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What are the pros and cons of working in an independent school?

Discussion in 'Independent' started by missred, Jan 5, 2017.

  1. missred

    missred New commenter

    I'm looking for work and I'm just wondering if people could outline their own experience of working in an ind. school.


    Are the parents difficult to deal with?
    Are the children very demanding?
    Is there any difference in behaviour?
    Are class sizes any smaller?
    Is there a difference in pay?
    Are there more resources?

    I am an N.Q.T. I have vast experience of supply work outside of the U.K. Do independent schools expect N.Q.T.'s to be outstanding from day 1 OR very good teachers trying their best and eager to learn? I am hoping to work in year 1.

  2. sabrinakat

    sabrinakat Star commenter

    Hiya, I work in a girls independent secondary school, which I really like.

    1. Some parents can be difficult but you have colleague/SLT/HOD support for tricky situations; other parents can be lovely and very appreciative.
    2. Students are not particularly demanding but they can see through false bravado; in terms of differentiation, I have SEN (mild) to Oxbridge preparation, but approach each class according to whatever they need,.e.g. one class is very academic, another using more basic activities.
    3. Behaviour is not a major issue in terms of physical but there can be excessive chattiness, friendship issues and underlying bullying. I had one tricky class last year but worked with my HOY and turned it around; I have one tricky one this year but I know the students better and most of the time, it's manageable.
    4. My smallest class is one Year 12; my largest is 16 - others range from 10-12.
    5. I am paid more than in the state system but I have a PhD, Oxford and am a sole subject (Latin).
    6. Yes - I don"t have to worry about supplies or buying materials. I do buy some of own language books as I like to have my own (to keep).

    I work in a small school but really like that I can teach as I like; my exam results are quite good and the paperwork is very manageable. I do a great deal over the holidays in preparation; it means with PPA (20%), I rarely need to do work at home during the week (I have a four year old), so work-life balance is essential.

    Be warned - there is a very heavy pastoral element in independent schools, your days are longer (my school day is 8.30-4.30 but my son's (primary) is 8.30 - 3.30) and you will need to do extra-curricular activities. Yes, I do have longer holidays but I try to prepare a bit during them. I work one or two Saturday mornings a month (Open Morning), sporting events, even camping with my form.

    I have taught in the state sector but prefer this much more. Choose carefully - I had interviews at some posh schools that seemed ideal on paper but were a little too much (I can't explain it) whereas ten minutes into my interview at my current school, I just knew it was the right place.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  3. Snorkers

    Snorkers New commenter

    There is a huge variety of independent schools, so - with the best will in the world - a small sample of experiences here is unlikely to be reflective of what every school is like. As a general rule, classes tend to be smaller and parents have higher expectations because of their financial commitment. Pay levels vary significantly from school to school, so definitely ask at interview (if not before). In terms of behaviour, remember that kids are kids, whatever their parental income level, so you could expect the whole range of behaviour and issues that you might find in a state school. The main difference will be how that behaviour is managed: at a class level, with fewer pupils, it's easier to manage your class; many schools also have strong pastoral structures that will give better support outside of the classroom.

    At prep school level, there's a really wide range of schools, so it always pays to do your homework. The biggest issue with a small prep school is financial sustainability - while teaching a really small class may be lovely, it's not really an advantage if the school shuts at short notice. It's definitely worth looking whether the school is proprietor-owned, independently governed or part of a bigger trust, and whether it's part of a bigger organisation, such as IAPS, as this gives a greater likelihood of long-term survival.

    As Sabrinakat said, the culture varies significantly between schools and its important you find the right place for you - you'll get a gut feel pretty quickly, I think. Some schools expect excellence from the first lesson, while others are much more interested in potential and developing their own talent.
  4. willcott

    willcott New commenter

    I work in a boys' independent secondary school and would agree with all that is said by the above two posters. FWIW from my experience, using your numbering:

    1. Not in my experience.
    2. Not especially.
    3. As already stated, children are children, though (generally) smaller classes help with management and there is usually strong pastoral support outside the classroom.
    4. Usually, yes, though not always.
    5. My experience would say yes, most large independent schools will have a pay scale above the national average. In return for this there are often, as sabrinakat says, significant expectations in terms of pastoral and co-curricular involvement. I work at a boarding school so evening and weekend commitments are normal.
    6. Yes.

    Most good schools and departments would, I expect, appoint on the basis of potential, i.e. you don't need to be immediately outstanding but eagerness to learn would be important.
  5. Ireton

    Ireton New commenter

    I work in a co-ed school based in London and have experience of single and co-ed prep schools. Independent schools are by their name and nature independent so the experience varies widely. To use your numbering system and from my perspective

    1. Not usually but becoming more so - examples of parents suing schools for failure of their children to gain GCSE/A level results as expected. Some schools pander to the parents too much - not my present one but I worked at one that did. However, the great majority are very supportive and some are very generous.

    2 Not demanding but many come from a social class in which they are unaware of the world around them. Some parents are good at keeping their children grounded, others spoil them beyond belief. Biggest concern at my present school is parental pressure to get into the next school and materialistic attitude, coupled with parents not giving their children time to be children. Pupils can be very chatty and over confident at times, low level bullying and increase in cyber bullying has been noticed in past few years. - again parents fail to keep an eye on facebook, instagram etc. However, depedning ont eh school you may a number of EAL students and some schools have heavily recruited overseas which has had a cultural impact. We have a large and well resourced SEN dept and you can find that parents who are having difficulty in the state sector sometimes make a financial sacrifice believing that the independent system will help their child.

    3 I haven't taught in state system but behaviour is usually very good. Worked at at top academic prep recently and if you weren't up to the mark and delivered good lessons to keep pupils engaged , they would let you know about it.

    4. Depends on the school, though as mentioned above, smaller class sizes can also mean that the school is in trouble. Be aware of schools in the country and away from major conurbations or wealthy areas.. Check the Charity Commission website if the school is a charity to see the accounts and lots of other info over the past few years. Many prep schools have class sizes of 18-20, some up to 25.

    5. Some schools pay main scale or a version it. Closer to London/SE you can be paid more but it costs more to live here. Most senior schools have decent pay levels as they have to attract good teachers. London day tend to pay from 5% above main scale upwards. Heard of one recently
    paying 18% above but it worked a much longer day and staff are expected to do a lot of extras. Some schools over incentives such as reduced fees, subsidised healthcare, on site facilities such as gym membership, free or subsidised accommodation, depends on the schools. GPDST have their scales on their website for all to see, so do some other senior schools as well.

    6. Depends on the school. I have visited some that the local primary schools would beat hands down in terms of resources and equipment. Some are run on a very tight budget - remember that they are businesses. others have enjoyed years of and 'arms race' in building shiny new facilities, but don't be drawn in by these. Look at the charity commission site again and see how financially stable they are.

    As Sabrinacat mentions, the main difference is the extra curricular commitment and pastoral commitment. State schools have this, but in mine, for example, you would be expected to attend many school functions as well as go on a residential trip with your form.. Hours can be long in some boarding schools and many day offer wrap around care till 6.00pm.

    Hope this helps.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  6. Skeoch

    Skeoch Lead commenter

    Senior boarding can have a very long teaching day. Don't be surprised by lessons in late afternoon - teaching until 6p.m. in winter has been part of my experience. With a campus-based boarding school you can get a very supportive community - although you tend not to escape the school! This can help with all sorts of practical things like babysitting, parcel delivery, getting a lift to drop the car off for servicing and so on. In addition there may be an organised social life which you can opt into or out of as you please.
    Some parents can indeed be very pushy; but dealing with them is what the Heads and their deputies earn their money for.
    On your question on resources, I've seen a pretty wide variety of schools recently. Some have spent mountains of money, mostly donated by parents and alumni, to build in the arms race described above; they also tend to have good resourcing in terms of books, IT, and the like. Others are small and struggling so are not so well resourced, but do try to spend money where it's most effective; the buildings may look shabby but the textbooks will be up to date and in good quantity.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  7. red_observer

    red_observer Star commenter

    Should be abolished in any 21st century society so a big CONS!
  8. jarndyce

    jarndyce Occasional commenter

    I find the smaller class sizes and extra time during the school day to be very helpful when it comes to supporting those with low literacy levels.
  9. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

  10. TheGentleman

    TheGentleman Occasional commenter

    Troll alert.
  11. devils

    devils Occasional commenter

    Be VERY careful when making your choice....

    The most important question (and one which I think a lot of teachers bizarrely dont ask themselves) is why do you want to work in an independent?

    I've worked in both and there are most definitely pro's and con's..... and even more so than state schools there is a huge variety of types out there.

    Its a very interesting situation indeed...... until relatively recently many indies had no interest whatsoever in modern educational trends. There was quite rightly an attitude of "If it ain't broke don't fix it", but now all kinds of 'trendy' ideas are seeping through via some kind of educational diffusion!

    Some of these ideas do indeed have merit, but the problem is that they are time consuming to implement. Now if you are working in a state school from 8.30-3.15 with virtually no extra-curricular responsibility and much tighter controls on what can and cant be asked of staff, they can be accomodated. However if you're working in an Indy, your day is long, your extras are many and your employee rights fewer ....... the time available for extra admin is very slim indeed!

    Don't get me wrong... I have had some great indy experiences but anyone that tells you that "working in an indy is great" in some kind of blanket fashion, is talking out of their derriere!!

    I've talked to staff who have worked in Indy's for longer than I have and ALL of them have commented on the huge increase in admin workload and parental expectations thats occurred over the last 10 years.

    Think carefully and do your homework......
    Ireton likes this.
  12. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    I worked at a top HMC school, got Outstanding under its recently appointed new Head. I worked there for many years, helping up the results year after year. Then, like many, kicked out because I reached UPS3 and dared to be ill. Well, you do fall ill after 16 years of ten hours full time days. Indie schools have and always will be commercial enterprises offering a concept to the kids and parents. More and more, they are in it to make savings on staff to buy sexy new websites, logo doormats, signage, new school minibuses...I've seen huge change. Overall, I prefer the sector, but that's because I'd rather eat my left eyeball than work in an academy. Two tips if you move to this sector: if you're under 30, be as pushy, hardworking, results-driven and bootlicking as possible, secure a HOD or SLT promotion well before you reach UPS, and your career will probably last longer. And never, never EVER take a job in a school where the Head has been there under five years, or all the staff on the website look about 25. Aim for a GSA or Church School with a well-adjusted Head in their early middle age and a mixed age SLT. Now you might think this is exaggeration, but I recently interviewed at what was an excellent co-ed indie. The idiot Deputy Head of pastoral care was arrogant in the extreme, boasted about her obsession with neat uniforms above all, and had a go at me before she even asked me her first question because, in a subject-based job application, I hadn't put my enduring passion and love for pastoral care first. I'd offended the poor dear, you see. Doubtless this trouser-suited ***** had attended an 'aspiring Head before your'e 30' course which instructed them all to be all combative and assertive in interviews. 'Challenge them and shock them to get 'em talking', that sort of toilet content....But actually she ended up looking like an utter twit (replace vowel) and showing me very clearly how BADLY Gove's 'reforms' have affected even the nicest and most suburban of schools. The indie schools vary hugely. This is both a blessing and a curse, particularly in terms of career progression. As others say, research, research, and google the school's name with the words 'tribunal' or 'capability dismissal'.....
    Ireton and devils like this.
  13. SiriusB

    SiriusB New commenter

    I've only had about a term's worth of experience but so far my experience is this:

    Are the parents difficult to deal with?
    I've had a few cases where their child can do nothing wrong and it's the other children's fault but nothing major.

    Are the children very demanding?
    Children are mostly lovely. Of course you get the few badly behaved ones but especially as they get older they are very nice.

    Is there any difference in behaviour?
    I wouldn't know as I've never taught in the state sector but my most challenging class, although not pleasant, wasn't completely soul destroying either.

    Are class sizes any smaller?
    I have colleagues who teach one student in some classes. My smallest is 6. Average about 12-13.

    Is there a difference in pay?
    In my school, yes!

    Are there more resources?
    Again, I can't compare, but I am very happy with our resources. A nice subject library, excellent IT provisions, everything we need really.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  14. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Exactly this. Far too many HMC managers think they are Britain's Best Academy Head. Clearly they are so thick, they have forgotten the history, culture and ideals of the independent schools they seek to rebrand. Look at the ads on TES. A LOT of Indy schools are now constantly readvertising. The same job. Month after month...Which either means they are so skint they want the youngest and cheapest available and are prepared to wait, or that turnover is outstripping supply.
    Ireton and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  15. devils

    devils Occasional commenter


    I knew someone who worked at an Indy with an 'Open door policy' throughout.... meaning that current parents could come into the school at ANY time and observe ANY class in action. When I was told about that, my jaw hit the flaw...... never in a million years would/could that happen in any state school that I know.

    Without naming names I see job ads for that particular school all the time....

    The universe does indeed work in cycles...... more and more state schools are getting on to the 'behaviour=results' train, something that has supposedly been deeply ingrained in Indy culture for years.... however, I also know of more and more Indy's that will take in ANY child as long as the parents have got the moolah and letting behavioural standards drop lower and lower in order to keep the helicopter parents and their "saint-like" kids happy!!! The balance sheet for sooooo many Indy's nowadays is king....

    DO NOT make any assumptions whatsoever about working for an Indy.....
    Mrsmumbles and Ireton like this.
  16. Mrsmumbles

    Mrsmumbles Star commenter

    Exactly exactly. Then it hit me that I could be my own business and get quite a good living offering my own product for slightly less pay but with nine of the crop which goes with teaching. The amount of pointless admin, massaging of thick parental egos, student counselling and repeating entire lessons at lunch for absent feepaying kids....hours and hours of lost life I will never get back! Then reports, parents evenings...I realise that if I had tutored years ago, I would have written my tenth novel by now!

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