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Written applications

Written applications

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

Contacting the school to request the 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, fax, e-mail or write to request an application form 
  • keep your communication brief and pay attention to detail such as the spelling of names and including a date, as well as mentioning where you saw the advertisement 
  • if you choose to write, opt for good quality paper with an appropriately-sized envelope 
  • make sure you include full details of how you may be contacted.         

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 title of the post (e.g. 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. Would it:

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

Completing the application form

Most schools and local authorities 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. 

Take a photocopy of the form 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. 

Take 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. 

Always use an A4 envelope for your application to avoid folding it and, where possible, deliver it in person. If you have to send it through the post, include a stamped addressed 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, contact the school to find out if late applications will be accepted.

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Your real opportunity to stand out from the other candidates is in the section called `Relevant experience and other information' or `Supporting statement'.
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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.

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 be listed as either essential or desirable; you need to have all the essential ones, and as many of the desirable ones as possible.

Checklist for completing the supporting statement

Write a list of your unique selling points as they relate to the applicant profile and job description. 

Draft your statement first, making sure you 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. 

Firmly attach any supplementary sheets you need to include so that 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 that 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 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.

How do you write a supporting statement? Without doubt, this is one of the trickiest parts of the application process. Elizabeth Holmes, author of ATLís publication Apply yourself!, offers the following advice.

That is, without doubt, the trickiest part of the application process. Filling in boxes on forms about past qualifications is a mere breeze compared with the sweat and tears often associated with having to sell yourself. Maybe itís a cultural thing!

That said, following these steps can take a good deal of the pain out of the process.

  • Always keep in mind when you are writing supporting statements or letters of application that this is your greatest pre-interview opportunity to shine. Donít waste it!
  • Never attempt to craft a statement that you can bend to fit all the applications you make. Each application needs its own unique statement. (OK, youíre bound to borrow choice phrases or paragraphs from previous statements that you have written, but thatís where the similarity should end Ė the last things headteachers and governers want to see if a statement that applies to a job in another school; they get understandably touchy about these things!).
  • Repeat as a mantra: I must match my unique selling skills to the job description and person specification. Never forget that most crucial point.
  • Back your experiences up with examples showing evidence of your skills and achievements.
  • Optimise the positive! Itís amazing how many supporting statements Iíve read that simply donít sell the writer. They can be bland and uninspired and some even apologetically mention negative points such as ĎIím not very good at organising my time but I hope to improve in the futureí! Thatís going to get chucked out immediately by any headteacher needing you to hit the ground running in your new job.
  • Begin and end your statement with real impact. Youíll know when youíve got it right!
  • Donít be shy about conveying a sense of your personality. Thatís whatís going to hit the reader and create a longing to find out more in an interview.
  • Include a sentence about what motivates you to teach. 
  • Make sure that your grammar is impeccable throughout. Every spelling error or grammatical mistake will be picked up by headteachers and governors, who are looking for as close to perfection as they can get. You owe it to yourself to ensure that your entire application is error free.
  • Keep it concise and use Ďactioní words. Edit your first draft right down to create space to include even more examples of your skills and achievements just to make sure that every point in the job description and person specification is covered.
  • If possible, get someone to read through your statement to check for errors and potentially clumsy sentence construction. Donít be proud at this stage; every piece of written work can benefit from sensitive editing!         

The worst thing you can do is to take ideas from someone elseís statement or from some of the examples itís possible to find online. I know it sounds tough, but the only way possible your statement is going to sell you is if it is written in your words and it matches, specifically, the person specification for a particular job. It is easy for headteachers and governors to spot statements that have been rehashed from examples when they are shortlisting; they lack energy and enthusiasm and invariably fail to connect specifically to what the school is actually searching for. If you write without relying on examples from other people or for mythical jobs, you have a far greater chance of getting your suitability for the job across.

This text is taken from page 13 of Elizabeth Holmesí book FAQs for NQTs: Practical advice and working solutions for newly qualified teachers. (2006) Routledge. Hardback ISBN: 0415367956; price £65 Paperback ISBN 0415367964 ; price £16.99.

Writing a covering letter

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

Application forms usually have to be sent to the headteacher. Make sure you address the person as they address themselves on the school letterhead.

State your thanks for the application form. 

State what you have included in your application, i.e. `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 e-mail address (if you have one).

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 that 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.

You can submit a typed or handwritten letter. If your handwriting is neat, it might be a good idea to write your letter (using black ink), but there is no unshakeable rule to follow. Be sure to mention in the letter that your CV is enclosed, in case it becomes separated from the letter. 

A basic CV formula

Always type your CV and print it on no more than two sheets of good quality paper. Avoid printing on both sides and make sure that 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. However, the safest option is to produce your own CV that 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 and, if you have them, fax number, mobile number and e-mail 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 OFSTED (ESTYN for schools in Wales) 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.         

Some people also include their date of birth.

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 run a 'pool' service whereby first-time applicants (usually for primary posts) apply to the pool rather than individual schools. This means that applications join a pool of new teachers that schools can draw from; being accepted into a pool in an LA does not necessarily mean that you will get a job in the area, but it does mean your pool application will be forwarded to a school as an when it has a vacancy.

If you are applying to a pool, 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 be 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 the national numeracy and literacy strategies
  • how would you take action to deal with under-achievement?
  • 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 (advisors/inspectors or personnel 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 just as 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 outstanding 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 
  • write or type on good quality paper 
  • match your skills and experience to what you know about the school and include details of attributes you could bring to the school  
  • ask for an interview and offer suggestions about your availability
  • include a stamped, addressed envelope and end your letter with the expectation of a response i.e. 'I look forward to hearing from you' , and make a follow-up call if you don't hear within a week.         

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/her details on an application form.

Preparing your portfolio

Portfolios are gaining such importance now that it is becoming essential for applicants to keep one up-to-date as a professional demonstration of past work, skills and excellence. Just a few years ago, portfolios were not really used very much, but this is rapidly changing and they've now become important accessories to applications, especially in the primary and special needs sectors.

There's no doubt that collecting together the best examples of your work gives a real boost to confidence levels. By highlighting your successes, you offer interviewers an extremely positive focus for questioning as well as allowing your skills to speak for themselves!

The ideal size for your portfolio folder is A3, so that it's big enough to hold relatively large examples of pupils' work as well as other documents relating to planning. Make sure it looks presentable and is well labelled. Most good stationers and art suppliers stock selections of portfolio folders. Choose a folder without inner plastic pockets for ease of retrieval during the interview ≠ the last thing you want is to be fumbling with stubborn pockets which are reluctant to relinquish their contents. Place the contents of your folder in the order you want to retrieve each item.

What to include in your portfolio:

  • photographs of displays, special events such as class outings you have been involved in, or visiting speakers 
  • samples of pupils' work (particularly work that reflects the standards you value or your philosophy of teaching)
  • samples of your work and pupils' work that indicates your understanding of current education issues ≠ perhaps some work on citizenship or the numeracy and literacy strategies.         

Unless you're applying for a job very early into your training, you'll have material you can include in a portfolio, but be selective. Although it's advisable to include items that reflect your excellence, it can also be positive to include something that demonstrates your ability to learn from your experiences, especially if you're a newly-qualified teacher. Many interviews include questions on how well candidates have bounced back from classroom `disasters', which reveal your skills as a reflective practitioner. 

When preparing for an interview, take anything out of your portfolio that isn't pertinent to the job specification, so that you'll be able to make use of everything.

Further information