Which school?

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
It's not just parents and teachers who have a choice about schools - teachers do too. Steven Hastings looks at the options open to NQTs


They come in all shapes and sizes - small or large, urban or rural, high- flying or community-focused.

Small schools mean a more relaxed environment. You'll get to know classes and colleagues quickly and it's easy to settle in. But large schools are dynamic places to work, with plenty of scope for taking on responsibility. If you choose a really challenging school, it could be tough. But if you make a success of it, your CV will look good, your confidence will be sky- high and you'll feel you can teach anywhere.

It's an advantage if the school's specialist area matches your own because there will be opportunities for internal promotion or to train as an advanced skills teacher.

But you should also be looking for a good head of department, who'll give you support, encouragement and opportunity.

Specialist status makes no difference to pay or conditions. All maintained schools follow the national scale. If you're starting at the bottom, it ranges from Pounds 20,627 to Pounds 25,000 in central London.


They generally pay more than state schools, but the gap is narrowing. As an NQT you'll probably get Pounds 1-2,000 above the national scale, though "big name" schools may pay an extra Pounds 4-5,000. But it's not money for nothing. Private schools offer a range of extra-curricular activities and you'll be expected to contribute. Heads want good qualifications, but they're also looking for a willingness to help out with sport, drama, and school trips. You don't need to be a champion fly-half, but you do need to buy into the ethos.

Boarding schools are even more demanding. Even if you're not involved on the residential side, you'll find the school day starts early and finishes late, with regular weekend commitments. A possible bonus for young NQTs is that boarding school jobs sometimes come with free accommodation.

Independent schools have longer holidays than maintained schools, with an extra week at Christmas and Easter, and perhaps two more weeks in the summer. But if you wish to leave, the period of notice is usually longer than the standard two months in state schools.

Some teachers worry that working in an independent means they'll be snubbed by the state schools. Prejudices do exist, on both sides of the fence, but attitudes have softened and switching sectors is far more common than it used to be.


Selective grammar schools have a culture of high academic achievement. Teachers are under pressure to get results - true anywhere, but especially in grammars. Working with gifted youngsters is a joy, but only if you're really on top of your subject. If you're not, there's always the danger the best pupils will run rings round you.

Grammars tend to be strong on extra-curricular activities, so there's a need to be committed outside as well as inside the classroom. The salary and conditions are the same as comprehensives.


In some, religion doesn't go much further than a morning hymn; in others, it permeates every aspect. So if you don't belong to a school's faith, you need to ask yourself whether you'd be comfortable there. For hardened atheists it's trickier.

Some schools appoint only from within their faith - as they're legally entitled to do. Others promote diversity. If you're open and honest about your faith or lack of it, and the school is willing to employ you, then that probably means you'll fit in.

But if a job advert says a school would prefer a committed Christian and you're not, then even if you do get the job you may find internal promotions harder to come by.


These schools draw up their own pay and conditions. Salaries are roughly in line with the national scale, though many principals admit they're willing to pay more "for the right candidate".

Working hours and conditions vary widely. Some academies follow government guidelines, but others insist on longer periods of notice, shorter lunch breaks and even reduced sick pay in the first year.

Annual teaching hours may be up to 1,500, instead of the usual 1,265.

If you're applying to academies, be sure to check the small print. But bear in mind that contractual details don't always have much impact on your day-to-day working life.

They can be exciting places to teach and, provided the terms and conditions are not unreasonable, you shouldn't be put off.

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