Applying yourself – get that interview!
We asked our member schools what aspect of the application process teachers need to improve on. They told us that a worrying amount of teachers don’t realise how critical the ‘statement of suitability’ is. In fact, as part of child safeguarding and schools’ current focus on teacher wellbeing, this section of your application is a highly scrutinised area, yet some teaching candidates overlook it completely, writing just a few words.
No matter what role you are going for, you are highly likely to need to complete a personal statement or statement of suitability as part of the application process for most schools. If that sounds like a challenge, set that thought to one side. There are some straightforward strategies you can employ to help.
Alan Brown, head teacher at Oldfield Primary School, has some valuable advice for candidates who are intending to make applications. “Our application process involves candidates writing a personal statement,” Alan said, “which is their chance to state their suitability for the role. This is a crucial part of the process. People are often too humble or don’t truly appreciate how important it is for them to demonstrate their suitability. We want this statement to stand out. This is about what the candidate has done, not what their previous school has done. Their role in those achievements must be clear.”
The need to suit your application to the context of the school cannot be overstated, however. “A generic statement will not do,” Alan says. “I need to be able to see that candidates have looked into our context carefully and have looked at our website and at Ofsted reports. Often the personal statement/statement of suitability just doesn’t stand out. I like to see more on a candidate’s philosophy of teaching and a really proactive approach in their statements.”
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Go for a visit
Alan explains that as it is such a long process, he tries to personalise the pre-visit as much as possible. “I offer a chance for potential candidates to have a walk around the school. Candidates can learn so much about a school on a visit like that. I explain our values, our culture and the ethos of the school. This helps potential candidates to really consider whether they are suitable for our school and whether the school is suitable for them. It also helps the candidates to make sure their applications are as closely matched to what we are seeking as possible.”
This is such a crucial point. You can save yourself a huge amount of effort if you don’t feel a connection to a school. There is simply no point in applying if you don’t feel as though you could offer what the school is seeking, or, perhaps more importantly, don’t like the look of what the school is offering.
“Schools differ quite a bit now in their philosophies,” Alan explains, “so teachers need to find a school that suits them. I always stress to candidates that they need to think about our school and about their own philosophy and what they can bring to our school.”
When the task is to create an application that hits as many “essentials” and “desirables” as possible, you need a strategy so that your statement remains focused. Alan has sound advice: “The most efficient way of making sure you don’t overlook any important points is to use the structure of the job specification for your statement. That way you won’t miss anything important. Schools need to see that you have carefully matched your skills and experience to what they are asking for in the job specification. “I want to come and work in your school” must come through strongly in your application.”
This is not a one-way street, though. Raj Unsworth, chair of a multi academy trust and specialist advisor to @headsroundtable, is keen to remind candidates that the selection process is two-way. “If schools are too prescriptive about who they want, and they ask for a very narrow field, they will discount candidates too readily.”
The initial application stage is all about knowing the school. Where is the school on its journey? How can you fit into that journey? Honesty is really important here. Raj suggests doing your research meticulously at this stage. “I strongly recommend that potential candidates visit any school they are considering applying to. If that is not possible, at least have a conversation on the phone with the head teacher. It is so important for the match between candidate and school to be right. It has to work for both parties. Making this effort before the shortlisting stage will be noticed.”
“When completing the application, make sure you address the person specification and job specification, point by point in your statement of suitability, Raj explains. “You need to do this so that whoever reads your application can see easily how appropriate you are for the role. You need to tick as many essential and desirable boxes as possible.”
This view is echoed by Alan: “Last year, I wanted someone with capacity for leadership. This was very clear on the job specification and description. We wanted to develop someone in the role. But of the 30 applications we had, we moved 20 to one side very quickly because they did not address that capacity. The application has to be personal and linked to what the school actually wants. You are potentially joining an existing team and if your application is not specific to the needs of the school you may be throwing away your opportunity to work there.”
The message from Raj is clear. Do your homework before putting pen to paper. “Research the school. Read Ofsted reports, look at the website, understand how the school is governed, who the chair is, and where the school needs to go to improve. Only then can you know whether you are in a position to help the school to move forwards.”
Social media can help at this stage too. “It is also worth doing your research on social media, especially Twitter,” Raj suggests. “Does the school and/or head teacher have an account and if so, how is it used? Are you comfortable with how social media is used? Does it fit your personal values? It is important that the school has a philosophy you can support and work within so do your background checks well!”
Those important points again:
- Find out as much as you can about the context of the school. Read Ofsted reports, the school’s career page behind their job ad on eteach.com and the school’s website.
- Visit the school, or, if that is not possible, have a telephone conversation. Remember that this is your chance to ask questions. Assess while you impress!
- Use the structure of the job specification to structure your personal statement/statement of suitability.
- Treat the process as equally balanced; it is important to feel that the school is a place in which you can thrive and contribute to its on-going journey.
- Stay focussed and stand out!
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.