Teaching: How to get to the top of the pile

By following a few basic steps, you can make your application stand out from the rest, says Sara Bubb
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The Independent Online

Most people hate filling in application forms but you need to produce stunners to get to the interview stage. Although forms vary, they all cover the same ground so once you've done one well, subsequent ones won't take as long. Dave Coram, Lambeth's teacher recruitment coordinator, says "Primary applications have become much stronger in recent years, with only candidates from one or two training institutions showing common weaknesses." Applications for secondary schools are more variable, with supporting statements that are too brief and not written against the person specification. Forms that are not completed according to the clear instructions don't give a good first impression. Unless instructed differently, list qualifications and experience with the most recent first. Don't forget to choose two relevant referees - usually a tutor from your training institution and someone senior from a school.

The supporting statement is vital but causes people much anxiety. Although it can be useful to see examples, don't fall into the trap of copying phrases. Plagiarism is the quickest route to the bin as well as a bad reputation. The secret is to address how you meet the job specification, but don't go over two pages. You need to be concise and get the main points across, not put in everything you have ever done. Avoid unsubstantiated assertions and jargon. To convey the sort of teacher you are, describe a specific lesson. Examples bring the whole thing to life. Mention the school in relation to your own values: "I was pleased to see on your website that Dulwich Primary has a creative curriculum, as this is an area that I feel passionate about."

Remember that your form will be used to assess your written communication skills, so give the supporting statement a punchy start, a memorable concluding sentence and make sure it reads well. Make the layout attractive. Proofread it, get someone else to check it and then check it again! The smallest spelling or grammatical errors might ruin your chance of getting an interview.

Dr Jennifer Longhurst, head teacher of Surbiton High School, has seen a range of applications over the years but has just received a corker. Meticulously presented and completed in the requested level of detail, the finishing touch was the accompanying letter. As well as being clear, polite and to the point, it included a summary table of how the candidate met each of the person specification criteria. Dr Longhurst was impressed: "My short-listing had been done for me. I could see at a glance everything I needed to know and I can't wait to interview her."

Of course you might get snapped up by your placement school if you impress people. Michael Tidd, who trained on a KS2/3 course at Chichester, got a job at Thomas A Becket Middle School in West Sussex where he did his spring-term placement. "A week before leaving, just before Easter, I booked an appointment with the head to say how much I'd enjoyed working at the school and to ask him to bear me in mind if a vacancy arose." He'd clearly impressed because the head teacher gave him a brief interview and offered him a temporary post for September. Luck was on Tidd's side: the job offered became permanent at the end of May because of other staff changes. And he only filled in an application form after the interview for admin purposes.

What do the ads mean?

In looking for the perfect school to start your career, read adverts with a degree of informed scepticism. Here are some not altogether flippant interpretations of extracts.

"Ongoing in-service education for initial year" - this could be code for "you'll be completely neglected after your first year".

"We offer good promotional opportunities" - few people can bear to stay at the school long.

"Highly disciplined school" - lots of frog-marching and shouting.

"Superb new buildings scheduled for 2008" - prepare for chaos; you'll spend your induction year in a rat-infested ruin next to a building site.

"Be able to make a full contribution to school life" - you'll be expected to run lots of clubs and turn up at weekends to support the sports fixtures, discos and quiz nights.

"All classrooms are being fitted with interactive whiteboard" - note the verb is in the present tense so you'll be teaching over the sound of drilling; and you can bet there isn't an IWB in your classroom yet.

"The role is suitable for an experienced teacher, an NQT or a GTP candidate" - they're desperate. Ask why! SB