Assistant Head Personal Statement

Helen Sadler, art and design teacher, Hammersmith and Fulham

It's the personal statement that will get you short listed: The application form is standard, it's the personal statement that will get you short listed. No more than two sides of A4 it should show how and why you teach and who you are as a person. It should not be a list.

Always read the specification, if it says you are required to teach A-level and you don't or don't mention a willingness to learn it shows you haven't read it. If you are applying for a job in a different area to where you live explain why. Check who the application needs to be sent to, don't just send it to the headteacher. It sounds obvious but make sure you get their name right.

Gaps in employment make it look like you're hiding something, whatever the reason highlight all the positives for gaps. If you have worked in a different sector think about the transferable skills you have. Be honest, don't be tempted to change that D to a C in your qualifications. If you get the job they WILL check.

If interviewed you will be questioned using your personal statement. Don't say you do certain things in the statement but then can't give real examples when interviewed. Be enthusiastic about your subject, why do you teach it, what do you enjoy. Include hobbies on your personal statement, it makes you a more rounded person. But don't include 'socialising with friends' as basically it means getting wasted.

If you only have your training experience include all the schools you have trained in, say what you have learnt, how they are different, what you enjoyed. You could be up against teachers with years of experience. Use any particularly good comments from observations in your personal statement. This is really useful if you are a NQT. Don't be negative about any previous schools.

Chris Hildrew, deputy head teacher, Chew Valley School, Bristol

Successful applicants explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school: When sifting through a pile of applications I can usually halve the pile by getting rid of those making basic mistakes. These include poorly proofread or inaccurate letters (there's nothing quite so off-putting as finding the wrong school or head teacher's name left over from the previous time that letter was used), application forms incorrectly completed, and those who feel obliged to include more than is asked for.

I don't want to see your CV unless I've asked for one. I don't want to see a portfolio of PowerPoint presentations you've developed. I don't want a testimonial from your summer job behind the bar in the student union. I want what I've asked for please - letter and form. Form and letter. Thank you.

Straight to the top of the pile go those whose letters explain why they are applying for this particular job at this particular school. Also a winner are those who show exactly how they fit the person specification not only through what they've already done but what they'd like to do next. Above all, though, I like to know exactly why the applicant is a teacher in the first place. A good application will get you the interview; a good interview will get you the job.

Doug Belshaw, former teacher and senior leader and author of #getthatjob

Be selective, rather than scattergun: One of the best things you can do when applying for jobs is to be selective. It's easy to get desperate, either because of money or stress, but it's important to make sure that you've done your homework on what you might be letting yourself in for. Read everything you can online and, if the deadline's far enough away, phone the school and ask them to send you anything (newsletters, for example) that aren't on their website.

There's two benefits to going deep rather than employing a scattergun approach. First, you'll be sure that it's the kind of place you can work. And second, you'll have done 'due diligence' and be in a better position than other candidates to show how you'd fit right in. At interview and on the application you can use examples from the school's recent history to show how you could make an impact straight away.

Finally, be an enlarged version of yourself both on paper (and at interview). It's the best advice I ever received for 'performing' in the classroom and it stood me in very good stead when snagging a job that rocketed me from classroom teacher straight to senior management.

Peter Lee, assistant vice principal, Q3 Academy, Birmingham

Make your application personal to the school and write about why you love teaching: As part of my role I read through numerous written application as part of the job application process. Here are some of my top tips.

• Make sure your application is personal to the school – i.e. quote from the Ofsted report, latest exam results, ethos and so on
• If your application sounds like you've generated a whole host and it's not personal to the school then it's likely to remain at the bottom of the pile
• Visit the school before handing the application form in – that way you can get a real feel for the school
• Check spelling and give to another person to proofread any SPAG errors
• Make sure there are no gaps in your employment history
• Explain what you will bring that is extra if successful – so what skills can you bring / what extra-curricular opportunities would you be willing to offer?
• Be positive – write about why you love teaching
• List any areas in which you have added value – i.e. specific class residuals/meeting whole school or departmental targets

Kirstie Thomas, head of history, Lewis School, Pengam, South Wales

Look at what the school's needs and have ideas for addressing them: I recently had to appoint a new teacher, the main criteria the school was looking for was what else could that teacher offer, and many applications did not make the shortlist as they did not explicitly say what I was looking for. Applicants need to include the other subjects they are able to teach; NQTs should look at doing a secondary subject to improve their initial letter.

An awareness of current educational practice is good but do not write in great depth and waste time and space about it. Have a vision for after school or lunchtime clubs; something they have done or if an NQT something they would like to do, it could be linked to curriculum or an additional free choice, but they should look at school needs and try to offer something interesting and different.

Any previous work although unconnected to education can be phrased in such a way that it gives a sense of transferable skills. Most importantly, the letters should be spell checked and proofread. With a literacy agenda in school I disregarded three letters that were full of basic spelling mistakes and seemed rushed and were poorly written.

Sally Law, principal teacher of English, Marr College, Troon

Show off your vocabulary and try to make applications interesting to read: I appointed two new English teachers this season and had a few gripes with applications. The most irritating, and surprising, problem was the applicants' seeming lack of vocabulary. For English teachers this isn't good although I think it stems from applicants thinking they must use the current jargon so the same words just keep popping up over and over again.

So I would say be a bit more flexible with vocabulary although not to the point of overdoing it with the thesaurus. If there was one more thing it would be to vary sentence structure too and absolutely avoid starting every sentence with 'I'.

John Bull, year 5 teacher, Thursfield Primary School, Stoke-on-Trent

Visit a school before you apply: Headteachers get many applications from many individuals. It is the responsibility of the applicant to make the headteacher want to meet them by making their application stand out. Sometimes that might be in creative ways, like changing the colour of the fonts for different parts of the CV. Not being too effusive is also a good tip. Be positive but not overconfident. Expect the headteacher to want to see you, by writing this as an end paragraph 'I look forward to meeting you at interview.' Always visit a school before you apply. You might not be right for them as well as them not being right for you.

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Gaining a senior leadership post is currently probably one of the most demanding applications in education. In the current economic climate when a deputy head leaves a school, many schools are reviewing their leadership structures and not always appointing a replacement.

The same can be true of assistant headship posts where schools may look internally for a middle leader to take on the tasks of the previous role holder. This means for candidates there is added pressure in being fully prepared if an advertisement appears for senior leadership post in the school or location you wish for.

Deputy heads are often expected to be "all-rounders". You are expected to be adept at developing a curriculum as you are at managing pastoral incidents. This means that the best preparation for a deputy headship is to ensure that you develop your skills over a range of tasks, whereas often assistant heads will be asked to focus on certain provision in a school such as 14-19, ICT strategic leadership or inclusion.

What is common for senior leader is that you need to have experience of leading whole school projects. This is even better if the project is one where the quality of teaching and learning is improved and there is a measurable increase in attainment. You need to show that during such projects you have developed a thorough plan to address a certain issue and you had the ability to work with staff to take the plan through to fruition. For all senior leaders it is impossible to try and do everything yourself.

This is a key difference from middle leadership were you may be able to plan a complete project and then present it for your department to enact. In some circumstances the middle leader will run the project themselves. At a whole school level such management is rarely sustainable in the long term. With this in mind it is important to try and gain experience of projects that involve a range of staff and working to develop your delegation skills. You must also show that you can evaluate the project's success and learn from the process.

Dealing with incidents, troublesome pupils and difficult parents is always part of the job as senior leader. As a deputy head you may have the added task of trying to protect the headteacher from such issues. All leaders find such tasks a challenge but it is important that you have this experience which you can draw upon.

As a middle leader it is likely that your contact time will be considerable but if you can ever support senior leaders in dealing with such issues and observe how they handle difficult parents and pupils this can be vital knowledge to have.

Many leaders will look to further study to develop themselves further. This could be via a programme from the NCSL, the SSAT or university course. Such study will be unlikely to gain you a senior leadership post but the opportunity to have structured reflection on you work can be invaluable. It can also help you consider different styles of leadership that you may wish to develop in your own practice.

Letters of application for senior leadership posts should concentrate on your strategic leadership skills and experience, preferable those which are whole school. Do not just write about what you've done but make sure that you explain how these skills and experiences will be useful to the new school.

Selection days for senior leadership post will often be wider ranging affairs and there are a huge range of tasks that you could be asked to complete, for example: teach a lesson, observe a lesson, deliver an assembly, give a presentation, complete an in-tray exercise as well as a number of interviews.

The preparation you can have for such tasks is to practice them during your current role so the opportunity of making a presentation to parents, leading an assembly or just working through your daily to-do list is all valuable experience to have.

• Paul K Ainsworth is the Acting Principal of a Leicestershire secondary school. He has advised many teachers on how they can develop their job search skills. His new book, 'Get that Teaching job' is published soon by Continuum Books. You can follow him on Twitter @pkainsworth.

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