Are you an NQT applying for teaching jobs? Read this first
Taking the plunge into finding a full-time teaching job is daunting, but there are some simple tricks that will put you ahead of the pack when it comes to application, interview and the dreaded practice lesson.
We spoke to four school leaders for their top tips on how you can stand out from the crowd:
Christopher Hammond, incoming headmaster at Lyonsdown Prep School in Barnet, London, current deputy headteacher at Maltman's Green School in London, says:
Do your research
I often tell my mentees that one of the candidates won't research the school or the headteacher. If you do, you immediately put yourself in a stronger position. The school website is no longer enough, though. Look at Facebook and Twitter – these platforms will give you the most up-to-date information about the school, with any personal accounts giving you an insight into the philosophy of the senior management team. Reading the latest inspection report is a must: if it was recent, make sure you weave the targets into your interview.
Reuse your best lesson
If you're given the choice of what to teach, play to your strengths. Teach your specialist subject and deliver your best lesson from the past 12 months. You know, the lesson with the plasticine and the satellite link that took you a whole day to craft in the Easter holidays and left you in tears? Wow the kids and observer with that. It's not realistic to do this for every lesson in your career, but your interview lesson should be your A game. If not, the school will wonder what your lessons will be like on a Friday afternoon.
Practise your answers in advance
Any good interview will include a mix of academic and pastoral questions: some will ask you to give examples of when you did something, some will ask your opinion of an issue. Legally, there will always be some element of safeguarding. And, if you're not asked where you see yourself in five years' time, I would be very surprised.
Write out a list of questions you think you will be asked, and consider your responses. When you're in the interview, however, don't try and remember exactly what you wrote.
Take part in a mock interview beforehand too. If your training provider doesn't include this in your course, ask your school mentor or a friend to carry one out.
Emma McLaughlin, headteacher at Powell Corderoy School in Surrey, says:
Don't diss your previous schools
Being negative comes across really badly, and it happens regularly. With an awful lot of the NQTs I've interviewed, when I ask them about their last practice, they say things like, "In my report it says my assessment needed to be more accurate but actually nobody ever showed me to do that properly." I just think: "Well, you could have asked." I wouldn't feel comfortable having somebody with that sort of approach working in the school.
Be confident and comfortable in the lesson
The absolute most important thing in the lesson is how the teacher engages pupils. You don't have to be all-singing, all-dancing and everyone's best mate, but I want to see that you can present in a way that the children engage with. I want to see that you can adapt to the room.
It's really hard to get the content and pitch right when you've never met the class before, and it's not the end of the world if the differentiation isn't exactly right – we expect that. None of that matters as much as the style of delivery and looking comfortable and confident.
Benjamin Ward, assistant vice principal for teaching and learning at Manchester Enterprise Academy says:
Don't worry if your lesson goes badly – just be ready to reflect on it
Lots of people get jobs off the back of quite ropey interview lessons. We want teachers who are reflective and can stop to think about their practice and development. You might make a complete hash of the lesson, but if you can identify what didn't go well that's OK. The problem comes when someone has a shocker and doesn't realise, or tries to talk it up as as if we wouldn't have noticed. You need to give an honest evaluation of the strengths and areas for improvement.
Show your passion
We know NQTs won't have had huge amounts of experience, but we want to get the feeling that they care about their professional development. Talk about articles, blogs and books you've read, things you've seen in observations, and what you want to do in the future.
It can be a bit of a turn-off if you go straight in for "I want a leadership position"; there's a balance to strike between saying that you have long-term aspirations to leadership, but first you just want to get great at being a teacher. We want people who want to be good and keep improving, who understand that they're not the finished article yet but are committed to becoming better.
John Winwood, assistant headteacher, Turves Green Boys School, Birmingham says:
Be focused in your application
Letters of application are often very weak from NQTs – they are often not tailored to the needs of the school, and make limited reference to the job specification, so the applicant isn't actually showing us how they would meet it.
Another issue is talking about things that aren't relevant to the job. A design and technology teacher may talk about wanting to do PE after school – but as the head of D&T, I want to know what you can do for my department first. If you're a science teacher, for example, tell me about the Stem clubs you would offer, not drama clubs. It's very nice helping out other subjects, but the priority is the one you're applying for.
Take time to think in the interview
Don't be afraid to ask for clarification; questions can be quite long and there can be several parts to them. And don't be afraid to stop and think – there's nothing wrong with a bit of silence, rather than just jumping in headfirst and not really thinking through your answer. Don't feel the need to keep talking, either. There's nothing worse than being in an interview where somebody goes on and on and on and starts to do undo the good work from the start of the answer.
Ask to go and visit the school before you apply – it's a way of getting you ahead of the game if you're in a competitive field and it does stand out. We've had candidates come round before and thought: "We need to get them through the door, let's hope they apply."
Be selective with evidence
Portfolios of evidence came and went and they seem to be coming back again. If you want to bring a portfolio of evidence, keep it concise and tailor it to the job specification. I would say to take no more than five things. I'm not interested in seeing a scheme of work, for example, but if you bring me a photocopy of a great bit of student work and explain how you got that, I can see your impact in the classroom.