Wanted: For demanding job at new school

We're all dynamic, highly motivated individuals who love a challenge but a half-built schoolin a tough area is not the best place for a new teacher to start, writes Stephen Manning

As you leaf through the TES job ads you may be forgiven for thinking the whole world is made up of go-getters, and that every school is successful and dynamic and bursting with energy and potential. So how are you going to find a job that's right for you?

It's important to know how to read the ads and what to avoid. For example, an ad will probably refer to the school as either "over-subscribed" or "challenging", the two ends of the spectrum. The former is greatly desirable, a school that parents are fighting to get their children into.

The latter is likely to test the spirits of the toughest of teachers.

"Choose a school where you think you can succeed," advises Sara Bubb, the TES's agony aunt and author of Helping Teachers Develop. "Save your missionary zeal for when you're more experienced."

John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes university, wrote a few ads as a young teacher in Haringey in the 1970s. "There are simple things applicants should look for, like whether the post is permanent or temporary, some idea of salary (pay scale), and a bit of detail about what you are expected to teach, as well as more general information such as numbers on roll, and if rolls are falling. If these aren't stated clearly, you should be a little wary."

Adverts are likely to include a short phrase, or perhaps just an adjective, lifted from an Ofsted report (this "rapidly improving" school, Ofsted 2001...), though it might be worth checking if it is the most recent report, as well as looking at the original context of the wording.

If there isn't an Ofsted quote, it's easy to conclude that there wasn't a single positive word in the entire report (this "school", Ofsted 2005...).

The school should be clear about what sort of candidates are required. "A post that is described as suitable for either an NQT or an experienced teacher might make me think the school is desperate to fill that position,"

says Sara Bubb. "You should ask yourself why that is." Are you going to be asked to do things that a more experienced teacher (probably on more pay) should be doing?

The amount of information offered will vary. "Ads tend to be more informative when it's more difficult to get applicants," says John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association. "If an ad doesn't try too hard, it may be because a lot more applicants are expected."

John Howson agrees: "Shortage subjects like design technology or physics will make the school and post seem as attractive as possible, whereas a subject like history can afford to be more discriminating, sometimes specifying a particular branch like, say, modern history."

Subject teachers need to know what sort of department the school has and whether it suits your needs. You may want to be a big fish, but is there even a pond?

"If you're a drama teacher answering an ad for a post where drama and music are combined, it may mean there isn't a full drama timetable," says John Howson. And what does the ad tell you about resources? A PE teaching post in a school that makes no mention of a gym or any kind of sports facilities may turn out to be more challenging than you think.

Ultimately, you want to find clues about how the school treats its teachers. "You need to know that you are well-supported - so look at what the ad tells you about leadership and management." says Sara Bubb. "Beware a school with a lot of ads, and presumably a high turnover. People stay in happy schools."

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