Mind you don't fall into the school commitment trap

6th November 2009 at 00:00

I really like my job. In fact, there has never been a day when I drive the 30 minutes to work that I think, "I'm dreading going in," for whatever reason.

However, lately, an issue has begun to raise its head that has caused me to ask a question: even though I am happy in my job, am I trapped? Not necessarily in teaching, but in my school.

Let me explain how this began. The junior school I taught in closed in September and a new primary rose from its ashes with a new name.

There are two teachers in our school who, before the old one closed, applied for deputy head positions throughout the county and beyond. They have both been working here for the past 19 years - together almost 40 years' service given to the junior school and children of the area. Now that is an achievement.

For any employee to give such a length of service to its employers is an incredible thing. So why, then, in the current climate, is staying at a school seen as a negative point?

The aforementioned, who have bags of classroom experience, are senior teachers at the school, leading assessment for learning, English, maths and countless initiatives with huge success, know inside out how to raise achievements in their pupils and deal with outrageous behavioural problems at the same time. They have completed the necessary qualifications for middle management, yet when they have applied for deputy headteacher positions recently, they have not been shortlisted - not once.

The reason?

Not enough experience.

What on earth, then, is 19 years of teaching?

Well, not enough experience in other schools.

Unfortunately, if someone wants to get promoted to a deputy head position in education today, they have to have shown that they have travelled about, working in different schools and ticking different boxes. Travelling about is seen as a positive way forward. Staying put in the same school is seen as showing a lack of general ambition.

I disagree. I think it has a more positive quality. Commitment! Nineteen years of teaching in the same school shows commitment to the cause. It proves that a teacher has not just been at the school for the good times, but stuck at it through the difficult times, too.

I feel it is a shame that the powers that be think a teacher who enters a school, implements initiatives, and moves on to the next school within a few years is a better candidate over an excellent teacher who has decided to give their all to one school.

And it is a shame that when the latter teacher finally decides to give their all to another school, as a potential deputy headteacher, they are told point blank that they should have moved around to gain experience and prove that they are deputy head material.

So then, what does that experienced teacher need to do to become a deputy headteacher? Work in a different school, of course, to gain more experience!

There is a little problem, though.

No school is going to employ a teacher who is sitting at the very top of the pay scale just to give them the experience needed to become a deputy headteacher.

This has led me to evaluate my own teaching career. In September, I reached the giddy heights of level 6 on the pay scale, and though I enjoy teaching in my school, I have thought that one day I would like to work in a different school nearer to home and for a different challenge.

However, when schools look for new teachers, they generally try to find a teacher who is on a lower pay scale who could do the job and save them money, rather than get a more expensive, experienced teacher.

So what do I do now? Someone mentioned I could try to get on a secondment. The problem is, though, that I just want to keep on teaching in the classroom.

Perhaps I should just be patient and apply for jobs in different schools? Unfortunately, in the South Wales area, jobs are few and far between, with hundreds of candidates applying - and most of those who get the posts will either work in that school already, or will be a cheaper option.

So, in fact, what I have decided to do is accept my lot, and enjoy the fact that I am happy to be part of a brand new amalgamated school, and look to transferring from key stage 2 to key stage 1 to gain more experience of working across both key stages. However, I do feel that the longer I stay at our school, the chances of me finding work as a classroom teacher in another school become less and less.

So, in effect, I am stuck.

The more experienced I get, the harder it will be to find work in a school nearer home.

In the meantime, I'll keep on teaching and enjoying being trapped where I am.

Rob Jeffries, Primary school teacher in Caerau, near Maesteg, and children's author.

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