Developing your teaching career in Primary Schools

It’s a question that I get asked many times…

“How do I develop my career in school?” or ” how long do I have to wait before I can move up in responsibilities and pay?”

Well let me tell you that there is no fixed answer to this question and to be quite honest sometimes you can be in the right place at the right time – it’s as simple as that!

At various stages in the progression you will have opportunity to undertake training qualifications through the National college for teaching and leadership. These are not compulsory and if taken do involve quite intensive workloads. They are not, in my opinion, a replacement for good old experience and to be quite honest, as a HT, I would appoint someone who had the experience above a candidate with the qualification and less experience any day of the week!

It’s not for everyone:

You have to make a decision as to what you personally want from your teaching career. Moving forward in terms of responsibility also brings with it increased accountability and workload and this may not be for you.

Having said that, life takes us all in different directions at differing times of our lives and its good to know that teaching is a flexible career – so what may not suit your life at one particular time may just be achievable and suitable a few years down the line.

But you do need to have some sort of broad plan for any particular point in both your life and career and it is from this basis that you can make your decisions.

As I said in a previous article – schools should provide “opportunity” for the professional development of all staff and as such these opportunities should be available to you if you have decided to pursue any step on your career.

But don’t worry about saying no – if your personal, home or family life means that extra work and pressure would not suit your current situation then never be afraid of saying so – its ok.

If and when:

Right from the start of your career as an NQT you will be on a learning path. This will initially be quite a shock to your system as schools are busy places with lots happening but gradually you will get to know how things work and how things interact. It’s this experience that pervades every part of your teaching development and the more you are involved in; the more experience and confidence you will get. As your confidence grows so you may get asked to become more involved in school activities – perhaps taking part of a staff meeting, taking an assembly or being part of a group that looks at some area of the curriculum …its all great experience and develops you as a valued member of staff.

Don’t think that this goes unnoticed – senior staff will see how you work either on individual tasks or with a group and watch your progression and it then brings you into consideration for additional responsibility.

Foundation subject coordinator – This would be your 1st real appointment or promotion but in most cases will not involve any movement on pay scale. It is the first step in taking your personal skills and organisation and applying them to a school curriculum subject.

Timewise – I would recommend that this would follow after at least 2 years teaching (NQT + 1 yr)…however I have heard of colleagues being given this responsibility directly after an NQT year which I think is inappropriate. As a foundation subject coordinator I would expect you to hold that position for 2 or 3 years before moving forward.

Core Subject coordinator – This would occur after a successful time as a foundation subject coordinator but is quite a jump forward in real terms. Not only is this a movement onto a core subject (which means direct and pressured accountability for the whole school and the level of detail required) but also this brings with it promotion onto the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and accompanying pay rises.

There may be variations, of course, from school to school – depending on the school size and organisation. Very small schools have all sorts of problems with this and pay is usually not involved – the SLT can, in some situations simply be the HT and DH. There are also variations with larger schools involving phase leaders and assistant heads but they all point in the same way which is towards the SLT.

Timewise – Again all these are just as guides. I would expect that a core subject coordinator and SLT member would hold this post for 2 or more probably 3 years before moving forward.

Deputy Head – On my calculations you will now have been a teacher at least 8 years before you are in a position to apply for any Deputy Heads Posts. This will have given you a good grounding and experience which you can then apply and draw upon in a DH post. This is an important role both for you and the school. Here you will be directly involved in all aspects of school organisation whilst at the same time being in “training” for potentially the next step to Headship. As DH your pay moves onto the Leadership scale.

The post of DH is a vital one in school but also a difficult one to experience. Why do I say this?

The reason is that as a DH you are caught in “no man’s land”…you are not “in” the staffroom neither are you in the HT’s office – its a tricky balancing act but you do get used to it!

Timewise – It used to be an unwritten rule that you needed to be a DH for 3 years before you started applying for HT. I actually applied for my first headship after 2 years and didn’t get any interviews…I waited another year and the interviews happened! It’s not a bad rule of thumb actually, as in that time it does allow you as a DH to both get to grips with the role of being a DH and also to be involved with and understand the overall tasks and approaches in running a school. In other words 3 years gives you enough experience to then move on to being a HT.

Headteacher –   Again my calculations suggest that it would be at least 11 years before you were applying for Headship bearing in mind a straightforward progression. I never had to do the NPQH as my first headship was before this was introduced. It was though, inevitable that this became compulsory in the drive to standardise everything. Of course this is now not the case and the compulsory element has now been dropped and in my opinion quite rightly so. The role of HT is an extremely difficult one but at the same time immensely rewarding – it does however take you, as a teacher away from the classroom and into the realms of management….and as such is not for everyone. There has been recently a fall in applications for Headship with some schools unable to appoint and this situation seems to be worsening….this has led not only to the removal of the compulsory NPQH but also to the practice of “fast tracking” of candidates to fill the vacancies.

In my opinion this is a poor solution which can cause more problems than solutions and I have witnessed HT’s struggle to cope with the wide ranging demands of a job for which they are not prepared and do not have the experience.

I have tried in this article to give a broad outline of the type of career progression that is available to colleagues and the rough time frames for each step. It will not be possible for you to achieve all these steps within 1 school and in fact it would not be a good idea to do this. Gaining experience in a variety of schools gives you a broad range of different approaches and situations and it is upon these that you begin to build and base your own ideas and methods. Within each different role is built a time framework  to both understand and master that particular role BEFORE moving on to the next challenge. In this way you are well prepared to both build on experiences and accept new challenges. However to try to circumvent or omit steps in this type of progressive development does not and can never succeed and this will be ultimately shown in poorly run and underperforming schools.

Good luck in whatever you do and wherever you aim to be….its not a race and you should try to enjoy each and every step.




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