Selling Out

February 22, 2009

I have decided to get out of the Metropolitan School, but I’ve been burnt enough times to know better than to rush.

I looked for a school where I could get a promotion and where the results were good. I didn’t have to wait long. My “email alerts” informed me of a suitable vacancy in a Catholic school in a rather affluent suburban town. The journey was quite lengthy, but no worse than it is to get to the Metropolitan School. The school’s A*-C level was over ninety percent, the area was leafy and privileged and the number of students with SEN was very low.

I spent the next few weeks getting everything sorted. I sought out my headteacher (that took over a week), my priest, and an old friend from Stafford Grove School to agree to give me references. I got the application form and filled it out and was happy to be invited to interview. I was somewhat taken aback to be told by my current headteacher that he’d received a request for references only on the afternoon of the day before the interview, which didn’t indicate a great deal of planning in the interview process. Similarly, when I phoned for more details about the lesson they wanted me to teach as part of the interview I couldn’t get hold of anybody, and couldn’t find out if I’d have access to a projector or interactive whiteboard.

When I arrived I discovered that there were three of us being interviewed. We each had a half hour lesson to teach, a tour of the school and interviews scheduled for the rest of the morning, with mine being planned for just before lunch. Inevitably, I found myself comparing everything with my current school.

The first culture shock was having to teach a year 7 class. They seemed genuinely enthusiastic to have their regular lesson interrupted. None of them asked for a pen, all of them listened to what I said. The biggest shock was when I asked for a volunteer to hand out worksheets and every single hand in the room went up. It was like having a class where every single child was Rod or Todd Flanders. There was one late arrival, Owen, who seemed unwilling to work, and he was on report and clearly being closely monitored.

Afterwards, the assistant head who had observed my lesson gave me feedback. She raved about the lesson, which due to the lack of foreknowledge had mainly consisted of direct questioning and writing on an ordinary whiteboard, i.e. the sort of thing I could have done off the top of my head without preparation. She told me that the lesson was at the very least “good” by OFSTED standards. She praised my behaviour management (apparently I’d done well to spot Owen), use of formative assessment, and relationship with the kids. I was delighted, I am used to having lessons like that criticised at the Metropolitan School. It made it sink in just how much teachers are judged on the attitude of the children, not the quality of the teaching.

The tour of the school was, as you’d expect, a succession of buildings which didn’t really reveal anything, although the children did seem extraordinarily well-behaved. What was very odd about it was that no opportunity was taken to introduce us to the other members of the department.

Then I waited while the other candidates were interviewed, I had the misfortune to be last and had to wait over an hour. Then the assistant head came in and said the head had been held up and asked if I could wait until after lunch. I had no choice but to agree. After lunch the other candidates went for a walk round while I waited for another hour. Finally I was called in. The interview was long, and strange. They had no interest in asking about my use of technology, but were quite happy to ask completely random questions like “What is the definition of Education?” and “So, do you agree that extra-curricular activities are a waste of time?” They reacted to every answer with so much agreement and smiling that it became absolutely impossible to judge whether I’d given a good answer or not.

After the interview I sat with the other candidates and chatted. Apparently we’d all been asked completely different questions which seemed rather odd. We were all equally bemused by the choice of questions and the reactions. None of us had been asked the usual question of “Are you a firm candidate?”

After an hour’s waiting, a teacher from the department we’d applied to came in and chatted. He explained that almost everyone in the department was an NQT. It seemed more than a little odd that nobody had mentioned this.

After another hour’s waiting and we were getting a bit fed up. One of the candidates went to find out if she could go home but failed to get an answer. Finally, we were called to the heads office and told “we don’t want to appoint until we’ve checked some more references. We’ll call tomorrow.”

Two days later the Head phoned to say that all the references had been checked out and were fine but they had been unable to agree who to appoint so had decided not to appoint anybody. By this point it wasn’t even a disappointment. I asked for feedback on the interview and was told only positive things which told me nothing at all.

I don’t know much about posh schools. I’m forming a tentative theory that they are run by people who couldn’t run up the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.



  1. […] Better results, better school, better management? – An interesting account of an interview at a good school. […]

  2. You are better off out of it.

  3. Piss-ups fail to happen in even the worst-regulated schools. Ours is the antithesis of posh but we still gave three candidates a wasted journey on the last day of half term because Someone (Off with her head!) forgot to convene……… the student interview panel.
    It was deemed impossible to proceed with the appointment of a temporary teacher without the valuable input of five hand-picked and certainly not representative of the student body – they all speak English for a start – Year 11 pupils, 2 of whom had declined our warm invitation to attend school on the last day of half term anyway.

  4. If the kids are nice then the staff are nasty. If the kids are nasty then the staff are nice. Management is always terrible due to a mixture of Peter Principle and Dilbert Principle.

  5. You are so right, Old Andrew! Having worked in both I have come to realise that “posh schools” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

  6. I worked for nearly a year in a posh school and it was WONDERFUL!!!!!!! Spiteful cow came back after her maternity leave.

  7. They may have already had someone internal in mind for the position, but had to go through the motions in order to look good for the brass. That’s what my posh school has done before.

  8. That’s what my crap school does too.

  9. The whole process of naming the “winner” on the day of the interview seems stupid to me anyway. No other industry does it, so why does teaching? What’s wrong with having them all think it over for a while? Would it REALLY upset a candidate if they had to wait for a week or two before they found it?

  10. One of my mum’s friends was sending her daughter to the local, very low-SES area primary school (where her two older children had also gone). One day the school called her up and said “Your daughter has a reading problem.” Mother goes “Oh no!” and immediately hauls daughter out and sends her to a flash private school.
    Two years later the flash private school calls her up and says “Your daughter has a reading problem”.
    Took them two years to identify that there was a problem.
    On an anecdotal basis I believe that private schools offer two advantages to parents. 1. They mean that your kids get to mingle with a lot of rich kids. 2. They show off your earning power as effectively as a flash new sports car but you also get the bonus of showing yourself to be a dedicated parent.
    Academically the average private school appears to just coast off its student base just like state schools in rich SES areas. I’ve never seen any statistics that indicate that my anecdotal reasons are wrong.

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