Ready for the next move?

28th April 2006 at 01:00
Part 1: Planning careers is easier today, Caroline Roberts says, because there are so many options.

The daffodils are dying off, and Christmas seems an awfully long way away.

But, if you're thinking of moving on in your career, it's the season for a reality check. The end of May deadline for summer term departures is fast approaching and - if you miss it - it's likely you'll be putting up the tinsel before you get stuck into your next job. It's easy to get panicked into applying for everything in sight, so what should be your main considerations when planning your next move? And might you be better off staying where you are?

Teachers in early career tend to think they should move on after two or three years but, if you're happy in your present school, change isn't obligatory. Even the Fast Track programme no longer requires experience to be gained in a variety of schools. Elaine Lancod, professional development leader at the Ellen Wilkinson school in west London, says: "The key things to think about are the likelihood of career advancement opportunities arising at your current school and the level of experience it is offering you. If you're in a single-sex environment, or a school that presents little challenge in terms of discipline, then it might be wise to consider a move as the lack of wider experience could be a drawback later."

She also feels that new teachers shouldn't worry about mapping out a clearly defined career route too early on. It used to be a choice between subject management or pastoral responsibilities, but now there are more varied opportunities such as the lead teacher for a subject in primary and advanced skills teacher roles.

"If you're young, free and single, now is the time to experiment with different responsibilities and see where they lead. It becomes much more difficult to take risks with your career when you have mortgage and family.

You may try out a role and find it's not quite right for you, but it only becomes a career cul-de-sac if you stay in it too long."

So how ambitious can you be? Less experienced staff are put off applying for jobs that are a big step up because they feel it would be downright cheeky. But don't sell yourself short.

"Going for a job you're not 100 per cent qualified for is always worth a try," says Elaine. "But you need to look at the person specification very carefully: it's often divided into desirable and essential experience. If you lack any of the essential things, then you're probably wasting your time.'

Clare McKinlay was promoted to a post with significant responsibility after just three years. "I'd been a pastoral assistant for a year," she says, "and when the job of divisional head came up in the same school, I didn't give it a moment's thought. In fact, when someone suggested I apply, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard.

"What gave me the confidence was that the school encouraged me and assured me that I had the skills, even though I didn't have the experience. And I knew that I would get the support I needed in the early days."

Another problem at this time of year is that jobs can be like buses - you don't see any for ages and then they all come along at once. What do you do if there are two jobs, but the one you really want has the later interview date? If at all possible, try to visit both schools before applying as this can help you get a feel for which you want to concentrate on. If you are offered interviews at both, consider being up front at the first interview and then explain that you want to keep your options open.

"It's a bit of a risky strategy," says Elaine. "If you tell them you've got another interview coming up, they may feel you're not committed to them.

You need to consider your market value. If you teach a shortage subject, then they may be prepared to wait for your decision."

And what if the perfect job comes up after the resignation deadline has passed? Elaine's advice is to go for it and then negotiate over the leaving date.

"In many cases, heads and governors are willing to be flexible as they don't want to make you miserable by forcing you to stay," she says.

"However, it depends on how difficult the vacancy is to fill. If you're a physics teacher in inner London, you're much less likely to be released early than if you teach a well supplied subject, but it's always worth a try."

Don't forget, either, that the new school may be willing to hang on for the right candidate.

But if the right job fails to materialise, all is not lost. As Elaine points out, career progression and professional development are not quite the same thing: there are ways of staying where you are without feeling you're just biding your time.

"It's all about making your own opportunities. Be prepared to volunteer for things that will help facilitate your next move. Running extra-curricular activities is good for professional development, especially if they involve managing other adults - organising a team of parents and staff helpers backstage at the school production carries more weight than just working with students."

Wherever you are in your career, it pays to look at gaps in your experience and try to fill them. Clare McKinlay advises looking at person specs for the type of job you want to go for in future.

"My next move will probably be to assistant head but, because my route has been pastoral, I don't have any experience of subject management. To rectify this, I've been doing some shadowing of heads of department to get more of an idea of that role," she says.

So even if you don't land your perfect role in the next few weeks, there's still plenty to be getting on with. Christmas will be here before you know it.

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