Small one form entry or large 4 form entry school?

Most people graduating from their PGCE will have already secured employment for September. Others will still be planning on what they want to do next academic year. Supply? Maternity contract? It doesn’t matter, it’s all experience.

I know that with competition so high for jobs, no one can be as choosy as they would like. But one thing that is worth seriously considering when looking at jobs, is the size of the school.

I have worked in both extremes and also in the middle. I have worked at a school that was 3 form entry and moving into a 4 form entry. I have worked at a school that was 1 and a half entry moving into two. And my current job at a pupil referral unit has 5 teachers. We aren’t any entry! What I thought I would love was actually my worse. And what I thought I would hate has been my favourite.

Initially, I thought that I would be more suited to a larger school. A large school does have many positives. I thought that it would be great to work in a large school as there would be more teachers my own age, there would be more people to socialise with and support each other. I liked the idea of having other teachers to share the planning workload and bounce ideas off each other. I thought that they would be a great chance of working with the three classes in my year group and collaborating on things. I also thought that there wouldn’t be as many ‘eyes’ on me and less pressure as there were more teachers to observe and keep an eye on.

Some parts of my time at a large form entry school were great. The staff were mostly my age, we had lots in common, when we were socialising they all wanted to go to the same places I liked, they dressed like me, we could talk about similar interests. The planning was shared out with the other teachers. I certainly did not have as much medium term planning to do as I would have done if I’d been on my own. I made three very good friends, who again were my age, my type of people (and I’ve just been whatsapping before I started writing this post).

However, there were some things that I didn’t like. With large groups, inevitably, cliques form. I was never in the ‘in’ clique, The group of girls who had been there for years and started at the same time. The other teacher in my year group treated myself and my class as competition. She never wanted to do joint assemblies, Christmas songs. Neither would she share resources or lesson plans. She would go to the phase leader, behind my back, about my planning, which always contained something that she thought was an error. I didn’t like the way she did her planning. I couldn’t understand the way she set it out, or the ideas that she had. I felt like I wanted to be more creative but she was a lot older than me and had quite old fashioned views. There was never a strong sense of ‘family’ in the school. It was just too big. We never had whole school assemblies or even got together as a whole school, and so there was always a feeling of separation between KS1 and KS2. There were huge personalities and it was sometimes difficult to be heard in meetings or during the staff room. Moving onto the staff room, it felt very impersonal. It was large and quite spread out, so different groups and key stages were at certain tables. Not everyone used the staff room because the school was so big it took ages to walk over to the other side of school where the staff room was and there wasn’t enough room for everyone anyway. Considering the school was full of lots of people my age, at times I felt very isolated.

Moving on to a smaller school. The first thing that hits me is the sense of solidarity. We are a ‘family’, there is definitely a sense of togetherness. We have daily meetings each morning, we can all fit around a table and air grievances, support each other, communicate. You know what is going on in the school and with the pupils. There are no cliques- the whole teaching staff is a clique. Everyone supports each other. There is no competition because no one is doing the same as you. Everyone is there for the children. There is no time to gossip or get involved in office politics. I mean, who would you gossip about? Yourself? I also like the fact that you know your Head teacher very well and they know you. You have a good relationship with them and they have time for you.

There are some negatives. There might not be anyone that is the same age as you, I am the youngest by far at my current job. You have to do all the paperwork yourself, but I have found that liberating. I have been the most creative that I have ever been- and I love it! There is no where to hide in a small school either.

All in all, surprisingly, I am more happier in my smaller school, than I was in my larger school. I feel more confident, more appreciated, more supported, I know the staff more and I find my job more rewarding.

It’s a lovely change.

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Advice to my NQT self a year on.

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Hindsight really is a beautiful thing. Last year I wish I had the power to travel into the future to talk to my future self.

My future self would have given great advice to my stressed out NQT self.

1. Don’t come into school at 7.15am every morning. What’s the point? The work will always get done regardless and it just isn’t healthy staying in your work environment for up to 11 hrs a day.

2. The children are the main thing. Not having perfectly neat lesson plans or organised files. Make sure the children are learning in fun, engaging lessons. So what you didn’t differentiate 5 different sets of resources? They children can talk about what they have learnt and enjoyed their learning.

3. Don’t be a walk over. You can say no. Make sure you stand up for yourself and people know that you are not a walk over.

4. Don’t worry about lesson observations- you only get one observation a year and your mentor does not want you to fail. Unless you are absolutely diabolical, your mentor will do everything to make sure you pass. The time, effort and paper work for a failing NQT is too much stress 😉

5. Be nice. Talk to everyone. Talk to the cleaner and talk to the deputies. Talk to that TA who moans all the time and wears funny clothes- she’s actually best friends with the deputy and is more influential than you think.

6. Don’t ever give your real negative opinion. Let other people bitch in the staff room, but don’t get involved in office politics. You’re still not a permanent member of staff and the ‘likeability factor’ goes a long way.

7. Be positive. No one wants to be around mood suckers. Start your day smiling; the children will pick up on it and be better behaved and people will want to be around you. Plus, it will make yourself feel better. All you need is one positive thought to set your day up the right way.

8. Socialise. Make sure you go to any pub trips after work, no matter how tired you are. Get your face out there. Teaching is a hell of a lot harder if you haven’t got people to talk to at work. Go to the staff room at lunch, even if it’s just for 15mins, have that time away from your classroom to refresh and have an adult conversation. You will get the best ideas and advice sat in the staff room.

9. Treat yourself with your first pay packet. You won’t be able to do it for a long time after that. The feeling of your first pay packet will be amazing after earning nothing while you studied.

10. Develop a great relationship with your TA. TAs are loyal to the death if they support you, they will defend you and give you the heads up on what not to do and who to talk to, who not to talk to etc. They are a wealth of knowledge and can make your job so much easier if you get on well with them.

and most importantly. It. Does. Get. Better. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Honestly, you won’t always feel this stressed. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll feel stressed, but not as stressed as you’re feeling now. It gets easier. You get quicker at lesson planning, you’re behaviour management will improve. You’ll even tell people that you like your job.

No, seriously, you will.