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February 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Your interview with an International school

January 28, 2015 Leave a comment

After seven years of recruiting for British schools in Spain I have put together 5 tips for teachers approaching an interview with an international school.

1: Maintain the focus on education
It is easy to get drawn into generalisations about your future host country. Try to avoid these as they hide you as a teacher. When asked why you want to go to a specific country a glib “love the food and love the culture” doesn’t separate you from the crowd. Try to prepare answers that show you are thinking about developing yourself professionally or personally. Use the questions that are asked as vehicles to communicate your teaching philosophy and wherever possible put in relevant examples of your work. A portfolio that provides examples of your planning, professional development and classroom practice can be a useful tool to refer to when answering questions and can help to keep your responses tightly focused on education.

2: Provide positive reasons for your relocation
Many people looking to work in an international school may well do so because they are feeling disenchanted with some aspects of their current career choices. During your interview focus on the reasons you are attracted to the school or country you are considering to make your new home. If you overly focus on aspects of the education system that you dislike you risk sounding like a ‘moaner’. Nobody wants negativity in the staff room so whilst sharing some opinions helps to present you in an open way, stay positive.

3: Research
Find out what you can about the school and the area. If you have been sent a welcome pack then do read it and don’t waste interview time asking questions that have already been covered. Check out the school website. Come to the interview ready to show you have done this homework. It creates a great impression if you can respond positively to an event already covered on the school website. (“It looks as though everybody in the school had a great time when they celebrated …”) It helps to know a little about the area too. Have a look on Google maps. Start thinking about where teachers may live and be asking questions about the area from the standpoint of having already done a little homework. You may find in moving to an International school that you are moving into a curriculum that is unfamiliar to you. Again, whilst it shows a professional attitude to ask what support may be on offer to help you adapt to the curriculum, it is important to have done your research so you are able to answer curriculum questions on interview.

4: Be open and be interesting
Most international schools, especially if this is your first relocation or your first time in the host country, will be looking at you personally and considering whether you have the character needed to be happy and to make your move successful. Be prepared to discuss your hobbies and even to have some idea of how you may be able to continue those hobbies when you move. It may feel at times as though the interview is prying slightly more into your personal life than if you were interviewing for a school in your home country.

5: Approach the interview as a two way process
Most international schools will send out a detailed welcome pack in advance of the interview. Many will also give a presentation about their school and the area in which they work as a part of the interview. The interview is a two way process and you should approach the interview with a confidence and determination to get straight answers to any of your own questions. This may be the only time you have before relocating to find out what the school offers. Be clear with your questions and make sure that all details about your contract and the support offered by the school are clear before you leave the interview. It is a two way process and you are picking the school and team of people that you would like to work with as much as them choosing you. Remember, wherever you eventually choose to work will have your professional commitment so you need to be comfortable that you have all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Relocating to Spain with family

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

So, you’re a teacher and are considering relocating to Spain to work but you have family. What about your partner and child/children?

As with all these posts I can only speak from experience of the schools I work with but hopefully this information will at least help in asking the right questions and making sure that any job offer you receive is right for your whole family.

It is often said that when you are moving to another country with a partner that there are two necessities for the move to be a success. Firstly, you should both make an effort to learn the language. Secondly you both need work. I can imagine that without something to occupy each day and the social interactions of work that life in a foreign country could become quite an isolating experience. One of the offers we make to families moving to work in our schools is to endeavor to offer a position to both parties. If both are trained teachers that is always a bonus but where the other person is in another line of work, if they are interested we offer a position within school. It may be that of classroom assistant, support class assistant or even librarian. That offer of work always helps the process of adapting to the new situation and also alleviates financial pressure. Assistant staff in school are paid on a salary of approximately 16,000€ so the extra wage certainly helps.

Children are offered a tuition free place in the school. Although not completely free, as there are still uniform and dining room expenses, this is a substantial help to most families with children. It means that children can continue in the British education system. Children of secondary age would go on to study iGCSE and A Levels as they would in the United Kingdom. Children of primary age or younger are working to the same curriculum that they would experience in the United Kingdom.

In terms of language support children below the age of five are usually quick to develop language, learning from their peers. It is unlikely that a child joining the school at five or younger would need any additional support. Children over the age of five are usually given individual support classes to help them learning Spanish. The successful social adaptation of children depends on a fluency with the language. My own daughter was six years old when we moved to Spain and after around 18 months had sufficient fluency and confidence to socialise in the same way as she would with children speaking her native language. We also offer language lessons to all our staff as learning the language certainly helps with integration.

If you are considering a move to work internationally and have a partner interested in finding work it is worth considering how to present as an asset to the school. Undertaking a TEFL qualification or even just volunteering in a school or youth setting may be of interest to a potential employer. Beginning to learn the language before you leave the UK, or showing a commitment to doing so, is also a move that sends a future employer a strong message about your determination to adapt and make your move work. Any evidence of preparing the family as a unit for the move is important to share. As an employer we always feel a duty of care to a family joining us and evidence of the family preparing as a unit for their planned move is always reassuring.

I hope this helps anybody considering moving to Spain, or elsewhere internationally, with their family. If anybody has any questions regarding moving a family please do post them in the comments section and I will answer as best I can from my own experience.

Work life balance – A Spanish working Sunday

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

ThermometerI think Spanish Sundays are probably one of the biggest differences between teaching in the UK and in Spain. I’m writing this article sat on my terrace with the sun on my face and a view of the mountains in the distance. I do have some work to do. I have an assembly on the theme of ‘Tolerance’ to prepare in two different ways, firstly for Key Stage 1 and then for Key Stage 2. For the resources relating to this assembly read my first ‘Shareday Friday’ post. My giving back to the community started with a series of resources for PSHE – Virtues.

I also have a staff meeting to prepare on the topic of display. With a colleague preparing a discussion about what consitutes effective display my role is to plan the discussion leading to an agreed display policy. There is a wealth of excellent material on the Internet, not least the inspirational primary displays website.

But the weather is too good to waste so before I get ready for the week ahead I’m off to walk my dog on Cullera beach. Happy Sunday everybody and I hope the work-life balance feels good.

UPDATE:

Picture of Cullera Beach

Trying not to take for granted where I live. The Costa del Azahar (orange blossom coast) sits on the northern edge of Costa Blanca. A couple of hours of Sunday afternoon spent walking along the edge of the Mediterranean really helps that feeling of a work-life balance.

Shareday Friday – A whole school approach to PSHE

January 23, 2015 2 comments

I’ve decided that Friday will be my day for sharing. It may be an idea, a resource, a display or something completely unpreditcable but each Friday I will share something from school to this blog.

I’m starting today with a whole school approach relevant to PSHE, citizenship, or even just giving a structure to assemblies.

Called ‘Virtues’ this is a series of human virtues that we would like to develop in our children. Our method for using this is to use it as a basis for assembly and the class circle time. A new ‘Virtue’ is introduced in assembly and exists as the theme in school for two weeks. In the assembly introduction I will usually tell a story to highlight the theme or provide some visual reference to the theme. Teachers in class then display the poster on a large piece of card and pupils try to find that virtue happening in their classroom. When they see it taking place they point it out to their teacher and the person exhibiting the virtue writes onto the class poster what they did to demonstrate the virtue in action. These posters are then brought to the following week’s assembly so we can review the great attitudes evident in our school. With no religious or denominational tie, but the facility to easily make such a link, these ‘Virtues’ provide a resource that is applicable in any primary school setting. They may even provide a response to the call for British values to be taught in schools although I would argue that these virtues are more universal.

The posters are reproduced below and please feel free to use them as you wish. Happy Shareday Friday and have a great weekend.

Assertiveness

Cleanliness

Co-operation

Courage

Courtesy

Diligence

Friendliness

Gentleness

Honesty

Listening

Obedience

Peacefulness

Perseverence

Respect

Responsibility

Self-Discipline

Tolerance

Trust

VIRTUES

Note: This series of posters was provided to me by a colleague and I have no reason to think they are not in the public domain.

Are primary progress measures in the interests of pupils?

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday the BBC confirmed that pupil progress will be used as part of the system used to hold primary schools accountable.

http://www.bbc.com/news/education-30897370

In 2008 one of the last senior management meetings I attended in the United Kingdom was about increasing uptake of free school dinners. The headteacher, deputy headteacher, key stage 2 coordinator, key stage 1 coordinator and foundation stage coordinator/AST sat around a table for close on two hours trying to devise ways of engaging with parents and encouraging them to complete the necessary paperwork. The reason was simple. The schools contextual value added (CVA) statistic, a key measure at the time for indicating whether an emergency inspection should be called, had dipped below 100. There was about a 4% positive boost to CVA if all eligible children were registered for free school meals. In other words, one of the key measures as to how the school was performing was affected by the uptake of free school meals as opposed to the eligibility for free school meals.

I think at the time of the meeting if pupil progress measures had been looming we would have been delighted. The actual headline regarding pupil progress measures though raises other issues.
Let’s just consider for a moment the current curriculum changes. All this exciting talk about ‘life after levels’ that initially had schools feeling a burden may be about to lift has become muddied by the system that now stands to replace levels. In the current system the target is for pupils to be at least a secure level four by the end of primary. Now that is to be replaced with a measure whereby the goal is to achieve 100. Marks above or below 100 will indicate how far above or below expectation a pupil is and therefore there will be no need for an extension paper for gifted pupils. How is that different from levels?’ Level 4’ has now been called ‘100’ but the system itself hasn’t actually changed.

Many schools have for the time being held on to levels. We have a database in place that tracks all pupil progress so it is helpful to track performance in a way that can be compared to previous years. In a conflict with this however, especially for literacy and numeracy, schools are adapting the levels to match the new curriculum. The effect is that what a child needs to accomplish in order to achieve a secure Level 4 (or ‘100’ in newspeak) is now more challenging.

Centre Forum supported by Pearson Education have produced a report that supports the principle of pupil progress being the most significant key indicator of primary school performance. The report can be read in full at:

http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/progress-matters.pdf

In the report they looked at pupils receiving free school meals and compared their progress and their attainment. They demonstrated that there is a correlation between pupils in free school meals and attainment at the end of primary. However, when analyzing pupils on free school meals against progress from baseline that the relationship was much weaker. In short, most schools with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children (in terms of level on entry to school) do help those pupils to make good progress but do not necessarily help them reach the expected level at the end of primary school.

Is this news to anybody in education? I think it is the message that teachers and their unions have been putting forward for years. I do see though two problems emerging over time.

Firstly, if the new standards at Key Stage 2 are not supported by a raised baseline expectation what we ask of primary schools is even greater progress in order to meet the performance expectations.

Secondly, if schools are judged on attainment or pupil progress then sufficient pupil progress is sufficient to grade school performance. Sadly, nothing will have changed and there will still be a significant number of primary pupils not leaving school with the required level of attainment.

Whilst I welcome this focus on pupil progress the reality is it doesn’t change anything for pupils. Committees have met, focus groups have been established and reports have been written, all with money put aside for the education of our young people. What has been achieved is a different way to prove we are doing our job but the output in terms of pupil attainment will not have moved. I would far rather that money went into looking at how baseline attainment for target pupil groups can be improved so primary schools are better able to actually move pupils to the right attainment levels.

A comparison between teaching in Spain and teaching in the United Kingdom

January 20, 2015 1 comment

I started my teaching in Plymouth in the United Kingdom. Having worked there for fourteen years I moved to Spain where I have lived and worked for the last seven years. Teachers from the UK often want to know what the differences are or automatically assume everything here must be fantastic. This is just a brief overview of what I consider to be the five most significant positive and negative aspects of teaching in Spain. I will ignore bland comments about the weather and the beaches and focus instead on the teaching and life in school. All of this is from my own experience and therefore other teachers in different schools or different parts of Spain may hold differing points of view.

Positives

  1. In 2009 a survey in the UK found that most teachers reported working more than 50 hours per week. Moreover, a teacher contract in the UK is to work for 195 days of the year with 190 of those days identified as teaching days. The remaining 170 days should be protected and teachers should not be directed to work on those days. My own experience was that in order to do the job to the standard required I left work on a Friday evening with sufficient work for 10-12 hours of weekend work. I suppose you could argue that wasn’t directed but without doing that work planning and marking would not have been completed to the necessary standards. With about two and a half hours of planning and preparation time provided in the UK working week, trying to fit necessary work into the school day was impossible.
    By contrast, we give our primary teachers in Spain 6hrs 50mins per week of non-contact time during the school day. With a full hour of lunch break too there is more than enough time in the working day to complete the necessary work. The result is that evenings and weekends feel more relaxed and it is genuinely possible to walk out of school on Friday with the classroom prepared for Monday and no need to think about school until you return the next week. That provides for a far healthier lifestyle and much of the anxiety and pressure feels lifted from day one.
  2. The teacher is still a position of respect in society in Spain. This is a status that in the UK has been steadily eroded over the last few decades. The most positive aspect of this is that parents look to teachers for advice about how to help their children at home. The teacher is seen as a partner working with the parents and the sensation of parental support is very different to that found in many schools in the UK.
  3. Based on the three inspections I experienced in the UK and the three inspections I have experienced in Spain, the anxiety surrounding inspections in Spain feels very different to the UK. Inspections in Spain are thorough and professional but take place in a climate of providing external professional opinions about the school and how it can improve. There isn’t the same judgmental feel of UK inspections which, regardless of how they may be presented, still seem to be out to find the 15,000 poor teachers that Mr. Woodhead infamously declared were lurking in our schools. An inspection day in Spain is a far more positive experience. Certainly it is focused on teaching and learning but there isn’t the threatening feel that teachers often report from UK inspections. Perhaps it helps that the inspecting body is separated from the politics of education. Inspections in Spain still carry a reasonable period of notice and don’t come with the ever present threat of being labelled and placed into a category.
  4. Children’s behaviour is generally different to the UK. The culture in Spain is very different and children are an accepted part of their parents’ life. Going for meals out in the evening is always a family affair and the notion of baby sitters is alien to most Spanish people. In a way, children are permitted to remain children for longer than in the UK. Most Spanish children inherit the society view of teachers as an authority figure to be respected. In the UK a common complaint amongst colleagues was that a significant minority of children had the capacity to derail the teaching and learning. And that even after the teacher had spent all Sunday planning and resourcing what should have been great lessons. The class behaviour in Spain is significantly better than that found in most UK schools and the end result is that it is far easier to focus on aspects of teaching and learning and to be a great teacher. Conversations in school staffrooms tend to be more about teaching and learning and less about individual characters that have spent the morning disrupting classes and preventing learning from taking place.
  5. Schools and education are still supposed to be fun in Spain and political correctness doesn’t get in the way of a celebration. Our school still celebrates Christmas, carnival, and Fallas (a regional festival) and gives these celebrations the class time needed to make them an enjoyable part of the educational calendar. Multi-culturalism exists but adapts to the Spanish society.

Negatives

  1. Spanish education, even private education, runs on a significantly smaller budget than in the UK. Many UK educational authorities are spending between seven and eight thousand pounds per pupil. Typical costs for private education in Spain is between three and four thousand Euros. Clearly this translates into school in a variety of ways. Technology may not be quite so regularly updated as in the UK and resources purchased for classrooms need caring for as they may be expected to last longer.
  2. Spanish authorities love paperwork and a new teacher to Spain may find some of this daunting. Nothing can be requested without a backup file of paperwork. Even purchasing a mobile telephone can become a complicated mountain of essential forms. Most schools should help teachers with this adaptation but be prepared for a very different approach to anything official than is found in the UK. Forget online websites allowing you to fill out forms and be prepared for government offices that only open for a few hours each morning and are quite unforgiving if you are missing what they deem to be an essential piece of paper.
  3. Workers’ rights in Spain are different to in the UK. Behaviours that are trusted without evidence in the UK under Spanish law need evidencing. A sick leave in the UK for example that allows for a period of self-certification requires a doctor note from day one in Spain. Even funerals in Spain give out certificates of attendance so workers can evidence to their employers that they were where they said they would be. This attitude of needing to account for sickness, for example, is a cultural change that for some people may take a period of adaptation.
  4. Spanish school holidays do not follow the same pattern as UK school holidays. Half terms don’t exist although dependent on the region of Spain there will be other public holidays to celebrate Spanish fiestas. With the main Spanish Christmas celebration being 6th January schools tend to work more closely to Christmas than in the UK which can mean a Christmas term running from 1st September through to 22nd December without any substantial holiday periods. Although this balances out over the course of the year and holidays in fact are slightly more generous than in the UK the lack of a half term may be a shock initially.
  5. Wages in Spain are lower than in the UK. Experienced teachers may well find that their experience is not taken into account in Spain and they are placed on a standard teaching salary. With a salary of 22,500€ for teachers in independent schools many UK teachers will find themselves taking a pay cut to work in Spain. Obviously the less years of experience you have the less of a problem this will be but a teacher at the top of the pay scale with a management responsibility may well find Spanish teaching pays around 60% of their UK salary. Obviously lower taxes (14% to be inclusive of tax and social security) and in general a lower cost of living account for a significant part of that wage difference.

Overall

Is a move to a teaching position in Spain right for you? Everybody has their own personal circumstances but Spain does offer a great quality of work and private life and a balance between the two. Spain, being in Europe, is less of a culture shock than perhaps a move to the middle or far east. The culture, climate and countryside I have left out of the equation here in order to focus on the teaching but really perhaps the fact that January temperatures on the Mediterranean coast average at 17 degrees Celsius (the same as July temperatures for the south-east of England) could still be considered important in making a decision.

If after reading this you still have questions about the positive and negative aspects do leave comments and I will reply.

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