Top tips for choosing a school

It’s the time of year when student teachers and staff currently in post begin to scan the TES for their first or next teaching job. But how do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Here are my top tips to help you know if you’re choosing the right school to apply to, from finding the advert to the day of the interview itself.

It’s about matchmaking

On every interview I’ve ever been on, and every interview I’ve ever conducted, the phrase “today is as much about you choosing the school as it is about the school choosing you” has been uttered. This is true. The school will not benefit from appointing someone who is not aligned with the vision and ethos of the institution, and you will not achieve your potential as a professional if you find yourself having to compromise your approach at every turn. Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t apply. If you’ve applied and it doesn’t feel right, withdraw. The right school is out there – no one benefits if you end up working at the wrong school for you.

It’s all subjective

Of course, the “right school” depends on you. Some teachers want blazers, lining up in silence, and  standing when staff enter the room. Some teachers want trainers, casual chatter, and first name terms. I’m not proposing that one is better than another – but the right teacher needs the right environment to thrive. You need to feel comfortable and know that the school will bring the best out of you. Above all you are looking for that magic ingredient, that special buzz, that you get in a school which the staff are proud to work at and the students are proud to attend.

I withdrew from my first ever interview, after not being given the opportunity of meeting a single student during the day and feeling that the department was too prescriptive, lacking creativity and the freedom to innovate. The Head tried to change my mind, offering me the chance to go and speak to students immediately, almost marching me down the corridor to a classroom. If I’d been in any doubt before, this sealed it – surely the fact that I didn’t want to work there should have been enough. What benefit could the school possibly have accrued from trying to force me to work there against my better judgement? The Deputy Head, walking me back to reception to wait for a taxi, reassured me that I’d done the right thing, further proving that this was not a school I wanted to work at.

So, when you find an ad in the TES that looks interesting:

Check the website

Surely this is the first port of call for anyone interested in a school. The website should give you a flavour of the ethos of a school. Check the news feed – how often is it updated? What’s been going on? Have a look at the prospectus which advertises the school to parents and pupils. Dig in as far as you can to see how current and consistent the messages are.

Ofsted Report

Ofsted mostly get things right, and the most recent report is always worth reading. At the very least, it will tell you what the school’s priorities are as any areas of weakness will be being addressed. However, please don’t be put off by schools with judgements rated 3 or 4 by inspectors – this does not necessarily mean it’s a bad school. Read the text. How long ago was it? It may be the best time to join a school that needs you to sustain the improvements that have taken root.

Get the details

The school will send out details, usually via email but also by post. These should be clear and helpful, giving you all the information you need to make your application but also giving more clues about the ethos. The same goes for the invitation to interview after you’ve applied. Add all this to the evidence bank you’ve built up to test against the reality.

Get out and about – and into the toilets

On the day of the interview, you should be invited to use any free time to get a feel for the school. Use it. Get into lessons. Meet students. Talk to staff. Above all, make time to visit the students’ toilets. Nothing will tell you more about the respect that the school has for its students and the students have for their school than the students’ toilets. This has always been a deal breaker for me!

Meet the Head

The Headteacher and Head of Department you will be working for will be very important. They set the direction for the school and you need to be sure that you can work with them. Talk to other staff about them. Listen to what is said but use this to inform your own judgement.

Meet the students

You will certainly teach a lesson – if not, you should be asking why not! Use this to get a sense of what is normal classroom practice at the school. But also speak to students when you are touring the school, at dinner, at break – whenever you get the chance, ask them what the best thing about the school is. Ask them, if they had a magic wand, what would they change? When I asked this question of students on the interview days for my current post, every single one responded in the same way: bafflement. They couldn’t think of a single thing. I knew then that I was on to a winner…

Be sure

Trust your instincts. If you don’t think the school is right for you, ask to speak to the Head of Department or Headteacher and explain. Honestly, if they are any good at all they won’t be offended – the day really is as much about you choosing the school as it is about the school choosing you. They may be able to reassure you, or answer any questions you might have. Take time to think. Be sure.

What have I missed?

Do you have any top tips that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments, or on twitter @chrishildrew

3 thoughts on “Top tips for choosing a school

  1. My son is getting old enough that I need to start thinking about enrolling him in school. I was wondering what kind of school I should enroll him in. That is a good idea to check the website and see how current and consistent everything is. That would be a good indicator about how well they can manage things. Thank you for the information!

  2. My best friend is looking for a school for her son. I appreciate the advice here to pay attention to the students at the school and ask them what they would change about the school. This is something I’ve never thought of doing before, so I will keep this in mind!

  3. I found it interesting when you said that choosing the right school will always depend on us and our priorities. My husband and I just both want to enroll our son in a private high school, but he insisted that he wanted to attend an all-boys school. I guess we’ll take his preferences into consideration and see if we can find nearby Catholic schools that would fit the criteria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.