FAQs about the independent sector
Independent Schools Frequently Asked Questions
For new or current teachers there can be many unknowns surrounding the move from a state-maintained school to a privately-funded one. A lot of these uncertainties can be addressed at interview stage however here is some advice from our private school teachers and schools to get you started.
Background - Do I need to have come from an independent background myself?
You don’t need to have been privately educated in order to be considered to teach within this sector. Some schools may have a slight bias towards people from this background but this will only really be because it might be easier to understand the traditions, values and ethos of an independent school if you have been through the same system yourself.
If you can, spend time volunteering in the private sector to get a real understanding of what to expect.
Ultimately, what will hold you in good stead is what would do so during the selection process for a post at any type of school - your unique skill set and abilities as a teacher. If you are interviewing for independent roles don’t feel less confident if you were state educated, be confident that you are the best person to give the children a good education.
Boarding or day - How would teaching in a boarding school differ from a day school?
Your responsibilities as a teacher will take on a more pastoral role and your working hours will be different. At the most basic level you will probably be involved as a tutor, who might have some duties into the evening one night a week. It is possible to expand this role and become a deputy or even a house parent. The house parent will be on site all the time looking after anything from 10 to 60 pupils.
Career path - Can I switch from an independent school to a state-maintained one?
As long as you have successfully passed your NQT induction year then you are able to teach in both sectors. If you think you would like the opportunity to be able to work in either sector then you will need to see if the school is eligible to offer NQT status; asking them prior to or during the interview process will be perfectly acceptable.
Career path - How does if affect my career?
Some teachers question if they will be allowed back into the maintained sector after teaching in a private school. If you have the right skills and experience for a job you will be welcomed back. Some teachers choose to stay in the independent sector as it suits them and find it opens up doors in other independent schools for career enhancement.
Class sizes - Are class sizes always smaller?
They tend to be smaller than in most maintained schools. It is one of the aspects that fee paying parents expect as it gives teachers an opportunity to spend more time focusing on individual pupils.
Contract - Is there a typical job contract in the independent sector?
As with pay scales there are no set rules when it comes to contracts within this sector. Instead, individual schools or groups of the same school will have their own terms of employment. This will include salary, benefits, holidays, pension and notice periods etc so make sure you look at this carefully prior to joining the school. The benefits they offer - accommodation or accommodation subsidies, reduced fees for your own children, longer holidays etc - will have an impact on the value of your overall package. You may wish to look closely at your rights within the contract such as termination of contract and notice periods to make sure it is all clear and seems fair.
Curriculum - Will I teach the national curriculum?
Independent schools don’t have to follow UK national curriculum. They are free to decide which subjects they offer and what type of exams. Some choose not to offer GCSEs while some offer the International Baccalaureate. Not all schools offer a massive range of subjects and some may offer unusual subjects not available in the maintained sector.
Extra-curricular activities - Will I be expected to perform extra duties on top of teaching?
For some teachers, the extra curricular activities available at an independent school outweigh the classroom work. On the whole, sports, arts, drama and music facilities are far better. Although you won’t be forced to do anything you can’t do, you may be expected to play a role in what is usually a busy extra-curricular programme; whether outdoor pursuits, hockey, Combined Cadet Force or the school play.
As a result this may incur extra hours but the benefit to you personally should not be overlooked. For many it’s the allure of what independent schools can offer beyond the classroom that makes a career in this sector attractive.
Not only will you likely have the opportunity for more far-flung and varied trips you may also have the opportunity to get involved with new or previously undertaken sports or non-physical activities such as debating or chess-playing for instance.
Extra-curricular skills - Will I need to have demonstrable experience of extra-curricular pursuits?
It may be looked upon favourably if you can demonstrate that you have abilities within one or some of the extra-curricular activities they teach, just as it helps with any job application to be able to offer something of use to the employer beyond the stated requirements.
That doesn’t mean it’s a pre-cursor to securing the position however so don’t feel like this will hold you back if you can’t offer extra-curricular skills, it’s really only a peripheral bonus and not the basis on which a hire will be made. More important will be an expressed willingness or desire to get involved with these types of activities.
Holidays - Are the holidays and holiday pay the same?
Typically, independent schools have longer holidays and overall you may work fewer days than your state counterparts. This can be at least partially offset however with longer hours during the week and weekend and evenings. This is especially true of boarding schools.
Hours - Will I work longer hours?
This all depends on the school and whether it has an extensive extra curricular programme, functions on Saturdays or is boarding. Boarding schools and day schools with Saturday teaching tend to have longer holidays, often up to 19 weeks a year. The teaching day also tends to be longer and can change from term to term.
Maternity - Is the maternity pay and benefits the same as in the maintained sector?
Maternity pay will at least match the minimum legal requirement although it does not necessarily need to match the maternity level for the maintained teaching profession; you will need to check with the school itself for their own particular policy. If you are worried about bringing this up in interview then you can check with the bursar prior to or during the interview and selection process or see what contract they offer you if they offer you the position.
NQT Induction - Can I undertake my NQT status in a private school?
You can do, yes. The school will need to be signed up to the Independent Schools Teacher Induction Panel (ISCtip) scheme though so you will need to check that if you have just finished your PGCE and are looking to undertake your NQT status. If they do you will need to pass your first induction year which would then allow you to work in both the maintained and the independent sector throughout your career.
Notice Period - What is the notice period in the independent sector?
Unlike the state sector which typically requires half a term notice period, independent schools often ask for a full term’s notice before you can leave your post. Although this a long time it does also mean they have more notice to advertise for positions so if you want to leave for another post within the sector this should make it more straightforward.
Ofsted - Are independent schools Ofsted inspected?
Independent schools are not inspected in the same way as the maintained sector, which means no Ofsted. This can come as a relief to many teachers who make the switch although be aware that external inspections do still take place. Instead of Ofsted however it is the Independent School Inspectorate who will carry out inspections.
The exception is boarding schools which fall under Ofsted inspections.
Paternity - Is the paternity pay and benefits the same as in the maintained sector?
Paternity leave within the maintained sector currently matches the legal minimum requirement and it’s likely the independent schools will offer the same. As before you can check to see if individual schools go beyond this but there is no requirement that they need to do so.
Parent’s evening - Will parent’s evenings work in the same way?
Most independent schools adhere to a parent’s evening schedule that closely resembles the state sector – termly meetings with the child’s teacher or teachers. The main difference you may find between the two is the greater attendance at independent schools! This does mean that you may be required to give up more of your evening but this is usually met with sufficient food and refreshments as well as breaks.
Because of the greater length and better attendance, the parent’s evenings in independent schools can often be better organised and structured. As they are paying it is reasonable to expect that parents will show a keen interest in the progress of their attending child or children.
Pay - Will I be better off financially?
Pay in the independent sector is calculated differently across different schools. Some will mirror closely the maintained sector, plus include some extra benefits. You might be given some housing allowance, or reduced fees for your children. Most boarding schools provide subsidised accommodation. The pension is the same as the maintained sector.
With larger, more established schools there is a chance the pay will be higher however smaller schools may pay less. This is not a hard and fast rule however so it mustn’t be assumed.
In either direction there should not be too huge a disparity, although for many independent schools the higher the teaching post the proportionately larger the rises can be.
Pay - Is it acceptable to discuss pay at interview?
It’s understandable for you to be curious as the salary levels are less clear cut however, as with any other interview process, it is probably more appropriate to bring up salary discussions in the next interview round when it is closer to being offered. They may bring it up themselves at first interview though so attend knowing your current salary and total package and what your expectations for your next role are.
Pension - Are independent schools part of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme?
Independent schools aren’t obliged to be a part of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme however many of them are. If the pay is higher (or lower) then this will have a proportionate impact on the size of your pension so consider this when accepting a job offer.
Some schools are not a part of the scheme, likely smaller ones which will probably offer a less generous scheme so look at this carefully when considering any job offer and factor it in to the overall package.
PPA - Do independent schools use the PPA system?
PPA is Planning, Preparation and Assessment time, which was made a statutory right for all teachers, including those in the leadership group, from Autumn 2005. PPA time is an entitlement for all teachers. All teachers with a teaching timetable, including heads and deputies, are entitled to PPA time. PPA time must be no less than 10% of the teacher’s timetabled teaching time. It is the responsibility of the headteacher to ensure that PPA time is planned for and included on the individual teachers’ timetables. It’s likely that many will offer a similar system however they are likely to call it something else. The acronyms you may be familiar are mainly created and used within the maintained sector. Some schools may offer more generous allocation of planning, preparing and assessment time so this is something else you may wish to look in to when you have been offered a job and given your contract.
Private school, public school, independent school?
Independent schools are also referred to as ‘private schools’ and confusingly, ‘public schools’ – a throwback to centuries ago when the rare privilege of education was first extended to paying members of the public.
Qualifications - Is it true that I don’t need formal qualifications to enter the teaching profession in the independent sector?
Because there aren’t the same regulations for privately funded schools it does technically mean that non-qualified teachers can enter the teaching profession this way. Many independent schools value vocational experience in fact and so a different background can be considered a plus. However the main selection committees will be more likely to hire qualified teachers as they have proven and demonstrable teaching experience.
Security - Is there less security during uncertain economic conditions within the independent sector?
For many independent schools there will be plenty of available funds, usually more than in the maintained sector when budgets are often stretched. This means they can weather tough financial difficulties within the UK-wide economy.
Smaller schools with fewer pupils and a lack of private funding from elsewhere may run in to problems in tougher times however. It’s tricky to ask about the financial health of a school before joining though there can be signs of this (not just restricted to size but also lack of facilities etc). Check your contract to see what your rights are.
Sick pay - What are the sick pay and leave entitlements?
Like all benefits the independent sector must abide by the legal minimums, including sick pay and leave. In larger schools there is a good possibility that they will pay over and beyond the maintained sector. For some smaller schools this might be lower.
Unions - Will I still be able to join or stay in my union?
You can definitely stay within your union and in fact it will be better for you to stay unionised. There may be unions that are popular at your school; check with fellow teachers to see if you ought to make the switch. The NUT has less dominance in the independent sector.
Vacancies - Where will I find the job roles on offer?
Job adverts for positions within the independent sector are advertised in the same way as state-maintained school teaching posts. eTeach provides thousands of job opportunities online, including those available within independent schools. Some roles aren’t advertised so signing up with eTeach’s recruitment service is also recommended.
Weekends - Will I have to work at weekends?
Some independent schools still have Saturday lessons, or sport on Saturdays. Some have lessons in the morning followed by sports fixtures in the afternoon which you may have to be involved with. Generally, Saturday school means longer holidays.