Getting That Physical Education Job

During Senior Leadership Team (SLT) meetings this week we have been preparing for an upcoming recruitment process – a pivotal part in our school’s next step to achieving ‘outstanding provider’ status (awarded by Ofsted in the United Kingdom). Coinciding with this I have been reading numerous articles, blogs and internet feeds on “perfect applications”, “how to get your first job” and “securing promotion”. Then, within 3 days of each other, 2 ex-students and 1 ex-colleague asked me for advice on their first or next Physical Education job. I asked them all the same question, “what have you read already?” They all replied the same, “lots! but nothing PE specific”. And so my first blog was born; some great tips on getting that Physical Education job.

The following advice is solely based on the interview day. Although the letter of application is the ‘foot in the door’, I believe this should be personal to the School and the applicant. I have now been involved in the recruitment of 11 PE jobs, including my own replacement as Subject Leader, second in departments, School Sports Co-ordinators (SSCo’s), 1st and 2nd year teachers. All of the advice and tips mentioned here are taken from real life experiences and many of the job prevention hindrances have been seen by myself on multiple occasions, and although this is by no means an exhausted list (please do share your own views/experiences), this hopefully serves as a starting point to help people avoid making the same mistakes I have seen made before.

1. Plan for all learners to be successful

It is good practise for any candidate to ask for data and information on the students they will be teaching on the day. However, for PE candidates this will almost certainly involve a conversation with the Head of PE. You will need to know the information similar to any other subject (e.g. KS2 (Key Stage 2) levels, reading ages, SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) information, G&T (Gifted and Talented) numbers etc). However, you will also need to know information only the PE department themselves will be able to tell you. For example, any expected non-participation (you should plan sensibly for non-doers!), how the micro-populations affect PE lessons, (e.g. SEN (Special Educational Needs) students categorised as SA (School Action) or SA+ are very likely to be in your high attaining band). You will also need to know what the students have studied already, and if it is an examination group being taught, what practical assessment scores or unit levels they have secured already. Failure to obtain this (and additional) information will almost always result in all students failing to make good progress in your lesson or result in a lack of sufficient challenge for all learners. #LeaveNothingToChance

2. Space, equipment and set up

Linked to point one, you must be prepared to teach in all circumstances. Remember, although it is your interview it is a normal school day for everyone else. The best candidates are able to adapt and be flexible, especially within the PE setting. You need to be aware that if it rains and you were told you were teaching outside, you will still be expected to teach. Plan for it! You are in the real world – being able to adapt is a key feature of a good PE teacher. Also, it is very likely you will have limited time to set your lesson up, so make sure you are able to teach with impact. You need to carefully consider the pro’s and con’s of planning a heavily resourced PE interview lesson. Have your learning aims pre-written on large paper – the sports hall may or may not have whiteboards, and regardless, no-one wants to see a teacher spend the first 5 minutes with their back to them writing on a board. Also, think and plan drills/transitions carefully. A drill that takes 6 minutes to set up, uses 45 cones and then requires packing away before the next activity is probably time and effort wasted. Lastly, although we would all love to teach classes of 24 (so all the team numbers work), this will very rarely happen – you may even be told you have 28 students and on the day it is 25 – so you must be able think on your feet and make your teaching work for that number. No observer will ever accept, “it was an odd number!” #KeepItInTheRealWorld

3. Be a role model

This is important on two fronts. Firstly, look the part. Candidates will spend a long time choosing the right suit, shirt, blouse and shoes. However, Physical Education teachers need to think just as hard about PE kit. It is never acceptable to wear your university hoodie with your nickname across the back. Equally, all shorts should be a reasonable length and you should only wear a sports watch as jewellery! Stick to a classic, white polo shirt and tracksuit bottoms and you will not lose instant credibility.

Secondly, it is all about gaining credibility. When you teach you are the expert and students want to be inspired by you. Show them what you are good at! Make sure you demonstrate this – whilst ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is true, by simply demonstrating something correctly you will show the students you know what you are talking about, they will trust you and you show the observers you are fit and able! Fail to demonstrate and those questions go unanswered. #IncreaseCredibility

4. Past vs Future

Throughout the day you will speak to a number of different people. Remember, whoever you speak to, you are still on interview. Some members of staff will be planted with questions to ask, while others (e.g. receptionists and catering staff) have very influential opinions. The key here is to learn about the school, be friendly to all (especially students) and gain vital information that you may be able to use to your advantage at a later date. Definitely avoid talking about how great you are and do not speak derogatorily about any other candidate. Also, think yourself into the role, and link your previous experience to what you can offer to this new role. Keep it relevant – you may have been a great swimming teacher who had fantastic numbers at extra-curricular clubs, but if the new school doesn’t have a pool, it’s not worth repeatedly banging that drum. Find out what you can offer the school and evidence your impact and experience to that. #KeepItRelevant

5. Be honest and genuine

Do not try to guess answers. If you do not know something, or are unsure, ask a question or simply say you don’t know. This will be far more beneficial than making something up that you are not certain about. Control the things you are in control of! You may be asked about your previous results, so make sure you know the numbers, and this includes percentages but also value-added numbers. If they are poor make sure you include what you have learnt and what you would do differently. Make sure you know the numbers of the school you are on interview for too – headline figures are ok, but knowing percentages of attainment bands and areas of strength and development from a recent Ofsted report will show you have done some research. You will not be expected to know everything or have all the answers but you will be expected to have done some homework! #ControlTheControllable

Finally, I will close with a final thought which happened very recently (and may help in the closing stages of your interview). Note: It was not a PE job interview. When interviewing four candidates for the same job they were all asked “what do you consider to be your areas of weakness?” (A very common question) All four provided a similar response along the lines of “I am a perfectionist and I work too hard” (or words to that effect). Please, please, please do not answer that question like that. Although for some it may be true, it merely shows a lack of thinking and general ignorance. Instead, think hard about which areas you want to improve in – this will be a much better answer and will help make you stand out from the others.

I appreciate this is just a basic list, and I really do not wish to patronise anyone, but I promise you in the past 7 years I have seen all the explained behaviours. Please add to this list, use it as a starting point and to your advantage in securing your dream job. Good luck!

This post was contributed by Phil Cocks, Assistant Vice Principal at the Oasis Academy, Bristol in the United Kingdom. He is Head of Sixth Form, Curriculum Development and Enrichment, Cluster Lead of Performance Faculty and teaches both Physical Education and Maths. He is an ex-subject leader of PE, KS5 PE and was previously a School Sports Co-ordinator (SSCo). He holds a BA (Hons) with QTS from the University of Chichester and is currently undertaking a MEd in Special Education (ASD) and Learning Power at the University of Bristol.

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  1. Great advice Phil. Do you have any help on questions that would generally be asked other than results? Also what makes you know the candidate is right for your school?

  2. Hi Alex,
    Each school will have their own set of questions, but common questions include what does outstanding PE look like? How will you deal with poor performing staff, or persistent low level disruption? There will always be a question around the school ethos and safeguarding.

    I think during the interview the panel will go down different avenues for each candidate and that’s when they really know if right for school.

  3. Excellent article Alex, here are some other things to consider:

    Are you willing to coach anything/how are you planning on becoming involved with extracurricular activities. This will allow the interview committee to assess how willing you are to connect outside of the district walls, yet still be involved.

    Applicants should also have a long-term plan for professional development (post-undergraduate/graduate schooling and development) as well as being up to date on scholarly readings and memberships.