Ups and Downs

I often wonder whether I change jobs all the time because my childhood was full of change. I’m accustomed to it. Before the age of 18 I lived in six houses in three countries and attended five different schools. When I was in Year 9, while my parents were living in Kenya, my dad had an affair with his secretary. He divorced my mum and re-married. Four years later my dad died of cancer, suddenly and out of the blue, only two weeks after falling ill. I was eighteen years old when he died. 

I kept busy during these unhappy times. I had three part-time jobs while I did my A levels (McDonalds, KFC, and, randomly, a clothes shop owned by three of the Gladiators from TV). During my first two years at university I worked in a Sainsburys bakery, plus a stint in catering at Wimbledon Tennis, and finally an internship in audit at KPMG. 

There will be many people who lived in more houses, attended more schools, and had more jobs than I did. But I think the amount of change in my childhood was probably more than most. So change is what I’m used to.


I was recruited to the Bank of England during my third year at UCL, onto their prestigious graduate training programme. They took fifty graduates a year, mostly Oxbridge economists. It was 2002, the year after the twin towers fell. The financial world still had a nervousness about it and I was absolutely delighted (relieved) to secure this role in such uncertain times. I was a statistician - a much sought-after skill at the time - and was placed in a policy analyst role in the banknote division. This was the perfect job for me -  the work was interesting, technical, intellectually challenging and important. We endeavoured to ensure that the public had confidence in the currency, which was vital to ensuring the economy didn't collapse. I loved it.

Occasionally I would volunteer to help out with graduate recruitment. The Bank of England would set up stands at university careers fairs during the annual milk round, and I would go along to tell undergraduates why it was such a great place to work. I enjoyed this hugely, and became convinced I wanted a career in graduate recruitment. Analysts at the Bank typically swapped role after three years in the job, so when my three years in the banknote division were up I applied internally for a job in HR. 

They didn't want me for the graduate recruitment role, but instead they offered me a job in training and development. I didn't realise at the time, but this was my first step towards working in education. In my new role I analysed training needs across the Bank, delivered inductions, organised courses and set up systems. In hindsight, the move to HR wasn't the right thing for me. My strengths were in technical analysis rather than in working with people. I should have stuck with statistics and economics. But I didn't want anyone to know I'd made a bad decision, so I stuck with HR for a couple of years.

The period of my career that followed this was a total mess. In banking there are headhunters lurking everywhere - recruitment advisers who'd take me out for fancy lunches and convince me I was perfect for their amazing opportunities. I let them take me away from my amazing job at the Bank of England (without doubt, the best employer ever) and into a role at Barclays. Stuck out at Canary Wharf - great shops but the commute from hell - I had a miserable year there. I worked on a toxic team of young men in expensive suits who cared about nothing but money. The COO of Barclays was an angry little American man who used to literally shout at people "I NEED THE DATA RIGHT NOW", that kind of thing. Ugh. The level of challenge was high, but it was the wrong kind of challenge. I routinely worked until 11pm. I left a month before bonus day, which was unheard of. But screw that. Life's too short to be shouted at by overpaid men.

The headhunters then set me up with a nice job at the Australian investment bank Macquarie. I was way out of my depth in the role but it was an incredible place to work. They threw money around like crazy - at one point I went all the way to New York for a meeting that was cancelled when I arrived. It was basically an all-expenses paid luxury shopping trip. A couple of months later they flew every single member of staff (from London, Australia, New York) to Barcelona for an indulgent 'conference' - basically three days of excessive drinking - just before the Global Financial Crisis hit. A month later I was made redundant, as were most my colleagues (and rightly so - all the deals had dried up and we barely had any work to do). I kept thinking that if they hadn't spent millions on that Barcelona conference, we could have all kept our jobs. I can't complain though - I got a decent redundancy pay off which allowed me to take a year off to train to be a teacher (this was before trainee maths teachers were entitled to generous training grants). My headhunter re-appeared on the day I lost my job at Macquarie and charmed me into a contract role at UBS, which was fine. I did that for six months to fill some time - it was lucrative and it was a breeze - but I'd already applied for my PGCE. And that was the end of my career in the City.

My first job in teaching was at a grammar school. There are a lot of grammar schools where I live. Now I have a daughter in Year 5 and I see all her rich friends getting tutored for the grammar schools and all her poor friends steeling themselves for the tough local comp, I absolutely hate it that I live in an area with grammar schools. I wish my borough was just filled with consistently excellent comprehensive schools for all.

Anyway, I did my first PGCE placement at a grammar school and they offered me a job during my placement. I was 29 at the time and had been married for five years. I knew I wanted to start a family in my early 30s, but didn't intend to get pregnant in my NQT year. Alas, it happened way quicker than I expected and so there I was, a pregnant NQT. Not the best start to my new career, but I fully intended to come back and continue my career post-baby. 

After Maddie was born, I asked if I could work part-time, just while she was little, but the Headteacher said she would take me back full-time or not at all. I was devastated, but flatly refused to put my tiny baby in nursery full-time, so I immediately booked in a job interview with my old manager at the Bank of England. Long story short, it turned out that I had some allies in the school who convinced the Head to change her mind. And given that I'd put so much effort into changing career, I decided to stick with teaching. I went back part-time, though on a timetable that meant my childcare cost me more than I was earning. I was paying to go to work. Things were very difficult financially - my husband was (and still is) on a nurse's salary and I had no income. This is just not viable in London. We sold our crappy shared ownership flat at a loss and moved into my mum's spare room. 

The following year my timetable and childcare arrangements improved and I took my first TLR - Key Stage 5 Coordinator. I did that for a year and enjoyed it very much. I then went off to have my second baby, and during my maternity leave I joined Twitter and discovered the online maths community. I went to my first conference and felt like I'd found kindred spirits. My perspective shifted massively and I realised a change of school was necessary.

At a conference I met a couple of teachers who told me about Glyn, which is an boys' comprehensive school known for its brilliant teaching and learning. I spoke to the Headteacher who offered me a job as a lead practitioner. It was a fantastic role on a fantastic team. Behaviour wasn't as good as I was expecting, so it was a steep learning curve for me as I had little experience of proper behaviour management. But I made progress quickly, and I learnt a lot about what good teaching is all about. In my LP role I focused mainly on supporting the teaching in the maths department, but also had a few cross-school responsibilities like coaching teachers and leading CPD. During this time I devoted tonnes of time outside school to blogging, tweeting, speaking at conferences and running my own events. The leadership team at Glyn were pretty supportive of this. I hugely enjoyed my time in the classroom (which was mainly teaching Year 11, 12 and 13) and I loved my colleagues. Good times.

In my final year at Glyn, they got me doing a couple of temporary roles. One was half a day a week in a MAT consultant role. It's very hard to make an impact in half a day a week, but I had a bit of success in that role, particularly with a group of underperforming Year 11s who I worked with at a nearby school. At the same time as doing a little bit of cross-MAT work, I covered my colleague Christina's maternity leave as joint Head of Department. In the Spring term, Christina confirmed that she planned to return to the Head of Department role at the end of the year, and I got all worried about what that meant for me. Would I return to being a LP? Was my career going round in circles? What could I do next? Through all my hard work on Twitter and my blog, I had spent years devoted to becoming a maths education expert in my spare time and I knew that I wanted my career to stay focused on maths. But there aren't many ways to progress in education while staying focused on your subject.

I hadn't intended to leave Glyn, as I genuinely loved it there, but a maths consultant job came up at Harris and I wondered whether this was the answer. The only way to progress upward while staying in maths. So I applied. The interview process was intense. I got the job, and resigned from Glyn with a heavy heart. I didn't want to leave, but I just couldn't see a career path for me there.

The consultant job was nothing like I expected. I thought I'd be working on MAT-wide curriculum design, resourcing and CPD. I have friends who are maths leads in other MATs and this is the kind of thing they do, so I thought it would be the same. But it turned out that my team's focus was wholly on GCSE results, and the main strategy was to place consultants in schools to directly intervene. At one school, where I was placed two days a week, I was given a group of the 'most challenging' Year 11 students - the ones that had absolutely zero interest in doing well in their GCSEs - and I had two terms in which to get them a pass. Some people might love this kind of job. It wasn't for me.

A couple of months after I started the consultant job, the Principal of Harris Sutton requested a visit from a member of the maths consultant team. I volunteered to go along. This brand new school was very close to my house and I was curious about whether it would be a suitable school for my daughters. When I went to visit, I knew straight away that this was a school I wanted to work in. I liked the staff, the Principal, the students, the behaviour and the ethos. I know I change job too often - I am acutely aware of it, and actually embarrassed by it, but it had to be done. So I ended up staying on the consultant team for just under a year, and moving to Harris Sutton to be Assistant Principal in July 2019. I know it's not good to stay in a job for less than a year, but at least I moved within the same MAT!

Harris Sutton is an excellent comprehensive school in a grammar school borough. I am adamant that my own children will go there, and that it will be a brilliant experience for them. It is a joy to teach maths there, and the focus on Key Stage 3 over the last few years has definitely made me a better teacher. 

Being on the leadership team in a brand new school is exciting - there's so much scope for creativity and finding innovative ways of doing things. It's also highly challenging. I currently lead on operations, assessment, reporting, cover, calendar, options, timetable, newsletter, social media, systems and data. Things like setting yourself up as an a Exam Centre for the first time is harder than it sounds! I teach twelve maths lessons a week and I have to work late every evening to plan these lessons as my days are so busy, and I work all weekend and throughout the holidays, and it's still not enough. We aren't yet at full capacity in terms of both leadership and administrative staff, and as a result I find the role quite stressful, and often overwhelming. But I think it's worth the effort, because I so want this school to succeed. You don't build a new school without hard work.

The problem with doing a job that's so all-consuming is that I have had limited time for my own projects. I often get contacted by organisations who want me to speak at their conferences after school. I hate turning down these opportunities but I just don't have enough hours in the day. I've also found it difficult to be one step removed from the maths department. I have so many ideas. I would love to run a maths department. I think I'd be really good at it.

So when the Head of Maths job came up at my school, I decided that this is the job for me. And so there it is, my next step. My twelfth role in twenty years. I'm so excited about this one.


I may not be as wise and experienced as many, but I have had quite a varied career so far. My rich and wide-ranging experiences have taught me a lot. I have realised that careers don't have to be on a constant upward trajectory. In the twenty years since I graduated. I've struggled to find the perfect job, I've made big decisions that I've regretted. My career has been ridiculously messy. But perhaps it's all been worth it. It certainly hasn't been boring. And who knows, perhaps I have finally got there. Perhaps I've finally found the right role for me.


  1. Thanks Jo for this really interesting read. It is great to hear about other people with 'messy' careers and I think that it is important to celebrate this breadth of experience and knowledge. Gone are the days of 'job for life', and the flexibility inherent in education is a real benefit, so I think you should be proud of your 12 jobs in 20 years! Thanks for inspiring this teacher over the last five years as well. And all the best for the next 20...

    1. Thank you for your comment, much appreciated. :)