Case study

Freelance education consultant — Jason Anderson

Jason has extensive experience supporting teachers in Africa, Europe and Asia, working for a range of international organisations

How did you get your job?

I developed into the role. I was initially invited to work as a teacher trainer on a UNICEF project in Kenya, which led to a number of subsequent projects with UNICEF, national ministries of education, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) and, more recently, the British Council and University of Warwick. One opportunity has typically led to another. I'm also a qualified Cambridge CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL tutor.

What are your main work activities?

Sometimes I'm extremely busy on a materials writing or research project, working from dawn to well after dusk. When I'm overseas, I tend to be busiest of all, delivering training, conducting research or preparing for meetings and handover deadlines.

Other times, things can be quite quiet, so it's good to have other projects or work to fall back on. Whenever I can, I enjoy getting back into the classroom - there are several schools local to where I live in London where I can do cover work.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Seeing my work in published form can be extremely rewarding. However, perhaps the greatest pleasure comes towards the end of a project when you're starting to get positive feedback and see some impact, even if this is anecdotal rather than evidence-based.

I'm also regularly invited to speak at conferences, which provides a great opportunity to meet up with old friends and network with new colleagues.

What are the challenges?

When you're working freelance as a consultant, you have to manage your own time and discipline yourself accordingly. This can mean working much longer days than you would expect to work for an employer, however this is balanced by the fact that you can choose your projects and decide if you want to be busy and, if so, when.

A second challenge is that, because I work internationally, sometimes I find myself needing to organise transport, accommodation and even meetings in countries where I have little prior experience or cultural knowledge. This requires patience, respect and recognition that things may be different, or more challenging than in the UK. There is also often quite a lot of bureaucracy with paperwork and contracts that is often unpaid.

Is your degree relevant?

My first degree was in fine art, and while the creativity is useful it was the practical training to be a language teacher (Cambridge CELTA and Trinity DipTESOL) that was actually more relevant.

More recently, I've completed an MA in English Language Teaching (ELT) and Applied Linguistics and a second in social sciences research, although these have helped me more with my research and building my academic profile. To be honest, almost everything I have learnt of value has been through my many years of experience as a teacher and teacher educator.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Each project is different, and can require a different role. Sometimes it's desk-based, writing materials or conducting literature reviews. Other times it's much more hands-on, observing lessons and interviewing teachers, or running training workshops.

I've also found over the last few years that paid invitations for public speaking have increased, meaning I get an opportunity to share the benefits of my experience.

In terms of career ambition, as well as participating in projects as an assistant consultant, I'm hoping to lead on more projects in the future, which will provide the opportunity to put much of what I've learnt into practice. For this reason, I'm currently undertaking a PhD in education. Quite reasonably, many development agencies (for whom I usually work) expect lead consultants to have PhDs.

Any words of advice for someone looking to get into this job?

  • International educational consultancy work relies heavily on networking. First opportunities often come through people we know, rather than through project tenders or applications. Try to build relationships, stay in touch with past acquaintances and attend conferences.
  • Flexibility is key to being an effective consultant. Projects adapt as they go along, and you need to be able to adapt with them.
  • Especially when you're starting out, you need to be able to work hard and prove your ability. Unfortunately, it's a very competitive field, and before you can work off your reputation, you need to build it!
  • One final tip is to learn from and alongside more experienced consultants. They can often provide guidance on the ins and outs of doing the job, what is normal within a specific organisation, how to get the balance between being flexible and having more specific ground rules based on ethical principles or personal beliefs.

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