Teaching in independent schools

Could teaching in an independent school be the right graduate career choice for you?

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Independent schools are funded by fees and do not receive any income directly from the state. They are sometimes known as private or public schools, and there are are around 2,600 of them in the UK. They break down into two main types: those with and without boarding facilities. Many schools have a mixture of boarding and day pupils. Independent schools are usually divided into three main age groups: pre-preparatory (3–8), preparatory (9–11/13) and senior (11/13–18).

Independent schools are not obliged to follow the national curriculum, although most will work within its broad framework. Most offer GCSEs and A levels, although pupils at some schools may have the opportunity to take IGCSEs (equivalent to GCSEs but perceived as slightly tougher) and, in the sixth form, the International Baccalaureate Diploma. Some are inspected by Ofsted, though associations of schools belonging to the Independent Schoools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). Ofsted monitors the work of the ISI on behalf of the Department for Education.

Skills and qualifications required

It isn’t a legal requirement to have a recognised teaching qualification to work in an independent school, but it is, generally speaking, preferable – it shows a clear commitment to a teaching career and means that you come into the job having learned the relevant subject knowledge and teaching skills. Most independent schools employ teachers who have qualified teacher status (QTS).

Many independent schools do not offer an induction year for NQTs. However, it may be possible to complete your induction year in an independent school.

Career progression

If you do well at an independent school the chances for career progression are many and varied. In an independent school you could be given responsibilities within your department or be allowed to help run a sport or activity within just a couple of years. The positions of head of department and housemaster (and increasingly head of year group) are highly sought after. It would not be unusual to take up one of these roles within a decade of starting in the profession, perhaps having taught at two or three schools to gain a broader experience than can be acquired within one school, however large or diverse that might be. There is also the possibility for those who want to take on the ultimate responsibility to become school heads in due course.

Most independent schools have a well developed senior management structure. In addition to a head and bursar (finance director) the senior management team might comprise a deputy head (or two or three deputies), charged with the operational management of the school; a director of studies, responsible for academic matters within the school; and other senior figures key to the management or ethos of the school.

This article was last updated August 2021.

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