I appreciate that the timing of this is a little off given the deadline for securing a new teaching post has passed. However, I get to this point each year and reflect on how few questions teachers ask when they interview for a new school. I know that the interview usually comes at the end of a long day and there has been plenty of opportunity to find out everything the applicant needs to know (from the head of department, the students giving the tour, the teachers they get chatting to in the staffroom). When you finally get to the question “So, is there anything you would like to ask us?”, you just want to get out of the place. But do you really have all the information you need? After all, if you actually get offered the job, you are about to enter in to a pretty serious contractual agreement.
The area I find teachers neglecting to ask about is perhaps the most important one; the pay and working conditions. This is a huge risk because it is the area which could make or break your job satisfaction.
As someone who has carried out lots of teacher interviews, I now know what I wish I’d known then. Here are the questions I would ask if I were you…
The contractual basis for pay and conditions
If you are interviewing for a teaching job at an Academy then there are lots of questions to ask. Academies don’t have to abide by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), for a start. Most will say they do, but I have come across many schools who don’t explicitly break away from the STPCD but do turn a blind eye to the detail of this when it suits them.
The STPCD sets out the national pay and working conditions for teachers. This includes detail on everything from pay scales, to working hours, to what a school can direct you to do. This is a document it is really worth reading. For teachers, knowing your contract is based on the terms set out in the STPCD gives you clarity and security. Before taking a job, you should know if the school abides by this document and if not, where does it differ? Be aware that once a school has moved away, even marginally, from the STPCD there is nothing to stop it breaking away further, where it suits them.
Q1. Does the school abide by the terms of the STPCD?
There is no nationally prescribed pay scale for teachers. The STPCD document specifies the minimum and maximum of the lower and upper pay scales. How schools decide to set pay levels within these amounts is entirely up to them. The significance of this when moving schools is that the school you are applying to may not have the same pay scale as the school you are currently employed by. You therefore need to be clear about which pay point you would start on. It might be that the school has increased the number of points on the pay scale, therefore it will take you longer to work your way to the top of the scale. What is important, therefore, is not just what you will be paid immediately, but how quickly will your pay progress?
There is also no requirement for a school to honour your current pay level; they can offer whatever they think you are worth. You’d be amazed at how many teachers I have offered a job to who haven’t even asked what you are going to pay them before they accept.
Performance related pay is also a minefield. Even if your new school agrees to match your existing pay, will they automatically put you one point up the scale or will you be subject to a performance related pay review? If the latter, what will this involve and what evidence of standards will you be required to provide? If you are on the upper pay scale, what additional expectation is there for your performance?
And then, how likely are you to be awarded pay progression? This varies widely between different schools. I would want to know quite a lot about pay before I accept a contract.
Q2. What are your pay scales for teachers?
Q3. Will you match my current pay level?
Q4. Will my starting pay level be subject to performance related pay arrangements?
Q5. What are the criteria for pay progression?
Q6. What additional expectations are there for upper pay scale teachers?
Q7. What percentage of teachers eligible have been awarded performance-related pay progression in each of the last three years?
The best way to tell whether working conditions are reasonable is to talk to as many staff as possible. However, you may find they are guarded or simply institutionalised, like frogs in boiling water. The expectations on staff and their job satisfaction is therefore worth exploring at interview.
The main indicator of low morale in a school is staff turnover and staff absence. However, you obviously need to be a little careful with what questions you ask lest you look like a trouble maker!
The main reason teachers leave a school is often workload and poor management. It is therefore well worth asking about the school’s approach to tackling workload and what their response has been to the Government commissioned reports on the matter.
Q8. What percentage of teaching staff leave each year?
Q9. What is the school’s approach to reducing workload for teachers?]
Q10. Are appraisal targets imposed and do they include targets for students’ exam performance?
Q11. What are the school’s expectations regarding the frequency and type of marking?
Q12. How often are teachers required to enter pupil progress data in to a centralised system?
No state-funded schools are well off. However, some are struggling more than others. It is important to assess whether the school may face redundancies in the coming years. The school’s financial security should not necessarily put you off taking the job, particularly if you are happy with the answers given to all of the above, but it should be a factor in your decision.
Another factor affecting job security if the school is part of a MAT is whether teachers are redeployed between schools. This is not a common concurrence, but it does happen. Often those in management positions will be most likely to be asked to transfer temporarily or permanently to a post in another school. Be aware that the school you end up working in might be in difficult circumstances, further away or a very different kind of place to work.
Q13. What is the school’s financial position? Is the school expected to be in deficit or surplus in the next financial year? What reserves are there to act as a buffer?
Q14. Have there been any redundancies in the last three years? What were the reasons for these?
Q15. Are teachers ever transferred to a different school within the MAT? What are the reasons? Are they given a choice over this move?
For part-time teachers, schools expect differing levels of flexibility over working hours. For example, some schools will reserve the right to increase or decrease contracts slightly (or even more than slightly) each year to suit the needs of the timetable. These changes can mean significant changes to income. When it comes to timetabling staff, some schools will bend over backwards to meet your requests to contain your hours within a specific number of days, whilst others will vary working days at short notice and care very little for your childcare problems.
Be cautious also of two-week timetables as the working days in week one can be different to those in week two. This makes childcare very difficult for those with young children.
Q16. Will my contracted hours only change with my agreement?
Q17. How considerate are you to requests by part-time staff for particular working patterns?
Q18. Will my working days be the same each week?
Given that there probably won’t be time in the interview to answer all 18 questions, start chipping away at these early on in the interview process, along with the numerous questions you’ve got about the other aspects of the school. You wouldn’t spend tens of thousands of pounds without knowing what you are getting, so take a job offer just as seriously.