To PE or not to PE – the ups and downs of securing a your first PE teacher job.
This guest blog by Luke Jones explores the challenges he faced transitioning from QTS to ECT
The Covid Years
The Education sector, like many industries, has had its fair share of challenges over the past two years. Social Distancing, Testing and Microsoft Teams become ubiquitous phrases within classrooms around the country. Indeed, my own Training as a PE Teacher took place during what will forever be known as the ‘covid years’ which called for resilience, adaptability, and perseverance to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
Getting a PE teacher job!
Whilst I was able to complete my Teacher Training through this unique time, one thing dawned on me, which I am sure all trainees will identify with, GETTING A JOB!
It has taken me a full year since gaining QTS to secure my first permanent PE teaching job and I can assure any aspiring PE Teacher – this could be the toughest challenge you will face yet! As with all teaching positions, the market is extremely competitive but potentially even more so within physical education.
How many young, sport-hungry students come out of university wanting to pursue a career in this challenging but very rewarding profession? As outlined by the Department for Education (2019), PE was one of the most popular subjects based on the increasing number of trainees on initial teacher training courses (see page 4).
Not enough PE teacher positions
It is clear there are more and more physical education trainees but not enough PE teacher posts. Realistically, there may be an average of 4-5 PE teachers in one school. Additionally, you often find PE teachers staying at the same school for years and years, limiting the opportunities for vacancies. The theory that you can just apply, get an interview and then a job is statistically very unlikely.
My recent experiences – a total of ten interviews in the space of four months – supports this. However, despite the negative statistics, I write this article with the intention of supporting trainee teachers by reflecting on what I endured both professionally and personally to take my first steps into the physical education profession.
I will break this down into what I felt were 6 important principles that all ITTs should consider when attempting to secure their first teaching role.
6 suggestions to securing the ideal job
1) Apply, Apply, Apply
This might seem obvious, but having spoken to several trainees in my position, often applicants will apply for maybe four or five physical education jobs in the hope of gaining their dream job.
Whilst I hear many professionals stating, “you should only apply for a post that you really want,” or only applying for roles where Ofsted have deemed it a good or an outstanding school, the unfortunate reality is you may be waiting a long time to even get shortlisted for an interview. I agree that applying for the first thing that pops up is not necessarily the most effective way as it may be a school that doesn’t suit your attributes, needs and skillset. I also applied for a variety of contract types from fixed term, part-time and permanent position roles across a range of different secondary school contexts including academy and independent contexts.
But having said that, during the end of my PGCE year I applied for roughly 7-8 physical education jobs which at the time seemed quite a lot based on the limited adverts being published. From this, I was invited to a total of two interviews.
In contrast, from January to June 2022 I applied for twenty-four jobs and was invited to ten interviews. Clearly the stats don’t lie – the more jobs you apply for, the more interviews you will invariably get.
2) People like people – and people know people
Potentially this is the most underrated principle. Like many reading this, I too was given numerous lectures on how to structure your cover letter, tailor it to suit the ethos of the school, align it with the person specification etc., etc. However, what was never emphasised to me by institutions or schools was the power of networking.
Physical education teachers in particular have the opportunity to create a vast network due to extracurricular clubs and competitions that take place outside of school. Therefore, many physical educators will talk regularly with other PE teachers from other schools across the region and nationally.
Build and Reach out to your physical education network
A close friend of mine once told me that I should reach out to my network, based on the relationships I had developed with former PE teachers and coaches throughout the years. At the time, I thought this was a bit of an overstatement but little did I know the impact it would would have for me. An example of this was an interview I had back in March, where I was sent the itinerary for the day and the lesson I was to plan and deliver.
Reading the email, I decided to reach out to my old secondary school PE teacher – someone who I hadn’t really spoken to since I left more than 10 years ago. During the phone call, it turned out they knew one of the PE teachers at the school I was interviewing at. Off the back of this, they gave them a call and gave some albeit limited but positive words about me to their former colleague. On the day of the interview, I was able to strike a good rapport with the teacher and possibly gave me an “edge” over other candidates.
When getting shortlisted, you will always be given a lesson to teach so once again it’s important to tap into your network to plan an effective lesson. I would always speak to well qualified and experienced teachers about the topic I was due to teach and they would give me loads of ideas for how my lesson could be innovative and demonstrate effective learning in students. At times, I would try and practice my lesson on other classes I was teaching and get my mentor to give me feedback prior to the interview. In summary, value the experience and knowledge your contacts have and use it to your advantage.
3) Be prepared to travel – and spend money
Linking back to my first point, applying for lots of jobs means venturing further afield. There were two interviews in particular which involved me travelling down south the night before, staying in a hotel and then following the interview, making the dreaded 3-hour journey home not knowing if I had secured the job.
The experience of visiting different schools, meeting other heads of department, teaching different types of children and young people as well as different topics became invaluable and one I am extremely proud of.
Additionally, I have a number of friends who currently teach not just in different parts of the UK but also overseas. Some of the opportunities for teaching abroad are incredible and offer an excellent opportunity in terms of pay package, accommodation, outstanding facilities etc. I applied for a number of positions overseas such as Dubai, Spain and even Andorra.
Not only is there a salary incentive, but the possibility of diving into other rich cultures is one that I would recommend any aspiring teacher to do at some point in their career. This is something I experienced previously as a football coach in China.
Having met many teachers during my time there, the opportunities to teach abroad on a competitive salary whilst living in some of the most diverse locations and outstanding settings around the world couldn’t sound more appealing.
4) It’s a roll of the dice
Once you get shortlisted to the interview day, it’s always a great feeling knowing you have been narrowed down from sometimes 100 candidates and are now potentially an interview away from becoming a fully fledged teacher. However, my advice at this point would definitely be don’t get your hopes up. Simply focus on planning your lesson and enjoying the experience. Typically, you may get a call about 4-5 days before the interview to plan accordingly for the lesson you have been briefed on.
Following several interviews, I started to realise that there are so many factors that will determine what happens next. The topic you have been given and how comfortable you are with that topic, the class you teach and of course what the school are looking for.
What is meant for you wont pass you by
There was one interview whereby I had rehearsed my lesson and interview answers many times, executed both as best as I could and felt really confident I had secured the role. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Despite the school being very impressed with me and felt I didn’t put a foot wrong, they went with someone who they thought could contribute in other areas they needed further support on. So make sure you sell your self as a teacher and as a member of the school community that can contribute across the whole school.
It became clear there may be some occasions where no matter how well you perform on the interview on the day, it very much depends on what the school are looking for, your definition outstanding may not always be the same as their interpretation of it.
5) Be prepared to offer a second subject
Based on the aforementioned competition within the PE market, headteachers will be looking for candidates who can offer something extra to the school community. With secondary settings operating more and more like businesses, senior leaders will seek any opportunity to reduce costs and employ people who can teach across more than one subject.
My current teacher of physical education role
Take my current position, I was employed not only as a physical education teacher but also delivering Key Stage 3 Science. For an academy, rather than employing an experienced teacher higher up the pay scale, hiring a Newly Qualified Teacher who can teach an additional subject is very cost effective.
Personally, my background isn’t in this subject area but having studied Psychology, this was something I drew upon when asked about my interests in other subjects alongside physical education. I saw this as a great opportunity to develop my practice and pedagogical knowledge in delivering a subject that is not my first discipline.
Play to your strengths or at least your interests
Applicants may see this in job descriptions where schools have explicitly emphasised the ability to offer a second subject. Clearly, this is something you will need to think about, as if the second subject is Maths for example, and if like me this wasn’t a strength of yours in school then perhaps looking to apply elsewhere maybe a sensible option.
However, assessing what your strengths are and considering a part-time physical education role with another subject will not only stand you in good stead for employability but also further develop your skills as an education professional.
6) Feedback is good, but isn’t the full picture
It goes without saying that if you aren’t successful in securing the position, always ask the employer for feedback. The positives of this clearly allow you to reflect on what went well and what didn’t go so well and where you can improve going forward into the next interview. However, what I started to realise was that the feedback you were given in one interview is perhaps totally irrelevant to another.
For example, despite getting down to the final three at one interview, the feedback I was given was simply to gain more sporting qualifications. This I felt was important, however it gave me no idea on how my lessons went, how I did in the interview which meant I couldn’t truly gauge how I came across. Feedback whether positive, constructive or non-existent dust yourself off and log back onto the pe teacher jobs board.
Feedback is highly subjective
What started to become apparent, was the feedback from one school was completely irrelevant to another purely based on what they were looking for, the other candidates on the day and that saying of “if your face fits.” If we break down what feedback is, it is simply the opinion of one person from their own unique experiences and contextualising that based on what they have seen. If you were to ask for feedback on the same lesson or interview from a different school or teacher, it will of course be articulated and contextualised in a different way based on what their views are and what they look for.
However, I would emphasise that on other occasions, I have been provided with some very detailed and useful feedback from schools who have taken a lot of time out of their day to support me and I was very appreciative of. The key is to reflect on the experience and contextualise the feedback in order to make sense of it.
Concluding thoughts on becoming a physical education teacher
The barriers to gaining that first full-time teacher of PE role are as arduous as they are numerous. The six principles I have outlined hopefully corroborate this for current physical education trainees and have provided some useful tips that allow for some light at what can seem like a dark and endless tunnel when applying for jobs. Hopefully after reading this it might increase your chances of being the successful candidate at interview! I wish everyone seeking a physical education teacher position every success in attaining that goal.
The power of networking, traveling further afield and contextualising feedback are just some of the tools I used which now, on reflection, put me in a much better position. In doing so, I have entered a profession that I feel privileged to be in. I hope this post helps others who are in pursuit of their first pe teacher job.
About the Author:
This guest blog was written by Luke Jones – physical educator currently based in Wrexham, as an Early Career Teacher.