What's it really like?
Jenny held the position of school secretary for eighteen years before retiring.After leaving school Jenny attended Art College and worked as a graphic designer for a total of six years. She decided to give up this position in order to become a full-time mum but after several years she made the decision to work for a playgroup. Jenny worked for the playgroup for about five years before deciding to become a school secretary in a small local primary school.
During a typical day at work, Jenny performed numerous administrative tasks. These tasks included overseeing school admissions, writing letters to parents and governors, photocopying documents of all kinds, and maintaining the accuracy of the school database. She was also responsible for the collection and banking of pupils' dinner money. One of the most important tasks performed by Jenny was the organisation of school clubs and school trips. Throughout the school day, she also cared for sick or injured children. Perhaps most importantly, Jenny was always the first contact for parents and suppliers who had problems or general queries.
Jenny’s favourite aspect of her job was the unique ‘buzz’ of the school day. She revelled in the atmosphere of the school and loved working with children. Jenny also appreciated the contact and support that she had with teaching colleagues and also liked speaking with parents. However, on the downside, Jenny found dealing with the ever-increasing amount of record-keeping frustrating and boring.
Jenny had some useful words of wisdom for individuals hoping to become school secretaries. She believes that individuals should think about their choice of school very carefully. For example any discord between staff or governors can impact negatively upon the day-to-day workings of the job. Furthermore, when dealing with children in distress, whether it is emotional or physical distress, it is important to be able to multi-task efficiently. It is also important to be able to remain calm and professional in stressful circumstances. The ability to keep confidential and sensitive information private is also necessary for anyone considering this role. Jenny believes that you should not even consider applying for a role as a school secretary if you are not comfortable with the thought of being among children at all times.
Although Jenny is now retired, she did at one time consider applying for a related position such as a medical or dental receptionist.
School secretaries perform important administrative tasks which help in the day-to-day running of a school, enabling teachers and teaching assistants to perform their jobs efficiently.
School secretaries perform administrative tasks in schools. They ensure that the school environment runs as smoothly as possible and allow teachers to focus their energies purely on providing children with an education, rather than worrying about keeping records and other vital yet time-consuming tasks. A school secretary provides a warm and welcoming face to members of the general public as well as providing comfort and reassurance to pupils throughout the school day.
School secretaries work in all kinds of schools, including small, rural primary schools and large comprehensive schools located in city centres. The tasks performed will differ depending upon the environment but, regardless of the type of school employing the secretary, their role is vital to the overall performance of the institution.
The majority of school secretaries are women and the job appeals in particular to women with school-age children, since they are not required to work during the school holidays.
Many school secretaries work on a part-time basis, choosing this role because of the flexibility and reliable source of income that it provides. However, full-time school secretaries who are newly qualified can expect to earn between £11,000 and £16,000 per year. This figure is likely to increase after several years working in the role. Salaries provided to individuals working in small primary schools may be lower than that paid to those working in large secondary schools. Furthermore, school secretaries working in private schools can earn significantly more than their state school colleagues.
The typical tasks undertaken by school secretaries include:
- Drafting and typing up official letters
- Writing and distributing school bulletins
- Compiling reports accurately and efficiently
- Printing and photocopying documents of all kinds
- Creating pupil grade reports
- Filing pupil reports and other documents
- Answering the phone
- Opening the post
- Dealing with outgoing post
- Dealing with queries and complaints
- Taking messages for teachers
- Greeting parents and other individuals who arrive at the school
- Ensuring that visitors sign the appropriate visitors’ book
- Providing visitors with appropriate directions and helping them move around the school
- Updating records which relate to both pupils and staff members
- Assessing the performance of different aspects of the school
- Writing reports on the findings of these assessments
- Taking accurate minutes at meetings and subsequently typing them up
- Updating school prospectuses
- Ordering new supplies of items including stationery
- Administering First Aid to children
- Looking after children in the sick room
- Paying bills and keeping financial records updated
- Paying cash into the appropriate accounts
- Dealing with funds for school meals and school trips
- Dealing with funds for bus passes and making sure the appropriate child is given the correct pass
- Organising the running of school clubs and school trips
- Liaising with teachers, parents, and other professionals including social workers
- Recording and storing lost property
No formal qualifications are required for individuals who wish to become school secretaries. However, good GCSE grades will stand you in good stead, and A Levels will provide your CV with an additional boost. Employers may wish to see particularly good English and Maths GCSE grades and related qualifications, including NVQs in Administration or Word Processing, will give you the edge over other applicants. Successful applicants will be provided with training which will help individuals become familiar with specific and specialised computer systems which are used solely in school environments.
Once you have gained a position as a school secretary, you will be given the chance to train for further qualifications. Each school may recommend different qualifications but well-regarded ones include a Level 3 Diploma in Support Work for Schools.
School secretaries will need to possess the following skills:
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- Good literacy skills
- Basic numeracy skills
- A confident telephone manner
- Good organisational skills
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to work with children
- Good administrative skills
- Familiarity with computers and software programmes
- The ability to keep sensitive information confidential
- Tact and diplomacy
- A sensitive and approachable nature
- The ability to work well as part of a team
- Willingness to use own initiative
- The ability to remain calm under pressure
Most school secretaries only work during term-time and full-time employees will be expected to work between the hours of 8am and 4pm. School secretaries should be willing to work overtime at busy times, for instance the periods during which pupil grade reports are being compiled. School secretaries work in a comfortable reception or office area but spend a lot of time on their feet. The job can be stressful and entails a relatively large amount of responsibility. However, many school secretaries find their role very rewarding and particularly enjoy having regular contact with children.
Employers of school secretaries are often more interested in an applicant’s relevant experience than their relevant qualifications. Any previous experience in a secretarial position will look good on a CV, as will evidence of having worked in a general office environment. You could try to arrange work experience with a local school or, if this proves too inconvenient, you could try contacting any company which makes use of a secretary or receptionist.
Major employers of school secretaries include:
- Primary Schools (state and private)
- Secondary Schools (state and private)
School secretaries who are seeking a slight change may choose simply to change their working environment. For instance, they may move between a small, local primary school and a large secondary school. Other opportunities which may be of interest to school secretaries include vacant positions in a medical administrative environment, for instance a dental secretary role. School secretaries with a lot of experience may be promoted to become bursars or school business managers. However, these opportunities often only exist in very large schools.