FAQ: You work in a private school!

This series of posts tackles some common issues that keep arising as I write about education.


You work in a private school!


I work in a private school. It’s a wonderful place that has supported me as I have developed an interest in education research. Some people have started to refer to the fact that I work in a private school on Twitter as if it is significant in some way and so I thought I would tell my story.

In the final year of my physics degree, I told my tutor that I was interested in teaching. He said he knew of an independent school looking for an English teacher and a physics teacher (you didn’t need a teaching qualification to teach in an independent school in England). I said that I wanted to go and train because I wanted to work in state schools. My friend took the English job and has built a good career.

After qualifying, I worked in three London comprehensives from 1997 to 2010. All had their challenges but one was officially designated a ‘school facing challenging circumstances’. I am very proud of the work that we did there. I played a small part in turning that school around under the leadership of a new headteacher.

Before I left London, I was a Deputy Headteacher writing timetables and in charge of curriculum. I was happy in my job but my wife and I had two little girls and we started to think about the future. My wife is Australian and, at that time, we lived in a tiny terraced house in Watford with little prospect of being able to afford anything bigger or closer to work, even with my Deputy Head salary. We knew that if we moved to Australia then our money would go further, even without the management responsibilities.

So, in 2010, we packed-up the house, flew to Australia with two children under two and moved in with my in-laws in Ballarat, Victoria. It was a risk because neither of us had work. My wife and I wrote to every school in Ballarat and Geelong, government and independent. These are two reasonably sized cities and so this was quite a few schools. A number of independent schools invited us in for interview and we were offered several jobs. Only two government schools ever replied to us. The first very graciously let us know that they had no vacancies and the second school said that they would be advertising at the end of the year and that I would be a strong candidate.

With a family to feed, it was a no-brainer. I took the job at my current school. As I wrote at the outset, this has been a great experience for me because I have learnt a lot there. I love the work and I have great colleagues to bounce ideas around with. My family has a good life – we live in a four bedroom house with a large garden for the girls to play in and all within a 15 minute drive of work. My girls have easy access to sports teams, ballet and all the rest of it.

I don’t wish to comment on the politics of independent and government schools. It is a highly controversial topic in Australia. Here, the government offers a grant to independent schools which many people think should be withdrawn. The system is different to the UK in that there are no government denominational schools and so all Catholic, Anglican and other religious schools are independent.


8 thoughts on “FAQ: You work in a private school!

  1. The Quirky Teacher says:

    If it weren’t for the spiders that are the size of dinner plates , I’d be thinking about moving to Australia.

  2. I also began working in independent schools because one offered me work when I finished my training and jobs were incredibly scarce, esp for history teachers. After a few years working in the independent sector I tried really very hard hard to get a job in the state sector but state schools don’t tend to want independent school teachers. I got nowhere and gave up.
    It is hard being judged for not offering your skills to state education when in fact it was state education that didn’t want my skills…
    It is no surprise to me that as a physics teacher you were hot property in the independent sector. There is a higher value placed on subject specialism and (good) physics teachers are gold dust 🙂

  3. David says:

    I’m the head of my department (History and Social Sciences) at a private Caholic college prep school in the US. We had a position opening in my department recently and have been swamped with PhDs desperately looking for work.

    One of the evils of the progressive education/21st century skills movement in the US since the Bush admin has been to overly emphasize STEM courses over the humanities in K-12, and the universities have followed suit. Student enrollment in humanities majors is way down and hiring of tenure track faculty has similarly plummeted. Nowadays, getting a stable position anywhere is preferable to becoming a wandering scholar.

    See here for hiring trends in history: http://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/february-2016/the-troubled-academic-job-market-for-history

  4. Bart says:

    Hi Greg
    I understand where you are coming from in that the state systems are often in a flux when it comes to recruiting. The ebb and flow of autonomy means that sometimes it is better to talk to the schools themselves and other times it is better to apply to the system as a whole. Mostly I think applications to the system as a whole are best as trying to fit in HR responsibilities in amongst faculty responsibilities in a school is too hard without specialised HR and I often feel that there would be many opportunities for teachers in the system if given a chance but it is not a chance I can give at that time.
    I also appreciate that the system has failed to pick up many good teachers and they often go for the job rather than not having one obviously.
    That all said I do truly believe that the Australian system of funding non-government schools is inequitable and unmeritocratic, and that the proliferation of private education encouraged by this can only lead to worse educational outcomes to the population as a whole. However I never hold this against teachers or students from private school, only parents who I will continue to judge as they clog up the traffic near their school in their suburban 4WDs.

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