More spin than a flying saucer

28th September 2001 at 01:00
Don't be seduced by well-written adverts for teaching posts. 'Challenging' might mean: we supply you with body armour. Jill Parkin helps you read between the lines

So they want someone to join "a community dedicated to helping each other to grow"? Will a teacher do, or do they need a midget with monastic tendencies?

Then there's the self-starting team player - a tricky one, this. Does he self-start and then tell the rest of the squad to follow - and is self-starting something that should be encouraged in public anyway? As for the "flexible motivator", wasn't he that lycra-limbed bloke on breakfast television some years back?

Job ads have their own jargon, clearly seen in this section of The TES every week. These pages have more visions than Lourdes, more partnerships than Come Dancing and more strategies than Bobby Fischer.

The more you read, the more you see between the lines. Apart from the descriptions of renaissance man and woman required for each post - "ability to help with multi-faith food technology would be an advantage" - some schools make the most wondrous claims for themselves and the job.

You may well want to work in a school in special measures or serious weaknesses. Or you may not. But you can spot them anyway by words such as "innovative", "challenging" and "cutting edge".

A school that describes itself as "forward-looking" may well have a rear view of disaster. Some schools say they are "at an exciting stage" in their development. But what sort of excitement exactly, and does this "strategic vision" they have come from behind barbed wire and entryphones?

Time to visit the Oftsed website. (Talking of which, the poor inspectors' words get more editing than Jeffrey Archer.) You'll have noticed how some schools keep the Ofsted quotes very short. The head of the woefully understaffed Chaos Comprehensive must be hugely tempted to chop "By no stretch of the imagination could this be described as an orderly school" down to its last three words. Delve into the web for the unedited version.

Another rather frightening ad is the one that grabs you with the question "Have you got what it takes?" If this means your own stun gun and the hide of a stegosaurus, your answer may well be "No". Decode the rest of the ad to find out just what it does take.

Does "unlimited reserves of energy" imply that you'll hardly be able to crawl home after work? That could be what it takes, but you should be equally wary of what you get. And it could be rather exhausting to work at the school that desperately offers laptops, incentive payments, whiteboards, relocation packages, and free highlighter pens - but fails to mention non-contact time.

Some ads like to tell you a little about your future colleagues. "Mutually supportive" sounds matey, but it also smacks of commiserating over the coffee cups before facing another onslaught. And if you really need such a "high level of interpersonal skills" to work with them, how safe is that staffroom anyway?

The "distinctive and exciting ethos" could be great, but taken along with the "extremely high-profile expressive arts department", it could also mean unexpected Greek tragedy in the changing rooms. As for being keen to "promote parent involvement", do you get a say in which parents?

Every week, hundreds of schools take great pride in describing themselves as "oversubscribed". Well, good for them - but one has to be cynical. Will the fabric of the building take this oversubscription, or are the loos flooded, the teaching assistants working in the corridor, and will you be expected to slide yourself and your desk sideways into a converted stationery cupboard?

And beware the seduction of power. The head of maths needed in the "exceptionally well-equipped department", who will be given "a full say in the recruitment of his deputy" should be wary of finding he has a full set of protractors but no teachers at all.

If you're going for a management post in a school that boasts of "exceptionally good value for money", find out where they make the savings. It could be on useless red tape or it could be on vital equipment. Sharpening two-inch pencils and cutting rubbers in half may not be your idea of professional development.

Finally, one should consider the pupils. A school that generously aims "to develop the whole child" may not be the right place for a teacher who wants to develop the creative and law-abiding bits while firmly suppressing anything monstrous.

Some schools claim to have "fantastic children", "responsive children", "friendly children" or "highly motivated children". You will note, on your second reading of the ad, that they never mention how many. Remember that it could, of course, be just two.

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