So, where do you want to take your teaching career?

Written by: John Rutter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Even as a new or recently qualified teacher, you may have an idea of where you want to go with your career in education? John Rutter advises on how we might get there

Some people are always in a bit of hurry.

Without any doubt at all this applies to my own progress through the education system. As a late entrant to the profession – after serving time in a number of different jobs – I saw lots of things I thought could be done better and believed I had the skills and attributes to be the one to lead others to do them.

So in my first year of teaching following my probation year, I applied for, and was given, a pastoral role in the school as first line guidance.

Within three years I had been promoted to departmental head and saw further opportunities opening up with training and study towards a headship qualification. Three years further on I was an acting depute head of a big school and gained a permanent (actually not that permanent) depute position just over a year later.

Finally, with the headship qualification behind me (and with enrolment on a Master’s course) I went for the top job and, following a number of unsuccessful applications, became headteacher of Inverness High School.

Was all this too quick? I would like to think not. I believe I do a good job in my current role and, while some staff may not always think so, I would expect most would agree.

Starting on this particular path at the ripe old age of 34 undoubtedly meant I had life experience beyond many of my fellow teachers. However, for those wishing to make a real difference in education – and not just on the individual basis which many of our teachers do such a superb job of every single day – you may want to start thinking about how to get into departmental and school management at an early stage in your career.

There is no simple way and you have to watch for some of your colleagues who may think you are acting above your station but I have a few tips for those looking for promotion. It can be good to start early and this will, at the very least, help to improve your practice as a classroom teacher as well as prepare you for future roles.

Whole-school responsibilities

Within any school there are always a lot of jobs which need to be done. Some, such as timetabling, are complex and usually reside with promoted positions. Others, such as the co-ordination of extra-curricular activities, editing the school newsletter (or overseeing pupils doing it), or taking on the role of outdoor learning co-ordinator are less onerous but still require a degree of initiative that will be impressive when talked about in interviews or written down on application forms.

Any whole-school responsibility will allow you to see the school in a different light. You will have to talk to staff members from other departments and faculties who you may not have any other dealings with and, very importantly, you will probably have to liaise with support staff – classroom assistants, janitors and clericals – and learn more about what they do in their day-to-day jobs.

Talking to all these people will give you some idea of the complexity of school life and how it all fits together and will give you a great deal of empathy for those with difficult jobs but who are on much lower salaries than you are.

Take everything in, be humble and take advice from all those who have been in the education business a lot longer than you have. Do a good job and people will remember you and talk nicely about you to others.

Building a reputation as a team player is immensely important. I always remember one of the most important bits of advice I ever received – share the credit but always take the blame. Those who notice these things will understand it was you behind the scenes when everything goes right.

The ultimate whole-school responsibility you can take is more often than not a promoted post but there will be occasions when these are “acting” roles within the school for short periods of time.

These are a great way to gain extra experience (and money) while not committing yourself to anything long-term. Watch out for them and discuss whether or not you are ready with senior management when they arise.


As well as whole-school responsibilities you can find out a lot more about your pupils and your fellow members of staff by taking on the running of an extra-curricular activity. This can be something related to your teaching such as an engineering club, something you are interested in as your own hobby (mountain biking perhaps) or something that the pupils have come to you about because it is lacking in the school. Recently, for instance, one of our probationers gained huge kudos with the children by starting a female rugby team after chatting to pupils.

Along with the personal satisfaction that comes from helping pupils to try new things, organising extra-curricular activities gives a great insight into how things work in a school and enables connections to be made with other staff.

An added bonus is the contact it often brings with parents and the understanding this gives you about the whole context under which your school works.

Additional courses and qualifications

You will, during your time in education, be bombarded with courses you can take and additional qualifications you can gain. The important thing to remember is that, whenever you come to apply for promoted posts, it is unlikely that whoever is interviewing you will be impressed by quantity. You will need to be more focused.

If you know what kind of route you want to take into school management then tailor your training to your goal. If you think guidance and pupil support may be the direction you are going in then child protection courses and additional support needs training will be useful. If it is departmental management then there are a number of courses available to prepare you for such leadership roles.

The important thing is that, when you are invited to interview, the panel will want to know what the impact that any training you have done has had on you, your school and your pupils.

Additional employment

Obviously, you have got quite a lot to be getting on with in your day job but there are options for other work you could be doing to raise your knowledge and experience of education systems.

While secondments to local authorities or academy trusts may be a few years down the line, within a couple of years of starting teaching you can be looking at work for examination boards.

Marking papers – as well as giving you some extra cash at holiday time – is a great experience for getting a glimpse of how everything fits together and it has benefits for your classroom teaching and the attainment of your pupils.

Likewise, there are always resources to write for online educational providers and for textbook publishers. Seek them out at conferences and ask if they need writers as they are often on the look-out for new talent. Anything you can do here will look good on your CV when you want to take the next step.


Raising your head above the parapet is not always an easy thing to do in a school environment and showing a desire to further your experience may well bring conflict and words of “advice” from longer-serving staff members. You need to remember that most things you do from the above list will have benefits for your pupils long before they have benefits for you and, if you believe in yourself, getting a promoted position and moving on will ultimately be a very good thing for your school and for the education system as a whole.

  • John Rutter is headteacher of Inverness High School. Read his previous articles for SecEd at


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin