The perfect letter depends on the level of job you are applying for.  There is a point when you move away from what you have done in the past to what you will do when you get the job.  The turning point, the letter that is a mixture of the two, is at Head of Department, Head of Year or Head of Faculty roles.  These letters will be a mixture of your CV and how you plan to implement change.

Let’s begin with the new teacher letter.  All department heads and senior leaders know that new teachers do not have a lot of experience in the classroom.  This means they are not looking for a candidate who knows a lot about the job but instead has an enthusiasm and an intelligence about teaching.  The most important element of a new teachers’ letter is to be well written and personal to the school.  Being personal to the school means doing more than just changing the name of the head teacher and the address – find something important about the school and start the letter focused on why you are attracted to this value or ethos.

The letter from a teacher who has been working for a year or more should be much more focused on practice.  The letter should speak enthusiastically and knowledgeably about the work done in the classroom, in extra-curricular activities and pastorally.  There should be specific examples that illustrate your greatest qualities.  Clever letter writers again work out what is important to the school and tailor the letter to the school applied for.

Then, as you start to apply for promotions the letters change emphasis.  When applying for leadership roles on any level it becomes more important to address the challenges and the changes facing your subject and how you will guide your team through.  Middle leaders still need to illustrate how experience has equipped them for the role of manager but the tone should be future focused.

The further up the ladder you go from this point the more you need to focus on what you will do and how you are qualified to do this.  Your teaching prowess will be taken as a given.  You are now being judged on your values, your vision and your strategic thinking.  Therefore, you need to write a letter based on an analytical understanding of education in your context, the school you are applying and how you will shape its future.

The most important points to make about the letter of application are these: be concise, be accurate and do not go beyond two sides of A4 – though it should certainly be more than one side.  Your opening paragraph is the metaphorical 10 second pitch in the lift.  You need to win the attention of the manager in this paragraph or you will likely be demoted to the bottom of the pile.  Beyond this: stand out as the individual teacher that you are and give the manager a sense of the person as well as the professional.