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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Writing a Teaching Personal Statement
This advice can be used for both undergrad (leading to Qualified Teacher Status) and postgrad statements, apart from where it specifies a difference. There is a short separate section on education degrees that do not lead to QTS.
Some of the advice here will be mirrored in the general PS writing guidance as well, particularly in the extra curricular section and the style advice. Both applications through UCAS (undergrad) and GTTR (postgrad) have the same limit - either 4000 characters or 47 lines, whichever limit gets passed first.
Start writing your personal statement early as many people will get through a huge number of drafts before they are happy with their PS. This is the general format for a PS and some good advice (you don't have to use this format, just make sure you include all the sections).
If you know where you want to apply, make sure you have a look on the websites for any specific advice on what they want to see in your personal statement as different universities may have different things they want you to include. For primary, think about what subjects they offer specialisms in (less of an issue for postgrad unless applying for MFL/to Exeter).
Remember, all universities will interview before offering you a place on either postgrad or undergrad courses, so don't include anything in your PS you wouldn't be happy to expand on at interview, as they may well use your PS to base some of your questions on.
All PSs will have an introduction in some form. This needs to start in an interesting way, to draw the reader in straight away. Remember that admissions tutors will read hundreds, if not thousands of them! 'I am applying to study BA/BEd Education' is (a) a waste of characters, as the admissions tutors will be from the education department and (b) a very boring way to start a PS. Avoid cliches such as 'I have always been interested in' - technically that can't be true, as it would have not been the case as a baby! Also, it is best advised not to use quotes in your PS - it is meant to be personal to you, so the admissions tutors want to know what YOU think, not what someone else does.
Use the introduction to possibly talk about HOW you got interested in teaching/education and why. It's a vocational course (when accompanied with Qualified Teacher Status), so you need to show your enthusiasm for doing something that is meant to be your career. Don't talk too much about any experience in school in your intro, save the detail for later. It should focus on the age range/subject you are applying for, e.g. why primary/secondary? Why English?
As already mentioned, this is important for vocational courses, as it shows you are making an informed decision in your career choice. This can be working as a TA or volunteering in a school; experience with children in a non-educational setting (e.g. Brownies) is also useful, but the main focus should be on experience in schools. However, it is not important to name the school, or mention the location - 'primary/secondary school' is enough. It is also a waste of space to mention that this experience increased/cemented your desire to teach - if it hadn't, you wouldn't be applying for the course! Use this space to reflect on what you saw/discussed with the teacher, such as:
- Behaviour management;
- Teaching styles, including ways to answer questions;
- Teacher-student interactions;
- Differentiation/special educational needs and EAL (English as an Additional Language), including groupings (mixed ability vs. set, individual vs. paired vs. group work);
- Assessment and recording;
- Resources (including displays);
- Transitions/routines: e.g. how does the teacher get the students in and out of the class, issue equipment to them, change activity. Procedures for smooth running of the class;
- Lesson objectives and success criteria, including how they are told to the students. How plenaries are used;
- Deployment of additional adults (and the teacher);
- Cross-curricular links/creative curriculum/EYFS (more relevant for primary);
- Talk to pupils, look at how engaged they are.
Teaching is not easy and this will help you show (briefly) that you know what you're letting yourself in for! What worked and why? How could you use this in your teaching? They obviously aren't expecting you to be the finished product when you arrive, but some awareness of the issues that teachers face is crucial.
One example of reflecting on your experience would be: 'The teacher used positive praise effectively with individual children when they were listening. This improved the behaviour of the children who were not behaving properly, as they wanted to be praised as well.' The first sentence describes briefly what the teacher did (or indeed, what you did if that's the case!); the second explains WHY it worked, which shows reflection.
Something else that is good to mention is any recent educational issues (e.g. the Rose/Cambridge reviews, sex education, MFL in KS2) and provide your take on it. You can get info from newspapers or the Times Educational Supplement, which you can find online or buy a paper copy of every week.
You also need to show that you are a good candidate for teaching: having the right skills/qualities for teaching. It would be a good idea to link this with what you've seen in the classroom (although to make it flow, it would be better to have a separate paragraph for it). It would be better to bring these in through your experience in schools (e.g. when you've supported children in their learning), but can be done through other means (even experience with adults, although school-based is more preferable).
Academic content should come next, although this isn't as important. I suggest (if applying for primary) showing you are capable in the core subjects (maths, English and science) along with your experience with ICT. However, this could even be implied through any teaching methods that require good subject knowledge (if relevant to you). If you have done a degree, say how it's helped you with your subject knowledge that you can bring to teaching. With secondary, if your degree is directly related to the subject you are applying to teach (e.g. BSc Physics for a Physics PGCE) then this is less important, but if it isn't (say a BA Sociology/RE for a PGCE in Citizenship) then you need to show your subject knowledge. Talk about what you enjoy related to the subject - after all, you will be involved in the same subject day in, day out! You may also want to include ICT competency, as you would use ICT a lot in schools whatever the subject.
You could also talk about your knowledge of how children learn if you've done a subject like psychology at college, although this is by no means essential, even if you did the subject.
This section is for anything that is not specifically related to your interest in teaching, and is FAR more relevant for undergraduate applications. In fact, I would say that unless any of the extra curricular activities are particularly pertinent to teaching or skills related to it (e.g. activities related to your secondary subject; running a netball club for primary teaching; or you can demonstrate a skill here that you cannot mention anywhere related to teaching), PGCE applications should avoid it completely.
This part should be short, a maximum of 1/3 of your PS. It can include things from school/college as well as in your free time (including a part time job). For school/college, you may want to talk about peer mentoring, prefects. Keep everything relevant - in the last TWO years (i.e. don't go talking about being a prefect when you're applying for a PGCE!). Remember to keep your sentences short and snappy. If they're long, people get bored and stop reading. Cut out all unnecessary words. Don't start your sentences with verbs unless absolutely necessary (e.g. “Being a prefect” is too informal). Say what you did/do, then what you learned from it, and sometimes explain why that is useful, but not at the expense of it being interesting. Don't repeat things you learned- you only need to demonstrate characteristics once each throughout the statement. You don’t need 3 examples of how you can handle responsibility! Other characteristics you can talk about are team work, communications skills, leadership, confidence, etc. Don’t worry if you don’t include them all. If it is just going to sound fake and boring, it’s probably better not to bother. You do not need to relate everything to teaching - you are allowed to have a break from it, even at university!
As for your interests outside of roles of responsibility, keep it very brief. Sport and musical interests are generally good ones to include and just briefly say why you enjoy it. Less important are things like 'I enjoy going down the pub with my friends/shopping/going to the cinema' etc. As long as you have SOMETHING written about your extra-curricular activities (if just to show you exist outside of college), it doesn't matter how many. Quality is better than quantity, and you want this section to be brief, so there is no point in listing a load of activities. Think about how they've helped you. You could also say how you can bring these into your teaching, although this is more relevant when applying for jobs (e.g. for running a lunchtime or after-school club).
If you are deferring entry, it would also be useful to include any gap year plans and say why you are doing that.
Your final paragraph should conclude why you are a good candidate and why you want to teach. Although you should be confident that you are a good candidate, it is important not to sound arrogant (e.g. 'I will be an amazing teacher'), as it's very off-putting. You shouldn't include any new information in the conclusion, expect possibly career plans (e.g. headteacher/SENCo), but these are less important in a vocational degree such as this. Don't refer to the university directly ('your university') as this comes across as very insincere considering you're applying to 4 or 5 universities for undergrad, or using the same PS should you be unsuccessful at one university for the PGCE.
Education Degrees Or Joint Honours With Education (non-QTS)
Only degrees with QTS are vocational; for the others, you would need to do a PGCE afterwards to qualify as a teacher. For degrees that don't lead to QTS, your experience in schools is less important, so you should talk more about the theory (e.g. learning styles) and why it interests you, rather than showing how you have the skills to be a 'good teacher'. However, you may have opportunities to observe/volunteer in nurseries, schools etc during the course.
For this, like other academic degrees, academic content should take up approximately 2/3 of your PS. It can be split into two: college academics (A Levels etc) and academic interests/activities outside of your formal education. The latter is obviously more interesting, as it shows more motivation to know more about the subject you are wanting to spend 3 years studying. However, you may not want to separate them that crudely - for example, covering something at A Level may have enthused you to discover more about that subject, so put it together.
This is not the place to list your A Levels and what you've done in them. It is also not the place to try and link everything to education, no matter how tenuous the link. Try and avoid saying 'Studying English literature has improved my essay writing skills and helped me construct concise arguments/Mathematics has helped with my data analysis skills'. These will be pretty self-evident and a waste of characters. Instead, talk about what in your A Levels (related to education) has interested you and why. Don't just explain concepts/theories - reflect on them. You're not trying to teach the admissions tutors, you're trying to show your interest in the subject. The most important question to come back to is WHY (WHY is this interesting?).
The second part would be far more interesting. This can come in a variety of forms: reading undergraduate level text books/reading academic journals (including those aimed at college students)/work experience. If you are talking about school experience, you don't need to mention the name of the school, just say 'a local primary school' (e.g.) and relate your experience back to theory. If talking about books you've read, like above, talk about WHY it is interesting and see if you can provide some sort of evaluative comment (e.g. how it can be applied, strengths/weaknesses of the theory etc). Look for what kinds of modules you'll be studying - e.g. there isn't much point in saying you're interested in areas that your chosen universities do very little (or none) of.
If you are applying for a joint honours course (with education), it is important to balance the amount of space dedicated to each subject. Note the difference between "Education with X" and "Education and X"; the first implies a 67/33 split between education and the other subject, while the second implies a 50/50 split. The amount of space in your PS spent talking about each subject should be adjusted accordingly. You should if possible avoid mixing choices of straight education and education joint honours. Any indication that you are not 100% committed to the course admissions tutors see you applying for can count very strongly against you. Think carefully about what you want to study for the next three years before you apply! You also need to show a link between the two - answering the question 'why do you want to study them together?'. Remember you will most likely have to do a dissertation that covers both, and while you don't have to have an idea about what you'll do at this stage, you need to show interest in both and how they link together.
When you've written your PS, read and reread it. Read it aloud to see how it sounds. It's surprising how many times you can notice poor grammar/repeated words close together when you hear it, rather than reading it silently! Get other people to read it - teachers, parents, friends, siblings. Try and keep things up-to-date. If applying for undergrad, generally things from sixth form only, although a brief mention of things done during GCSE years may also be OK. For a PGCE, keep everything ideally since you started university, or in the last couple of years if you graduated a while back. Check the universities' requirements for the recency of any school experience, too.
Keep your sentences varied - don't start all your paragraphs/sentences with the same format (e.g. 'I did X/I did Y' or 'My A Level in...'/'My studies of...'), as it doesn't flow very well and sounds very boring. Also, one sentence (or even two) do not make a paragraph!
Don't have ANY sentences that put yourself down- even if you try to turn it round, it's better not to say anything negative to start with.
You are writing formally- “Can’t” should be “cannot”. “Doesn’t” should be “does not” etc. Do not include digit numbers- write them out. "I did two weeks..." not "I did 2 weeks". Do not include brackets- (...), they are too informal. Be careful not to miss out words like "have", "I", and "that", like most people do in spoken language. It is safer not to use exclamation marks at all. Look up 'how to use commas and semi-colons'. Spelling and grammar can make or break a PS.
Some words and phrases are extremely cliché: Passion, fascination, love, aspiration, intrigued by, broadened my knowledge, enhanced my skill, affirmed/confirmed my decision. Use these words with caution. If you're using alternatives, be careful not to sound like a thesaurus.
Using phrases such as "quenched my thirst for" or "sparked up my interest" also don't read anywhere near as well as you think they do.
There's a tendency to use "also" all the time, when it's not needed. Be concise! Unnecessary linking words like "Futhermore" and "As a result" get used too often. A few of them are OK, but only a few. Remember to use commas after these linking words and phrases.
Don't use complex words in extremely long and convoluted sentences. People lose interest (and it makes you look somewhat pompous). Keep it short and make it flow.
Capital letters: NOT needed for subject names, teacher, secondary school, etc. Be careful where you use them.
Article by TSR User on Thursday 15 February 2018