an independent school, new teachers should ask for confirmation that they will be able to serve their induction and that they will be registered with the ISCTIP on appointment, says John Howson, resident recruitment analysts at TES.

"While it is possible to serve your induction at a private school, I would not recommend going straight into the independent sector after gaining QTS, unless you expect to spend your whole career there or you really cannot get a job anywhere else," he says.

Professor Howson advises trainee teachers to tread carefully. "Be wary of any school with problems - falling rolls make some secondary schools in the maintained and independent sectors less than secure," he says. "Any school could become an academy overnight and what will happen under a new government is anyone's guess."

Although this may seem like a daunting portrayal of the current job market, it pays to stay vigilant - there are many jobs out there. Mr Pass is very happy with the choice he has made. "I have realised since being here that the pupils are just children who need our help just as much as others in the state sector," he says.

For advice on the independent sector, visit

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