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A guide for candidates

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What to expect if you're moving into the independent schools sector for the first time

Ask around and you'll hear some widely-held preconceptions about independent schools, even though just 7% of the UK population have attended one as a pupil, much less as staff. But what is it really like to work as a teacher in this sector?

The first point to make is that no two schools are the same: just as state schools encompass a wide range of sizes, styles and students, independent schools can be similarly diverse. We've listed some of the common factors below but these won't apply to every school, so it's always worth researching your choice in plenty of detail.

So, what should you be aware of?

If your state school experience has been characterised by overstretched class sizes, overstretched budgets and overstretched teachers, you might be tempted to see the independent sector as an easier option. While it's often true that you'll be in a pleasant environment with better resources, don't assume your role will necessarily be less demanding: expectations may be higher and you may be required to take on a wider range of responsibilities.

Those responsibilities will almost certainly include significant extra-curricular activities. Independent schools look for teachers who can bring something to the school beyond standard class teaching, so there are great opportunities to express and develop your own interests, whether those be musical, sporting, arts and crafts, technological - there'll be plenty of demand for your talents and you'll be encouraged to use them.

Activities may well extend to more frequent trips and excursions than you may be used to - of course these will require your time but you'll also enjoy some great experiences and valuable opportunities to take learning outside the classroom.

Speaking of the classroom, expect a less rigid approach to the curriculum than you may have encountered in state schools. You'll have greater flexibility to design and plan your own lessons, and creativity is likely to be encouraged.

Independent schools are purely for the wealthy and privileged, aren't they?

It's a common preconception but you may well be surprised by the diversity of your pupils and their parents. Bursaries and scholarships account for a substantial proportion of attendees, while other parents may be making considerable sacrifices in order to fund their children's education.

Either way, with significant fees come significant parental expectations - parents will want to know they are getting the very best for their child, so expect plenty of contact. They may in fact be no more demanding than you may be used to, but do expect (and be prepared to provide) more frequent and detailed communication.

Moving between sectors

Looking at your career as a whole, you don't need to view the state-or-independent school decision as a once-in-a-lifetime choice. There is increasing fluidity and co-operation between the two sectors: as an independent school teacher you can move back to the state sector, just as the independent sector welcomes state school teachers who can bring the qualities they seek. Don't forget that you can also gain your NQT within the independent sector.

Getting the job

Lastly a word on the interview process: typically (though not in all cases) an independent school will see fewer candidates but run a more personalised, in-depth process. You'll spend longer at the school, probably taking a lesson or two and meeting people over lunch, and more time will be spent to ensure the right fit between yourself and the institution. As a consequence it may take two weeks or more to see all candidates, so don't panic if you don't hear back immediately, you may well be the very person they're looking for!

If you're considering a move into the independent schools sector and would like any further advice, please feel free to give any of the team a call on 020 7587 5153 or email schools@harrishill.co.uk