Next step - How do I become ... A subject champion?

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Working for your subject association can lead to exciting and varied work. All you need is bags of commitment

Let's suppose that the number of people taking GCSEs in your subject is falling. How do you feel about it? Indifferent? Mildy concerned? Or angry and appalled that the subject you love is heading into decline, when just a few changes to the curriculum could make it far more relevant and appealing? If you're passionate, motivated and an activist at heart, then working for your subject association could be a good career move.

"If you want to see change, you need to get involved," says Dr John Steers, general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art and Design. Like all subject associations, NSEAD exists to raise standards and support teachers. It publishes resources, organises training events, and establishes working committees on issues such as curriculum change or teacher training strategy.

"Subject bodies are taken seriously by politicians and policymakers these days," says Dr Steers. "We're making our voices heard, and we're making a difference."

Associations employ a small number of permanent staff, most of them former teachers. Dr Steers, for example, was head of faculty at a large comprehensive, before becoming involved with NSEAD nearly three decades ago. If that kind of commitment isn't for you, look out for short-term secondments, which are becoming more common. Or you could apply to join a committee or working party - usually done on a voluntary basis, though some associations pay a fee.

There are also part-time opportunities and it's possible to be head of a subject association and still keep one foot in the classroom. For example, Ian McNeilly combines his role as director of the National Association for the Teaching of English with being head of department at a small independent school.

"In theory, I work for NATE three days a week," he says. "But really the job is only limited by the time I can give it. There's always something to be done, and I don't get much space in the holidays."

A typical working week for Mr McNeilly involves meeting different agencies, managing the website and dealing with the media. But he says the key part of his job is consulting with English teachers throughout the country to get a feel for grassroots opinion. "That's the most important thing of all. My duty is to carry out the wishes of the people who really make up the association - its members."

Most subject organisations are charities, and salaries tend to be restrained. The director of an association might get between Pounds 40,000 and Pounds 55,000, but other posts pay considerably less. An education manager, for example, can expect about Pounds 30,000 a year. But working conditions are usually good, and if you decide to return to teaching later on, it's an impressive addition to your CV. "Working for NATE has had a huge impact on my own practice in the classroom," says Mr McNeilly.

Jobs are advertised on association websites or in The TES, and posts tend to be suited to experienced teachers. It's important to be up-to-date on key issues surrounding your subject, and if you've been an active member of the association for many years that's also an advantage. On a personal note, you'll need the confidence to put your case at all kinds of meetings and conferences.

"The great thing about this role is that I deal with everyone from PGCE students to the most senior curriculum directors in the country," says Mr McNeilly. "That means I need to have a working knowledge of every aspect of English education, which if I stopped to think about it, would be a little bit scary. As it is, I just find it hugely varied and exciting. I honestly can't think of a more stimulating job."

Next week: Childcare co-ordinator


- Key qualities: Ability to see the wider picture, enthusiasm, good presentation skills.

- Qualifications: Nothing specific. But it may be an advantage to be an advanced skills teacher, or an experienced examiner, or to have done post-graduate research - anything that shows a commitment to your subject.

- Salary: Depends on the job. From Pounds 30,000 to more than Pounds 50,000.

- Next steps: If you're not a member of your subject association, then join. Once you're on board, decide on an area of interest and volunteer to sit on a relevant committee.

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