Choosing the right place to work in your early career is fundamental to your future in this profession. Too often I hear horror stories about newly qualified teacher (NQT) experiences, and this can only be contributing to the reported mass exodus of teachers from the classroom. The early years are important for establishing healthy habits and positive working relationships. But do you truly have control over where you work after achieving qualified teacher status (QTS)?
The answer is: yes, to some extent.
No teacher training provider can guarantee a permanent position for you. The uncertainty can be a trigger for stress and anxiety, especially in the primary sector where jobs come out later and there are larger numbers of candidates competing for the same position. Getting your first job is about timing, information gathering and a ‘best-fit’ approach.
Here are my top tips for securing the right job for you.
Neither you nor your programme leader will know exactly where or when the jobs will be advertised. You might hear whispers in the staff room of potential pregnancies or promotions, but nothing is official until it’s advertised as a vacancy with terms and conditions. You don’t have a crystal ball and there is no benefit in trying to predict when or where jobs will come out. The reality is that staffing schools is reactive. So, take your time, get alerts on your phone from job vacancy sites, and only act on facts.
We’ve started to use the phrase ‘best fit’ much more when we recruit staff across our partnership now. Reflect on your placements. Consider what sort of culture you want to work in and what you look for in leadership.
To find your best fit, ask yourself these questions:
A recent trainee told me she didn’t want to apply for a post because she had heard the school was a bad place for NQTs. I advised her to contact the headteacher and arrange a visit so she could find out for herself. The opinions you get from colleagues may be informed by their own bad experiences, or simply by rumours. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be the right place for you. After her visit, the trainee ended up applying, was successful at interview and is starting in September. It was certainly worth doing her own research.
Use the Find and compare schools in England website to compare all of the schools within your commute area.
If you go for a visit, prepare yourself with knowledge. Read their Ofsted report but also read their website, headteacher’s welcome and any other material you can find. Look beyond the judgements and read between the lines. Know their mission statement and core values to see if they match your own philosophies. While you are there, talk to students and staff. Ask:
Follow the instructions provided when you’re applying for jobs. This may seem obvious, but different schools have different templates and different requirements.
Jobs on websites usually including a candidate information pack, a job description and the school’s recent Ofsted report. Download all of this and use it to build your cover letter. Pay particular attention to the school’s language and their core values.
When you go for an interview, there are several possible outcomes.
At some point during the day a member of the SLT may ask if you are still a firm candidate. This is your chance to leave the process if you don’t think this is the right school for you.
This is quite common, especially in the post-16 sector, so be prepared to play the waiting game. It’s not a pleasant experience but it does give you valuable reflection time. There is nothing more you can do except wait.
If you really wanted the job, rejection can be a crushing blow. It’s even worse if you’re on placement at the school and you have to come back the next day. Please do not let the situation stunt your development as a teacher. Hopefully the school will provide careful, pertinent feedback to help you in future applications. Pick yourself back up and learn from it.
Ultimately, your first year in the job is an exciting time and something you will look back on fondly in years to come if you have the right mindset from the start.
And remember, your first teaching position is not a lifelong commitment. You should move every few years to seek out new opportunities. Good luck!