How to find a job you like

Teachers looking for their first place of work face a confusing choice of faith and independent schools, specialist colleges and academies. Sara Bubb suggests the criteria to consider
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The Independent Online

Do you know what sort of school you want to work in? There was a time when the choice was really only between primary, secondary and special schools, but now there's a confusing array, and some of the differences will affect your contract.

Do you know what sort of school you want to work in? There was a time when the choice was really only between primary, secondary and special schools, but now there's a confusing array, and some of the differences will affect your contract.

Most schools are in the maintained sector, which means that they're funded and controlled by the DfES and LEAs. But ones with "foundation school" status have more independence from the LEA: the governing body, rather than the LEA, is the employer and the admissions authority.

Faith schools

Faith schools generally prefer teachers of that faith, although they vary in how strict they are about this. Adverts often say something like: Applications are welcome from Catholics and other teachers who feel they can make an active contribution to the aims, values and activities of the school.

A "Christian ethos" could mean anything from a generally caring atmosphere to a passionately Evangelical head, staff, governors and parents who believe in the literal truth of the Bible. Be sure that the school's approaches to divorce, contraception, sex before marriage, abortion, homosexuality, and so on, are not going to touch a raw nerve with you. Church of England and Catholic schools are either Voluntary Aided (VA) or Voluntary Controlled (VC) depending on the level of autonomy they have opted for. The LEA is the employer and the admissions authority in VC schools; the governing body has these roles in VA schools.

Colleges and academies

No longer are colleges and academies just for the rich and grown-up. Egerton Park Arts College sounds rather grand, but is an 11 to 16 mixed comprehensive. Academies are springing up everywhere. Business, faith or voluntary groups sponsor their capital costs, but otherwise they're publicly funded - although their status is independent. This means that their teachers don't have to be registered with the General Teaching Council and may have contracts that are different to the standard School Teachers' Pay and Conditions.

Independent sector

There is still some mistrust and limited movement between the maintained and private sectors, so you may find it hard to get a job in a state school if you start in an independent. Independent schools range from the fantastic to the appalling. You should check that the school teaches the national curriculum in the same way as a state school - and that it keeps up to date.

Induction is optional in the independent sector, though most schools offer and encourage it. They don't get any DfES funding, but still have to provide the 90 per cent timetable and all elements of support, monitoring and assessment. This is expensive. By the way, look at what pay they're offering: independent schools don't have to stick to national pay scales. John Rees, a retired headteacher who runs sessions for trainee teachers on getting jobs, advises: "Look at the length of the day and, indeed, the week: many independent schools operate into the early evening and will have sports fixtures and other activities at the weekend, which are part of the normal routine."

Status

Some state schools have a certain status: some of the very best are "beacon" or "leading edge". "Training" schools are funded to develop and implement initial teacher training. Specialist schools have a special focus on their chosen subject area and are expected to work with other schools and the local community; sharing their resources and expertise. To confuse things yet further, some have awards such as: Artsmark for excellence in the arts; Sportsmark for excellence in sport; Investors in People, for organisations that look after their staff well; School Achievement Award, for schools which have vastly improved their results.

Adverts usually carry logos that tell you what status and awards the school has - and some have a stack. Glancing through the jobs pages, one can see that Park High School in Harrow has logos for Investors in People, Sportsmark, Chartermark, Leading Edge, Technology college - and it's positive about disabled people too.

Have a degree of healthy cynicism about fancy names and logos. Don't be put off plain school names with unadorned adverts - maybe they have nothing to prove.

What sort of school will suit you?

Different teachers suit different schools. The difficulty is deciding what is right for you at the stage you're at. Every time you visit a school, take a good look at what you see around you to help you work out the kind of place you want to work in. A music NQT is disillusioned after teaching at a place with "poor behaviour, a depressing environment and a neglected music department that has no Year 10s this year, so no GCSE next year". He now realises that he wants to work in a school with "flourishing choirs, orchestras and a team of peripatetics teaching the whole range of orchestral instruments to a high standard".

The trouble is that the nicest schools to work in have the fewest vacancies, so keep an eye on the jobs pages. Watch out for places with frequent ads - what's wrong with it?

When you've found a school, do some detailed detective work. Ask around - teaching is an incestuous profession, so you're bound to find someone who knows about the school. Where is it placed in the league tables? Is your journey going to be long and stressful, or are the pupils likely to be rather too close to your home for comfort?

You should also read the latest Ofsted report at www.ofsted.gov.uk. The summary pages are the most useful in getting an overall picture. Look out for the sections on pupils' attitudes and values, as well as leadership and management - a poorly managed school will be frustrating to work in. Avoid schools in special measures or serious weaknesses.

It's ideal to look around a school before you apply, though this may not be practical. Otherwise, try to drop your application form off in person. It makes you look really keen and gives you a glimpse of the school. Look out for: the children - do you like them? Think about what type (think of age, class, race, home language) you enjoy teaching; the atmosphere; behaviour management policy - do the rules and rewards seem fair?; staff workload - what sort of hours are teachers working and do they seem happy?; professional development - how much is there?; the leadership of the school - though you may not see much of them, the head can make or break a school; the other staff - the staff room tells you a lot: are people laughing, swapping anecdotes or chatting about what was on Teachers' TV? Or are their heads down, marking books, ignoring each other?; the loos - the state of them often mirrors how staff are treated.

These things tell you a great deal about the character of the school. Follow your instincts: what doesn't feel right for one is a joy to another. One trainee teacher was offered a great-looking job but turned it down: "It was at a school I really liked the look of. It had a superb reputation and had all the things I wanted. But walking around the school and meeting some of the other teachers, I just never got the, 'Yes, this is the place for me' feeling."

What salary can you expect?

Location and scale can have a big effect on earnings

Do you know how much you'll be earning in September? The whole pay thing for teachers is really confusing because there have been so many changes, so it's hard to know what to expect in the bank every month. For a start, there are different pay scales for: unqualified teachers; main scale; upper scale; advanced skills teachers; leadership group; and headteachers.

Within each of these, there are four scales, depending on whether you work in inner, outer or the fringe of London, or elsewhere in England and Wales. If you're looking in the London area, how do you find out whether your school is inner, outer or fringe? Well, it's not easy.

For instance, if you're looking at North London, remember that most of Hertfordshire is classed as England and Wales, but in parts of it, such as Welwyn and Hatfield, you'll get fringe pay; Barnet, Enfield and Harrow are in outer London; and Camden and Brent are classed as inner London. There's nearly £4,000 difference between the areas, so be strategic.

All qualified teachers start on the main pay scale. To add to the confusion, some adverts refer to its old names: common pay spine (CPS) or teachers' pay scale (TPS). Teachers on the main pay scale move up a point every year, in September. Part-time and temporary teachers also go up a point, so long as they've been employed for at least 26 weeks during the year.

Most people start on M1 and after six years, will be at the top of the scale, M6. But some lucky beggars start higher up the scale in recognition of their experience. Once awarded, experience points can't be taken away, regardless of whether you stay in the same school or get a post in another, so it's essential to negotiate a fair starting point when you get your first job.

Deductions

You'll only get about two-thirds of your salary as take-home pay. Six per cent is deducted to fund your Teachers' Pension. The employer contributes to it, so it's much better than a personal pension. You can also make Additional Voluntary Contributions of up to nine per cent to boost it. All but the lowest paid work incurs 11 per cent National Insurance deductions. You pay tax on any money earned over your personal allowance of £4,895. The next £2,020 is taxed at 10 per cent, and then the rest is taxed at 22 per cent. For future reference, any income over £31,400 gets taxed at 40 per cent. Repayments on student loans kick in when you've earned more than £10,000 in a tax year.

Financial incentives

England and Wales have financial incentives for teachers of shortage subjects. You can claim the £4,000 Golden Hello in England and Wales if you have a PGCE in secondary maths, science, modern languages, technology, information technology, design and technology or English (including drama). But it's not really a golden "hello", so much as a way to get you working for longer, because you can only claim the money in the term after you've successfully completed induction and if you're still teaching that shortage subject in a maintained school or academy. The £4,000 is paid in one instalment through your salary. It's subject to tax and national insurance, but isn't pensionable.

The teachers' loans scheme is a fantastic deal - all the money borrowed from the student loan company is paid off. But it's only for people who teach maths, science, modern languages, English (including drama), Welsh, design and technology, or ICT for at least half of their teaching time in a normal week. But the bad news is that it ends on 30 June 2005, so unless you have a contract for a job that starts by then, you'll miss out.

WHY IT PAYS TO READ THE ADVERTS

Learn to read adverts with your bullshit detector finely tuned. Here are some not altogether flippant interpretations of educational adspeak:

"Small classes of 20 and under." Ask yourself how on earth they manage this. Could it be through employing lots of cheap labour?

"Ongoing in-service education for initial year." This could be code for: "we won't let you out for any courses; you'll be neglected after your first year."

"We offer good promotional opportunities." Few people can bear the school long enough to stay.

"Highly disciplined school." Lots of frog-marching, shouting, and teachers who'd like to bring back the cane.

"A new building is planned." The present one is a rat-infested ruin and it'll be years before that new building is agreed; and then you'll be trying to teach on a building site. Prepare for chaos.

"A rare opportunity to join the staff of this school." You'll be the first new teacher in 10 years, the youngest by 30 and have conversations about grandchildren.

"Be able to make a full contribution to school life." You'll be expected to run a billion 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: "are being". It means teaching over the sound of drilling; and you can bet they haven't got to your classroom yet.

"We provide a laptop for every teacher with digital projectors in most classrooms." We can't construct a sentence properly, even for a short advert; your laptop will probably be the ancient one that plays up; and we expect you to use those damn digital projectors no matter what.

"The school can offer the Graduate Training Programme." You don't even have to be a qualified maths teacher. If you're quite good at sums you're in.

"The role is suitable for an experienced teacher, a NQT or a GTP candidate." We're desperate and will take anybody.

"Recently achieving the highest exam results ever in its history." Bound to be a really low achieving school that had a couple of hard-working bright kids last year.

"Come and join us. You'll never be bored!" The kids are off the wall.

"Excellent value-added scores" We're not great, but the feeder primary is worse.

"Join this developing department." The head of department is off with stress and several teachers have left.

"Expanding, increasingly popular school." The neighbouring school was so awful it closed.

"Improving / fast improving / rapidly improving." We were really bad.

The writer lectures at the Institute of Education and works with new teachers throughout the country. Her 'A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual', is published by David Fulton, priced £16

s.bubb@ioe.ac.uk

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