Join us

And find out why ATL is the fastest growing union in the education sector

ATL's main website for when you move on to the rest of your career


Written applications

Written applications

Once you've identified a vacancy that you'd like to apply for, you need to make a written application.

Written applications

Making a good written application can take some time so try not to leave it until the night before the deadline.

Requesting application details

Contacting the school to request application details is the first opportunity you have to market yourself and to make a lasting (and positive!) impression.

Much of the following may seem obvious, but it is important.

So remember:

  • either telephone, email or write to request an application form
  • keep your communication brief, include a date as well as mentioning where you saw the advertisement, and pay attention to details such as the spelling of names
  • make sure you include full details of how you may be contacted.

Bear in mind that, should you be called for interview, it is possible that everything you have sent in will be available to the interviewers and will therefore contribute to the overall impression you make.

Before completing the application form

Before you begin to complete the application form, try to ensure that you have at least the following information:

  • the exact title of the post (eg class teacher, history teacher, etc)
  • the salary range
  • details of who the post is responsible to
  • a detailed job description including a full list of responsibilities
  • information on extra duties that may be expected of the successful applicant
  • an indication of the expected timetable (for secondary schools)
  • a detailed applicant profile, sometimes called a ‘person specification’.

Go through this information carefully and ask yourself whether you would want to accept the post if you were offered it. Questions to consider include:

  • Would it allow you to live where you would like to be?
  • Would it allow you to teach in the type of school you are
  • looking for?
  • Would it allow you to teach the subjects and age range for which you have been trained?
  • Would it allow you to complete an induction period successfully?

Completing the application form

Most schools ask applicants to complete application forms rather than apply by CV and covering letter. Spending time on the application form, and carefully planning what you intend to include, will pay off.

  • Carefully follow any guidance you are given, especially if you are applying to more than one school at a time.
  • Check if the application form is available online. Completing an electronic version of the form can often save a lot of time since it is so much easier to rectify mistakes.
  • If you have to complete a paper version of the application form, take a photocopy and complete the photocopy first. Write clearly in black ink. The forms will be copied for each member of the interview panel, so make sure yours is legible.
  • Make sure you have a copy of your completed form in case you are called for interview. You will need to refresh your memory about the information you have given.
  • Do not submit your CV unless you are specifically asked to do so.
  • If you are posting your application use an A4 envelope to avoid folding it and, where possible, deliver it in person. If you have to send it through the post, include a stamped addressed envelope or postcard that can be returned to you as an acknowledgement that the school has received your application.
  • Always keep to closing dates. If you want to apply but will miss the closing date, you could try contacting the school to find out if late applications will be accepted.

Your real opportunity to stand out from the other candidates is in the section called ‘relevant experience and other information’ or ‘supporting statement’.

In order to complete this section with relevance to the post, you must read the applicant profile.

Choosing your referees

Think carefully about your choice of referees. People you choose must be appropriate to teaching, and your contact must be recent. If you can only muster up a teacher from your distant past, you’ll immediately raise the suspicions of your prospective employers!

Your referees must also be in a position to match your qualities to the job in question, so you’d be wise to provide them with copies of the job description and applicant profile as well as your application before they write their statements.

Good choices of referee would be your tutor from your initial teacher training institution or, if you are a prospective returnee, your most recent headteacher.

If you’re applying to a denominational school, it would be wise to include a member of the appropriate clergy. You must gain each potential referee’s permission before including his or her details on an application form.

The applicant profile or person specification

The applicant profile/person specification describes the technical and personal skills, qualifications, knowledge and experience required of the postholder.

It is essential to read the applicant profile in detail so that you can match your application with what the employers are actually looking for.

If you can’t comfortably fit the applicant profile, you should think carefully about whether you want to apply for the job, as it is most likely that the profile will form the basis of the assessment criteria, both at the shortlisting stage and during the interview. Points will usually be listed as either essential or desirable – you need to have all the essential ones, and as many of the desirable ones as possible.

Completing the supporting statement

  • Write a list of your unique selling points as they relate to the applicant profile and job description.
  • It may be worth highlighting, either by headings or in bold text, where you are referring in your statement to the key qualities asked for in the job description or specification. This makes it easy for the assessors to see the extent to which you meet the criteria.
  • Begin and end with impact.
  • Aim to convey a sense of your personality.
  • Explain what attracted you to the job.
  • Fill the main body of the statement with your skills, experience and achievements, including information on hobbies, travel and voluntary work, always relating them to the applicant profile and job description.
  • Optimise the positive, but stay within the realms of reality! You may be asked to substantiate what you have written.
  • If possible, ask someone to check through your statement. They may spot errors or suggest improvements.
  • If you are printing your statement, firmly attach any supplementary sheets you need to include so they don’t get lost. That said, brevity is usually the key here and, if you aim for each sentence to convey a new point, you’ll avoid aimless paragraphs and the need for extra sheets.

It is essential you write a new supporting statement for each application you make. If you don’t, your statement cannot directly relate to the applicant profile and job description. Also, make sure that you don’t just borrow phrases from the job description. Use your own words, not the ones provided by the school.

The importance of your unique selling points

A sorrowful cry from new teachers seeking work in areas of strong competition is that they have little chance of success when so many other teachers are going for the same jobs.

If you find yourself feeling like this, think about your unique selling points and how they can help you to secure the post you want. What skills do you have that others don’t? Always be positive about how ideal you are for the job.

Writing a covering letter

If your supporting statement has been well written, there will be no need to include any information in the covering letter other than the points listed below. Avoid being ingratiating, and remember that brevity is vital!

  • Application forms usually have to be sent to the headteacher. Make sure you address this person as they address themselves on the school letterhead.
  • State your thanks for the application form.
  • State what you have included in your application, ie ‘Please find enclosed my completed application form for the post of… and a stamped addressed postcard for acknowledgement of receipt’.
  • End with the expectation of a reply, followed by ‘Yours sincerely’. Print your name as well as signing it, if there could be any doubt as to who is sending the letter.
  • Make sure your letter is headed with your full address, contact telephone number(s) and email address.

Applying by letter and CV

Occasionally, candidates are asked to apply for a post by letter and CV, particularly in the independent sector. It is a good idea to have an up-to-date CV ready anyway so that, if you are asked to submit one, you don’t have to rush to prepare it.

Applying by letter and CV means your covering letter has to be far more detailed than it would be if accompanying an application form. Most importantly, your letter must include a detailed supporting statement that relates directly to the applicant profile and job description.

Be sure to mention in the letter that your CV is attached/enclosed.

A basic CV formula

Your CV should be no more than two pages in length. Avoid printing on both sides and make sure the second page is numbered and carries a header (in smaller print) with your full name.

There are several CV-writing programmes available, and there are often advertisements for CV-writing services in the press and online. However the safest option, usually, is to produce your own CV is tailored to the teaching profession. Make sure there are no gaps in your CV, as these will be spotted easily. If questioned about periods of unemployment or illness, simply explain how positive the experience was in terms of what you learned from adversity.

A CV should contain the following information:

  • your name, address, telephone number, mobile number and email address
  • your education and qualifications, starting usually with A-levels – include brief summaries (one or two sentences) of your degree course(s) and teaching qualification
  • your employment history or work experience including your key responsibilities in any relevant jobs; if you are returning to the profession and have an inspection report pertaining to your work from your previous school, you could include any relevant quotations here as well as details of any continuing professional development courses you have taken
  • any positions of responsibility you have held outside employment (for example, leading youth groups or being a society president at college or university)
  • your other qualifications and skills, for example, musical instrument grades, any driving licences you hold, etc
  • your hobbies (be honest!)
  • a skills summary – this should be no more than two to three sentences outlining positive aspects such as motivation, determination, drive, commitment, ability to work to deadlines and to work effectively with colleagues
  • referee details.

Use your CV-writing time as an opportunity to get to know yourself. Be conscious of your experiences and clarify in your mind what each one has taught you. Doubtless, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the breadth of skills you have accumulated!

Applying to a pool

Some LAs (or in Northen Ireland, ELBs) may run a ‘pool’ service whereby first-time applicants (usually for primary posts) apply to the pool rather than individual schools.

There will be a specific application form to complete, which is designed to elicit information about your education, training, experiences, skills and achievements as well as preferences for the area in which you would like to teach, type of school and age group.

After being accepted into the pool, those who are allocating posts to applicants will endeavour to match preferences with needs. You are not obliged to accept the offer of a post as a result of a pool application, although your reasons for refusal should be well thought through.

Points to remember when applying to a pool

  • Applying to a pool is confirmation of your desire to work in a particular LA. Use this desire in your application by including details of why you want to work there – show off your knowledge of the area!
  • Individual LAs have their own deadlines for the completion of pool applications. Don’t miss this deadline as late applications can cause administrative nightmares.
  • Interviews for pools usually take place over two or three days. Your slot will be about 20 minutes, during which you will be asked a variety of questions and be given an opportunity to discuss your portfolio. Likely questions include:
    • what is it about working in a school in this LA that you look forward to?
    • what are your thoughts on how good behaviour might be promoted?
    • describe your experiences of recent curriculum developments
    • how would you take action to deal with underachievement?
    • tell us about a lesson you have taught in which children were given the opportunity to develop skills
    • how does assessment promote further learning?
    • how would you develop good relationships with parents?
  • The panel on pool interviews usually consists of one or two local headteachers as well as LA staff (advisers/inspectors or human resource staff).

Making speculative applications

It is not always necessary to wait for a post to be advertised before making an application. Speculative approaches can be successful if they happen to arrive at just the right time. When making a speculative application to a particular school, remember the following:

  • plan your letter to include your skills and achievements and begin by stating what kind of vacancy you would be interested in
  • go for brevity rather than volume, and don’t repeat any of the information in your CV
  • match your skills and experience to what you know about the school
  • include details of attributes you could bring to the school
  • ask for an interview and offer suggestions about your availability
  • if you are posting it, include a stamped, addressed envelope
  • end your letter with the expectation of a response, ie ‘I look forward to hearing from you’
  • make a follow-up call if you don’t hear within a week.