The Headteacher: The trials of finding replacements

Gavin Chapppell, headteacher of The Market Weighton School
Gavin Chapppell, headteacher of The Market Weighton School

This time of year is often a busy recruitment period for schools. Some staff have secured promotion elsewhere, whilst others have made the decision to hang up their red pens and disapproving faces and embrace the world of retirement.

You can guarantee that those who fall into the latter category will be sunning themselves, taking advantage of a cheaper holiday, come the start of the new academic year in September.

At The Market Weighton School we have already made a number of appointments for next year and I am delighted to say how pleased I have been with the strength of the candidates, it is always a weight off a headteacher’s mind to know that you have been able to appoint excellent staff.

During my time in school leadership I have conducted hundreds of interviews for a huge variety of teaching and non-teaching roles. Two recent incidents, however, perhaps crystallise the sum of my experiences.

When interviewing for a teacher we, as a minimum, watch candidates teach a lesson. They are questioned by our very professional student council representatives and undergo a formal interview conducted by myself and other relevant colleagues/ governors.

At the start of the formal interview I always ask “Are you still a firm candidate for the post” to which of course the only acceptable answer is a non-hesitant, emphatic “Yes” or “Absolutely”. I mean, what’s the point in the next 30 minutes of questioning if they don’t really want the job.

It was to my surprise, therefore that an interviewee replied with “well, you see…...” and then went on to explain a personal dilemma that they were having that meant they were ambivalent about accepting any job offer. I could sense the deflation in my fellow interviewers as they somewhat stoically conducted the rest of the interview.

This incident served to remind me of the big dos and don’ts of interviews that reoccur over the years: lying, slang, arrogance, unkemptness, not knowing the slightest thing about the school, slagging off a previous employer.

I’ve experienced them all and am truly amazed how intelligent candidates can continue to make such mistakes in a world when good advice for interviewees is so freely available online.

The second illuminating incident was when, having just told a candidate that they hadn’t got the job, I was thanked profusely for the way in which the interview day was conducted, how they had been made to feel welcome from the moment they arrived in school, that they were put at ease, that they felt they were given the opportunity to give a strong account of themselves.

This is important.

Our recruitment objective is, of course, to appoint the candidate who will best serve the interests of our students but in order to do this I believe it is necessary to have candidates who are relaxed, not panic if they make a mistake and are given the opportunity to shine in what will be a highly pressurised day in any event.

This was a lesson I learnt a long time ago when, as I was myself being interviewed, a sage deputy headteacher prompted me after I’d fluffed an answer by saying “Well Gavin, what I think you mean by that is....” and I was away, he had given me the chance to correct myself and I took it and flew through the rest of the interview. Thank you Stuart Walton.

Job interviews, despite the draw and obvious fun of programmes such as The Apprentice, should not be about trying to catch people out or seeing how far you can push someone’s buttons.

I guess we can all trip people up if we want but that says more about our character than it does our interviewees’ and it certainly will not guarantee we select the best teachers for our children.