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Your job and career questions answered

Referee's decision

I've taught in a secondary school for the past five years since my training. I am a hard-working teacher and my department had a good Ofsted report not long after I started. But I feel my career is being blocked. My head of department is close to the head and says I will not be promoted and should move on. If I do that, I am worried that I might not get a fair reference. Is there anything I can do about the discrimination I feel is being directed towards me?

You raise some important points. First, how long should you stay in your first teaching job? After five years, you will have seen almost a whole cohort pass through the school. So it might be a good time to look for another post if you want to develop your career. Your head of department might be doing you a favour. You say your career is "being blocked", but unless you have some evidence, such as being rejected for internal posts and unsatisfactory reasons offered at debriefings, this would be hard to prove. There must have been promotion opportunities in the school that were open to you.

In teaching, you are responsible for your career progression, so your head or your head of department has no duty to take care of it for you, although you should expect help with career development.

Unless there is some particular malice towards you, I can't see why you think you'd get a bad reference. These days it is usually possible to see what others have written about you, and challenge any untruths. If you are worried, it is sensible to look for a referee from outside the school, such as an adviser or an organiser of professional development courses you have taken part in. Such a person might give you unbiased advice about your skills and how you present yourself.

If this is more than a personality clash, talk to your professional association. Contact the branch secretary, rather than your school representative.

It's a pain in the pension

I have been offered a job with a company that supplies the education market. The firm has a pension plan but with all the negative publicity about pensions, I don't know what to do with my contributions to the teachers' pension scheme. Any advice?

Advice about pensions can be complex and it's best to go to an expert who can assess your individual circumstances. But there may be some questions you'd want to ask. First, what sort of scheme does the firm run? Is it a final salary scheme, like the teachers' pension scheme, or a "money purchase scheme", in which contributions are used to provide a cash sum to purchase an annuity on retirement.

Second, what is the history of the scheme, and is it regarded as "fully funded" at present? What level of contributions does the employer make to the fund? Also, what would your contributions be?

Finally, what are the various benefits available, including any continuation of the pension after your death for a partner, or death-in-service grants and the level of any lump-sum payment?

With all this information, you can decide how the scheme compares with the other options available to you. Remember that if there is a chance that you might return to the education sector at some time in the future, you will need to take that into account as well.

If you have a question for John Howson, please email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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