Take it or leave it

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
Accept in haste, repent at leisure. Nic Barnard on keeping your options open

You've got the job - but now the pressure starts. Do you actually want it? In some walks of life, the offer of a job is merely the prelude to a lengthy negotiation - pay, holidays, relocation expenses. But in teaching, you're more than likely to be put on the spot and asked immediately: yes or no?

In fact, some panels may ask you during the interview whether you would, hypothetically, accept the job if offered.

There are no formal guidelines for good protocol in offering someone a job, but it's typical for interviewers to ask candidates - especially if there are only three or four - to wait outside while they make their decision.

Even if they are sent away, the offer is as likely to be made by phone as in writing.

Heads feel under pressure to get recruitment over with quickly - and with justification. Annually, there are only three dates a teacher can leave their post: April 30, August 31 and December 31. The deadlines for handing in your notice are February 28, May 31 and October 31. Fail to recruit by then and heads are likely to have to resort to supply cover. Hence the desire for a quick answer.

But what if your visit to the school has left question marks - or you have other irons in the fire? Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, says the union is often contacted by concerned newly qualified teachers who have applied for several jobs. "Sometimes in the space of several days they may have two or three interviews and may want to keep their options open," he says.

"The advice we give is that it's perfectly reasonable to ask for some time to think about it. You should never be forced to take a job you're not interested in."

Asking for 24 hours is reasonable, she says. But beware. Candidates who cannot make up their minds are the nightmare scenario for heads, according to David Beresford, assistant secretary at the National Association of Headteachers. "The worst ones are those who go for five interviews, say they'll let you know tomorrow and then go off for another interview," he says. "I can understand why people do it, but you can't go round playing games with employers.

"If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they have to act like professionals - play fair and be straight."

Any job offer will be subject to certain checks, usually references, police, General Teaching Council registrations and qualifications, though some schools may check health and even immigration status if right-to-work is an issue.

Nevertheless, the offer and acceptance of a job - even verbally - is considered to be a contract. Say yes, then change your mind when something better comes along, and you could be considered in breach of that contract.

Ms Keates says: "We try to maintain a bit of integrity and say you shouldn't agree verbally to a job if you want time to think. But we always advise members, never put your resignation in until you've got the offer in writing."

Once that confirmation comes, it's considered good form to inform your head immediately - assuming they didn't know already.

As for trying to negotiate a few extra points on your salary after being made an offer, this too might get black marks from your prospective employer. Indeed, Mr Beresford says some might consider it blackmail.

Ms Keates is more relaxed, saying that if you're in a sellers' market, then good luck to you. She's more concerned about the reverse - heads trying to barter down mature entrants or returning teachers who are competing for jobs against cheaper newly qualified teachers. "That puts them in an invidious position with not a lot of weapons in their armoury," she says.

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