Diary of a Headteacher: A tough time for recruitment

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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The tough recruitment climate means the pressure is on when it comes to filling vacancies and interviewing candidates...

I am sure every headteacher has had that same feeling that I had a couple of weeks ago – the strong suspicion that every time someone asks you for two minutes of your time, it is to tell you that they are moving on. I had three excellent teachers all come to see me in a period of 10 days to tell me their exciting news. It got to the point where I didn’t want to answer the knocks on my door anymore! The three Anton teachers who are moving on are all going for a good reason and they have all served our school superbly well. They leave with my every good wish – but it still means that I have three excellent teacher-shaped gaps to fill.

Happily, we engage very actively with initial teacher training and running our own SCITT does certainly help us out as we are able to grow our own teachers. At Anton this year we have seven School Direct trainees working in our classrooms, so as soon I was aware that we had teachers moving on, I let the trainees know that we had vacancies for them to apply for. We were able to quite swiftly interview and appoint two SCITT trainees and they will become NQTs here in September. The obvious advantage of this is that we know them inside out and they know the expectations of the school.

I also wanted to appoint a more experienced teacher as I am aware that my two superb assistant heads are unlikely to stay at Anton forever.

So with one eye on the future, I advertised for a senior teacher role that will morph into an assistant head role in the future. The initial response was good, although we ended up receiving just seven applications. I am a firm believer that it doesn’t matter how many candidates you have as you only need one outstanding individual, and happily when it came to interview we had one. But the process got me thinking: what do you make potential candidates do when they come to interview at your school? For this leadership post we had four parts to the interview: a five-minute presentation the title of which they had 10 days in advance; teaching a 30-minute year 6 literacy lesson; a grilling from the School Council; and a more formal interview. We did all this in a friendly manner and I am confident that the candidates “enjoyed” the day, as much as you can enjoy an interview experience.

During my career, I have heard tales of interview experiences that include much more than this. For example, the opportunity to observe a lesson and provide feedback, a scrutiny exercise involving school data, an “informal” interview with governors, and even a discussion about a school’s strengths and areas for development. I also know of schools that ask candidates to take on written exercises.

Every school is different and will know what it needs from prospective candidates. However, call me old fashioned, and to be fair I probably am, but I think that by allowing candidates time to breathe and reflect at interview, we actually get to see them relax a bit. This is important because we see them being themselves and performing as they are actually capable of.

I know there are heads who prefer to work people hard at interview and see how they respond to pressure, but that is definitely not me.
A final thought. I actually met one head recently who said aloud at a meeting: “I love pressure. Pressure is my friend. I keep my staff under constant pressure all of the time.”

Someone should show them the raft of articles published recently about the retention problems in teaching and the fact that as many as half of our young teachers are currently considering leaving the profession. No wonder!

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.


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