Finding the right school

5th January 2018 at 00:00

You’re halfway through your teacher training and the last thing you probably want is something new to add to your already too long to-do list.

Even though it might feel like you have plenty of time left before next September, it is never too early to start the search for your new job in teaching. Competition for places at the best schools is intense and the recruitment timeline is completely different to what it was even five years ago.

“It used to be the case that spring term was when all of the job adverts came out and people would start looking from around February,” says Helena Marsh, executive principal at Linton Village College in Cambridgeshire. “But because of the teacher retention and recruitment crisis, schools are advertising even earlier. Some are even advertising in the autumn because people are so desperate to snaffle up trainees, especially for specialist subjects.”

As a result, you probably should have started putting out a few feelers already. However, you also can’t fall into the trap of being too hasty and taking any old job. You have to make sure that you make the right decisions now because they will ultimately have an impact on how the rest of your career pans out.


The jobseeker’s timeline

The first thing you need is an idea of the timeline and different stages of the process, so before the later chapters, where we get into the detail of the recruitment process, what follows is an overview to frame your search.


1. When should you start looking?

Headteachers and experienced staff alike say that it’s never too early to start looking for a job. However, most agree that early in the new year is probably the best time to start your search.

“I would start to look at job adverts in January, not necessarily to start applying but to start building a letter of application matching to person specifications or job descriptions,” says Lacey Flook, a middle leader at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol.

“Hopefully, through your training, you have started to get an idea of what year you want to teach and maybe what sort of school you want to teach in.”

Most vacancies for next September will appear in a window between March and May, peaking in April. But this can differ from school to school, according to teacher recruitment expert John Howson. He says the window is not only opening earlier than ever before, but closing later, too. That gives you time to get a feel for the market.

“With academy financial years being different to the local authority year, the season has become elongated because schools aren’t told how much money they will have to spend until later in the year,” he explains.

Howson offers the following advice for people just starting to look for jobs: “Decide where you want to teach and register with jobs sites such as for alerts in your area. Start your search early to help you understand and get a feel of the market and what schools are looking for.”

He adds that some candidates will find things easier than others. “If you teach business studies or physics, you can be more relaxed as your skills are in high demand. PE, history and art teachers, on the other hand, may need to be the early bird [in order] to catch the worm.”

Indeed, Peter Mattock, director of maths and numeracy at Brockington College in Leicester, says that if you can be flexible and apply your skills to teaching one of the subjects where recruitment levels are low, you could transform your prospects.

“The major shortages are in maths, science – particularly physics – and also languages,” he says.

“The government has this aim of getting 90 per cent of people to complete the English Baccalaureate, which requires them to study a language, and there simply aren’t enough language teachers training to achieve this aim. If anybody wants to go into teaching and pretty much have their pick of jobs, those are the areas they should look to go into.”


2. Application and interview

Having spotted a job advert that meets your skills and criteria, the next thing you need to do is research the school that placed the ad. Flook advises calling up and asking to visit “as this is a great way to have a look around and get a feel for the school”.

If the school still feels like a good fit, the next step is to pen a letter of application (chapter two offers advice on this part of the process). Rebecca Foster, head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School in Salisbury, says you should apply for jobs only at schools that you actually want to work in, but that it makes sense to send out a number of applications at the same time if there are suitable vacancies out there.

“In reality, this is unlikely to be an unmanageable number at any one time,” she says.

If you do send out a series of applications in one go, though, don’t fall into the trap of sending the same letter to each school – tailor your personal statement to the school’s individual needs.

This can be a time-consuming process, says Howson. “However, you do need to balance that against not missing the opportunity to be considered for a vacancy. I would err on the ‘too many [applications] not too few’ side of caution,” he suggests.

Most schools – but not all – will let you know if your application has been successful within a fortnight or so of the deadline.

Foster says that after a week of the deadline passing, if you haven’t heard anything, “you may wish to give the school a call to ask about the progress of your application”.

If more than a fortnight passes and you still haven’t heard back, assume that it is unlikely you will be called in for an interview.

If you are called in, this is where the hard work starts (see chapter three for interview advice). The length of the interviewing process takes can vary. “In late May, if you are still looking, expect a rapid turnaround between advert and interview; it will take longer earlier in the year,” says Howson.

“However, like buying a house, every job application process is different and will run to its own time frame set by the school.”


3. Accepting a job

Once the interviewing process has been completed, there is little you can do beyond sit back and wait for the school to contact you with an offer – or not – of work. The time it takes a school to make a decision can vary wildly depending on the number of candidates and the time of year.

If an offer is made, usually you will be expected to immediately accept or refuse it, says Foster, who adds that some schools will ask during the interview if you’re still interested in the role. “Schools want people working for them who really want to work there. If you’re stalling, that signals to them that you’re not committed,” she says.

But what if you have other interviews lined up? “The courteous approach is to say yes [to the offer] and then say ‘but I have another interview at a school that’s nearer home/has a better timetable/is more suited to my abilities and, if offered that post, I would withdraw from your offer’,” says Howson. “However, many in that situation won’t tell the first school until after being offered the other post in case the bird in the hand flies away before the one in the bush is secured.”


4. Don’t panic

Regardless of how long the recruitment process is taking, whatever you do, don’t panic. “It can be tempting [to panic] when you’ve got fellow trainees who have secured jobs early on, but it’s so important that you get the right support and make the right decision about where you start your career,” says Marsh.

“Your first few years of teaching are all about becoming a great classroom practitioner, so you have to find the job that will enable you to flourish and learn these skills.”

Foster agrees. “Even after the May half term – the deadline for teachers to hand in their resignation if they want to start a new job come September – there will be some job adverts.”

By late May, if you still haven’t found a teaching post, and all your friends have, it’s worth seeking advice on where you might be going wrong. Are you always coming second at interview or are you not even being called for interview?

“Tutors, colleagues and staff at the schools where you have been working on placements can help with advice and look at your application forms,” says Howson.

At this point, it’s worth considering widening your geographic search area or exploring other subjects you could teach where there is greater demand, he adds.

And Foster suggests that if you haven’t secured a job towards the end of the academic year, it might be worth signing up with an agency or looking into supply teaching. The caveat here is that you shouldn’t feel pressured into signing up with an agency just because the new academic year is rapidly approaching.

This type of work doesn’t suit everyone. “Some fall into the trap of agencies and find themselves being sent to schools they wouldn’t choose to work in themselves, or they take home less money than they would if they were independent of an agency,” says Marsh.


Obviously within this framework are stages of the process that bring their own complexity. We will be dealing with each in turn later in this guide. Once you have this timeline sorted, the next job is to get your head around the sheer number of different types of schools that are out there now.


Types of school

Academies, free schools, voluntary can be tough to know what kind of school would be the best fit for you. Getting to know the characteristics of each type of school will allow you to better navigate the ads and give you a clue about which posts are worth applying for. Here’s a brief overview to get you up to speed.


1. Academies

They are independent, state-funded schools that receive funding directly from central government, rather than through a local authority. They can set their own term times and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.


2. City technology colleges

They are independent schools in urban areas that are funded by central government and are free to attend. They emphasise the teaching of science and technology.


3. Community schools

Such schools are state-funded and are controlled by the local council.


4. Faith schools

They have to follow the national curriculum, but can choose what they teach in religious studies.


5. Foundation schools

Like community schools, they are funded through the local authority but they are run by a governing body and have more scope to change the way that they operate.


6. Free schools

Funded by central government, they have more control over how they operate, so can set their own pay and conditions, change the length of school terms and days, and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.


7. Grammar schools

Run by councils, a foundation body or a trust, grammars select all or most of their pupils based on academic ability. Pupils usually have to sit an entrance exam.


8. Private or independent schools

Such schools charge fees and don’t have to follow the national curriculum.


9. Pupil referral units

PRUs teach children who are unable to attend mainstream school either because they have a short- or long-term illness, they have been excluded or they are a new starter waiting for a mainstream school place.


10. Sixth-form colleges

Students between the ages of 16 and 19 attend them to study for qualifications including A-levels and GCSEs.


11. Special schools

Such schools focus on teaching children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) and can sometimes specialise further to reflect particular needs, for example autistic spectrum disorders or visual impairment.


12. State boarding schools

They are state-funded schools that provide free education, but charge fees for boarding. Most state boarding schools are academies, but some are free schools or are run by local councils.


13. Voluntary schools

They are state-funded schools in which a charity or trust has some influence over how the school is run.


So, how do you make up your mind about which school to go for? In most cases, individuals are likely to be heavily influenced by the kind of school they trained in or even attended when they were younger.

“If you’ve enjoyed the type of school that you’ve trained in then it would make sense to look for similar schools,” says Foster.

“If you’ve found that you’ve really enjoyed working with certain groups of students, you may want to explore working in a setting that specialises in supporting students with SEND or a PRU.

“However, it would probably be advisable not to narrow your specialism at this point in your career – instead, go for a school that will allow you to develop your teaching practice and experience. If you specialise too soon (for example, by just working in a post-16 setting), you may find it harder to move into a different type of school in the future.”

It is possible to match your personality and teaching style to a particular type of school, but Flook says candidates should ensure that they are not compromising their own educational values in the process.

“This can be easily done by inexperienced teachers who may not know exactly what type of school they want to work in or their own educational beliefs,” she says.

Ultimately, these decisions come down to your own personal outlook and ethos, says Jamie Barry, headteacher at Parson Street Primary School in Bristol, who also warns that there are elements of working in certain types of school that might not suit all new teachers.

“You have to look at where you want to work and examine the structure of schools,” he says. “For instance, at some academy trusts your employment contract is with the trust and not with an individual school, so you may find yourself being moved around different schools within the trust.”

If you are unsure about any aspect of the school’s organisation and structure, including how your NQT induction process will be managed, be sure to ask about this at the interview.

As well as thinking carefully about the type of school, you also need to scrutinise the department you’re going to join, says Marsh. “If you’re the only religious studies teacher in a school, who is going to be there to help you plan and deal with things like behaviour management?” she asks. “Getting a sense of the support mechanisms in place at a school is really important.”


Should you risk moving out of your comfort zone?

When a job comes up at the school down the road from your house, it might feel like serendipity. Who wouldn’t want a twominute commute? But before you rush to fill in your application form, take a moment to consider what else might be out there.

The majority of teachers tend to apply for jobs in their local area because they have a network of family and friends already in place. But might restricting yourself to one area mean missing out on better job prospects elsewhere?

There are a number of pros and cons associated with looking for work further afield. Foster believes that having a support network in your NQT year is important but that such a network may be formed with other NQTs starting at your school.

As a result, she thinks candidates should be directed by where job opportunities are. “You may hold out for a job in a particular area that never comes up,” she says.

“[So], set a deadline and then start widening your search area. Looking elsewhere might offer more opportunities and you can always move in the future.”

But whether you decide to stay put or move around is a personal decision and is highly dependent on individual circumstances, says Mattock.

“For some people, it’s hugely beneficial to stick around the people and places they know for when times get tough,” he argues. “But it’s all about your personality. If you are the sort of person who wants to go and explore, and who thrives on independence, then you can use teaching as an opportunity to see new places, meet new people and work in different environments.

“If you prefer a settled life and you like having friends around, then applying for jobs in and around your local area is probably best for you in terms of your own mental health and wellbeing.”


The pros and cons of staying put in your training school

You can’t stick much closer to home than applying for a job at the school you trained at. In many cases, this can work out quite nicely for everyone involved.

From the school’s point of view, this is a fairly safe appointment as they will have got to know the candidate well and have seen first-hand how they operate.

From the candidate’s perspective, they will understand the culture of the school, know how it operates and will have built relationships with staff and students.

But is it a wise move to stay at your training school after you’ve completed your training? It really depends on whether or not you like the school.

Flook recalls that if one of the placement schools she trained at had a job going she would have “jumped at the chance”, while if the other offered her a role, she would have “run for the hills”.

“It can be tempting to take the security of the known over the unknown but you need to be sure that it is the right school for you,” she says.

You also need to be aware that, even if you have built up strong relationships with staff and students, there are no guarantees that you will land the job. “The school is obliged to fill the post with the best candidate and sometimes that isn’t the person who has trained there,” says Foster. “Be prepared for not getting the job and be prepared to be professional in handling continuing your training if you are not successful.”

Also, don’t feel obligated to apply for a job at the training school if one becomes available, especially if you didn’t have a particularly positive experience and wouldn’t necessarily want to work there.

“It’s important that you apply to schools that you think you’d work well in,” says Foster. “It might be worth exploring why it is that you don’t want to work at your training school, which will help to inform your search elsewhere.”

On the whole, though, staying at your training school does make a lot of sense. Barry’s first job in teaching was at his placement school, and he believes that knowing the routines and structures of the school allowed him to hit the ground running.

“Also, some schools will start contracts prior to the summer break so that they can secure you if you’re a good trainee,” he points out.

“This means you will get paid over the holiday period.”

But while he believes that there are multiple upsides associated with staying put, Barry also identifies some pitfalls to look out for.

“You will have to work hard to make sure that you establish yourself as a teacher and not just a helper,” he says.

“I’ve had some instances where children see people as teachers’ helpers rather than teachers because they were helpers during their NQT year.

“You also have to be careful of falling into the trap of thinking the world revolves around a particular school, which is why I think it’s important to get as much experience as possible.”


Should you teach abroad?

One way that teachers can broaden their experience is by moving abroad for their first job. Five years ago, it wasn’t possible to do your NQT year in a school overseas but, owing to the efforts of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) – a global association for international British schools overseas – that has now changed.

“We managed to get a change in legislation that permitted schools that had been inspected against the Department for Education’s British Schools Overseas system to legally offer induction years,” says Colin Bell, chief executive of COBIS.

He says that around 50-60 candidates per year go down this route through COBIS schools. “Like anything, if you’re in a new job, you want to be supported and if you’re going to go to a school that’s going to help you with your NQT induction, it shouldn’t really matter if it’s in Liverpool or Lagos – it’s all about that professional support.”

However, he concedes that teaching abroad may not be a suitable option for everyone. “If we are talking about someone who potentially has not ever been outside of the UK, you might advise them, because it is such a demanding maybe do their NQT year here in the UK and then after that go out into the world,” says Bell.

This is a view shared by Howson, who thinks that unless teachers intend to spend their careers working in international schools, they should teach in the UK first. That said, he does see the value of teachers gaining overseas experience.

“Schools with lots of international pupils on their roll often value teachers who have taught overseas and have had experience of teaching children from many cultures and backgrounds,” he says. “Some independent schools now have significant numbers of overseas students and want teachers who know about the international baccalaureate, for instance.”

But think carefully if you are planning to teach in Europe, Bell says. Candidates should be aware that the ongoing negotiations around the UK leaving the European Union could present unforeseen problems as there is currently little clarity on how exactly border controls and working rights will be set.

Despite this uncertainty, Bell doesn’t think teachers should rule out the overseas option yet. “At present, it’s business as usual,” he says. “Decent schools will be thinking about this and planning for all eventualities, so if you are thinking about taking that leap overseas, or going to a school in Europe, you should be asking the school at this point what their preparation for Brexit is.”

Simon Creasey is a freelance writer


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