Not only, but also

25th March 2011 at 00:00
In a fiercely competitive jobs market, candidates who can offer additional skills will win over prospective employers. And, as Helen Beckett explains, that means rethinking your whole career strategy.

Everyone in teaching has felt the icy blast of recession blow through their schools, jobs and career prospects in recent months. In the first two months of 2011, the number of job vacancies fell by two-thirds compared to last year, according to recruitment analysts Education Data Surveys (EDS). When these national figures are overlaid with regional and subject-specific variations, the dent in job opportunities can be even more dramatic.

"I had a recent enquiry from a teacher looking for a Spanish post in the north-east of England," explains Professor John Howson, managing director of EDS, a sister company of The TES. "Since last September, there have been just two Spanish jobs advertised and only six for modern foreign language (MFL) teachers in that region."

The plight of NQTs looking to secure their first post and induction is the worst. According to EDS, it is normal for 15 per cent of the previous year's cohort to be still looking for their induction post. This year, the figure is more than 50 per cent, added to which 30 per cent of 2009 graduates are also still hunting for that elusive first job.

It all adds up to a fiercely competitive market, where teachers with the best application techniques and those who can add value stand to win.

Using all your interview experience - good and bad - can help you build a picture of how you come across to prospective employers. Nicola Lowe, a primary school teacher, is among the more than 300 teachers who have attended a Win That Teaching Job seminar, run by Professor Howson. "Being aware of how the entire application process works really raised my confidence. I'd had 10 interviews but no job offer," she says. "When it was explained that recruiters on the panel are often nervous and that their feedback is often not very informed, that put things in perspective for me." Ms Lowe has recently gained a temporary post that will count towards her induction.

Proving you can add value is harder, whether you are actively seeking a job, or one of the many teachers whose role may be vulnerable because of government cuts or changes to the curriculum. Two roles that fall into the latter category are advanced skills teachers (ASTs) and assistant headteachers, says Professor Howson.

"ASTs need to be thinking along the lines of: `If I'm expensive in my school, am I in danger of being made redundant?' and `what can I do to remain employable?'," he says. The kind of career paths once open to ASTs, such as subject advisory roles in local authorities, have dried up, while advancement through assistant headship is no longer guaranteed.

To be credible in post, an AST must demonstrate at the very least that they are at the cutting edge of their subject. This could mean being a member of a subject association or keeping in touch with other experts - for example, through TeachMeets or social networking. It is wise to gain some continuous professional development (CPD) in pedagogy and leadership, too, and to keep a log of all your CPD, recommends Professor Howson.

Classroom teachers in search of a job also need to go that extra mile in order to stay competitive. It is worth remembering that once you have qualified teacher status, you are qualified as a teacher, not as a subject specialist, and more schools are calling on teachers to take lessons in diverse subjects.

If you do have another string to your bow, then highlight it on your application as it will immediately enhance your appeal, urges TheoGriff, former headteacher and host of the TES online jobseekers forum. "If you're a trained chemist but able to teach maths to Years 7 to 9, tell them. Same goes for history teachers who can teach English."

Even modern language teachers who have benefited from the introduction of the new English Baccalaureate benchmark (see box) have to stay on their toes, particularly if they have just a couple of languages or do not offer French. Adding another language to your repertoire will help your case, while an "exotic" offering such as Mandarin may also find favour as an after-school club.

For NQTs who have not yet secured their first post, TheoGriff recommends maintaining value by working in schools, either by doing supply work or as a teaching assistant. "It is essential to stay in school. It's no use twiddling your thumbs or getting a job shelf-stacking in Tesco because time spent out of the classroom will result in de-skilling."

Supply work is a good way of demonstrating your skills, and recruitment agency Reed Education has seen increasing numbers of NQTs register for supply teaching. It also offers networking opportunities, says Richard Taylor, divisional director of Reed Education Recruitment. "If you do some days' work for a school and a job comes up within another school in the same cluster, you are a known quantity," he says.

However, competition for supply positions is also keen, and if an NQT can stomach the fact that a school is getting them for half price, a TA role may be the best option. "As a TA, you will still be developing your relationships with pupils and there is also the opportunity for CPD in the form of lesson observations: watching experienced colleagues teach and manage pupils can add value," says TheoGriff.

The independent sector is another destination to consider for both NQTs and experienced teachers, but schools may look for that little bit extra, warns TheoGriff. "Often an advert will refer to a candidate who `can give generously to the co-curricular programme'," he explains. This refers to the rich variety of extra-curricular activities and after-school clubs that distinguish independent schools.

The level of generosity with your time that will make you attractive depends on the school. Many extra activities, such as orienteering or guitar tuition, will take place outside normal teaching hours, but others may be half-and-half, such as chaperoning pupils on a school expedition abroad. These trips will be unpaid, but are an opportunity to travel, see the world and have fun with pupils.

If you are going to apply to independent schools, you will have to fine- tune your applications. First, many use CVs rather than standard application forms, a preference that seems to be emerging in some of the new academies, too. "Often it's because they can't be bothered to design an application form, but a CV also lets a school spot gaps in work history easily," says Professor Howson.

Brushing up CV skills can also be a useful discipline for maintained school candidates. "I recommend candidates keep an up-to-date CV on file, which can be used to populate an application form," says TheoGriff. Give it a thorough MOT at the beginning of each academic year and add any recent CPD. Independent candidates may also have to rev up personal presentation skills at interview while perhaps toning down their personal style. "Headteachers will be seeking confident teachers who can impress and handle - sometimes pushy - parents. Visible tattoos or body piercings will be an absolute no-no here," says TheoGriff.

Finally, you will need to adapt your teaching style to a different kind of classroom. Another delegate at a recent Win That Teaching Job seminar ruefully shared her experience of delivering a lesson in an inappropriately "shouty" voice - she had done her work experience in an inner city state school where discipline and noise levels in the classroom were quite different.

But there is one piece of jobseeking advice that holds good for all teachers, whatever their experience, subject or location. In a buyer's jobs market, you will have to put the school and its requirements first and your own needs and desires second. Communicate why you add value to that school in application and at interview, and you will maximise your chances of success.

For more information on career coaching and seminars for teachers, visit

Some names have been changed


One consideration given the state of the current domestic job market is to try your chances in an international school.

Jane Smith is leaving a teaching post in a junior school, currently going through amalgamation and redundancies, for an international school in Beijing, China. The contract is for two years initially, and is renewable. "The best I could hope for in the UK is a one-year contract, unless I managed to move schools and find a permanent job - very tricky with fewer good jobs coming on the market," she says.

However, the state of the UK job market is not Ms Smith's only motivation. "I am going mainly because I will be paid 25 per cent more than my current income, which includes six hours of tutoring a week on top of my full-time job."

In addition to her salary she will also receive a two-bedroom flat and an allowance for bills and expenses. The working conditions are also better, with realistic time given for planning, preparation and assessment and shorter working days.


The introduction of the English Baccalaureate means that the following subjects will be in greater demand:

- history;

- geography;

- modern foreign languages.


- ASTs: there are fewer opportunities to advance for subject specialists.

- Citizenship teachers: analysis of job vacancies shows least demand for this subject.

- Assistant heads: budget cuts mean that schools may no longer be able to afford big management teams and this stepping stone to deputy headship may disappear.

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