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Teaching in independent schools

Independent student

The key difference between independent and state maintained schools is where the funding for the school comes from, which is either fee-paying parents and donors or the government. Because they don’t rely on state subsidies independent schools have more flexibility when it comes to how and what they teach, and who they can hire to do so.

For teachers, there are pros and cons to these two types of schools and some may find one sector better suits them than the other. Understanding the differences will allow those entering the teaching profession to roughly gauge which route they think they may prefer to take. That is not to say it’s impossible to make the switch between them however, once a teaching career has been established.

The relative lack of regulatory guidelines for fee-paying schools does mean there can be more variety when it comes to pay, benefits and working environment. Each independent school is also likely to have its own traditions and ethos, often steeped in long histories.

Class sizes and class issues

Generally speaking, one of the main benefits to teachers within the independent sector is the smaller class size. Because the funds aren’t as limited as within the maintained sector there tends to be greater resources which means smaller class sizes can be accommodated. For teachers this means a greater ability to control classes of pupils and to give more attention to individual pupils.

For many there is a preconception that all pupils at independent schools are posh, and also that the teachers are or need to be. This isn’t true, lots of families make financial sacrifices and prioritise a private education for their children above other lifestyle choices. For many pupils they will have received full or part scholarships which adds a layer of economic diversity.

Even so, independent schools are likely to be less diverse than their maintained counterparts. Parents who are paying for their child’s education are likely to expect a lot from it because of that; essentially they are paying for a service and like everything else expect to see good results from that. This means there is likely to be more pressure on teachers from parents who expect a lot from the school academically. That said there can be less pressure in other ways, such as fewer external inspections and assessments and the paperwork that goes hand in hand with those.

Pastoral care

Another significant way in which independent schools differ is the increase in pastoral care. Whether this is an advantage over maintained schools will likely depend on the individual. It can mean stronger relationships with pupils but also increased hours that are not necessarily recognised and paid for as such. Many independent schools will be boarding schools and so a lot of care will come after class hours. Where accommodation is on site and/or subsidised this can suit certain people although it may not be for everyone.

Because of the class size there will be more opportunities for one-on-one interaction with pupils, which can make teaching classes easier overall if there’s a better understanding between the teacher and individual children.

Hours, pay and benefits

Because there is no fixed pay scales within this sector what teachers can expect can really vary from school to school. In some cases pay in the independent sector can be lower, particularly for more junior teachers, however this is often complimented by wider benefits and subsidies such as accommodation or living costs and reduced fees for any school-age dependents. As roles become more senior they can often pay over and above the state sector.

Hours can also vary more wildly in independent schools and may include evenings and weekends, especially for but not limited to boarding schools.

Holidays are typically longer in an independent school, with as much as 19 weeks off per year. Often this is offset by Saturday and evening hours however, again, particularly true of boarding schools.

Pensions are usually in line with the state sector and in fact many independent schools are part of the Teacher Pension Scheme which means they receive the same pension as maintained sector teachers.

What is important when applying for and accepting independent jobs is that the contract may not be as straightforward and the package may comprise a greater number of additional benefits, in which case the overall value of the package will have to be assessed. This includes pensions, increased holidays (possibly offset by longer hours during term time) and of course pay as well.

Teaching and extra-curricular

An aspect of independent school teaching that may attract some or be off-putting for others is a more open curriculum and way of learning. The National Curriculum has to be taught within state-funded schools as well as standardised assessments throughout both primary and secondary schools. Even though independent schools offer the same subjects, in the main they have more freedom to teach how they like. For many teachers the freedom from constant tests and prescribed lesson planning means more creative and enjoyable teaching although some teachers prefer a rigid curriculum to follow. Also, the individual school likely set its own curriculum and may have standardised ways of teaching internally.

For many, the big draw of teaching within private schools is the extra-curricular activities and facilities on offer. In the majority of cases there will be more sports available on and off-site with more and better equipment and grounds. This means not only gaining greater access to teaching extra activities but often taking up and following these pursuits yourself. School trips may also be more far-flung and varied although like much else this can really depend on the school.

When applying for jobs within the independent sector it is worthwhile remembering there is no set ‘type’ of school, including size, teaching, contracts or ethos. Although there are generalised differences between this sector and state maintained schools it is best to judge and ask questions of a specific school while applying for positions.