Reflections on recruitment

Written by: Rachel Jones | Published:

Getting it right is absolutely imperative. Get it wrong and that has a tremendous impact on productivity, morale, workload and outcomes for children. Rachel Jones offers her reflections on the recruitment challenge

Step one: Description

The job description and person specification. This may depend upon the primary school in question, previous experiences, current standards of achievement and the existing staffing culture.

One would anticipate that the quality of teaching and learning is a non-negotiable priority. But where in the priority list would be: leadership qualities, subject specialism, ability to work with SEN pupils, working as part of a team and to make a positive contribution, safeguarding knowledge, personality/character to accompany existing staff, professionalism, artistic drive or ability to create a vibrant and stimulating classroom? And in the case of our Church of England school, the ability to support, uphold and promote a Christian ethos? This is not an exhaustive list.

And which of the above attributes can be moulded, nurtured and developed – and which are deep-rooted and embedded too firmly in any candidate?

An application arrives and it is strong (on paper). An outstanding practitioner, one who would behold and strengthen the ethos of the school. One who would personalise learning, meet the needs of all learners; with an understanding of safeguarding and high standards of their own CPD. Also one who could lead within your school and has experience in leading areas that could be highly developed in your setting. But, would the personality cause ripples throughout the school?

Is there a candidate known to the current staff, are their pre-existing perceptions? Maybe there is an arrogance, or experience level that could potentially be hard to manage; a strength of character that is less pliant to new ways. Maybe a laissez-faire attitude is apparent, that could lead to ignorance or negligence. There could be clashes of personality with staff, leadership, parents. Where does your judgement lie, then?

Could employing this fantastic educator impair the confidences of current staff, or the headteacher? Perhaps another candidate has a more balanced weighting of skill, but may need support in reaching excellence (and they may not get there).

Do you accept mediocrity to save the balance and team ethic that exists? Or is what exists a tried and tested community that works well together but which must continue to press forward towards a common goal? Could the employment of challenge bring out the best in others? These are mammoth questions.

Step 2: Short-listing

The number of applications received is always a key difficulty. Larger schools can have up to 30 (sometimes more), it is rarely more than 10 in a smaller school. And does the implication of a church school narrow the field? I am sure it does.

Applying for a position in a church school can be intimidating. A reference from a member of the clergy isn’t always available for candidates and candidates who are not able to offer support for a Christian ethos are disqualified from applying.

A group of three to five quality candidates is ideal. As in all schools, inaccuracies in application are unwelcome, visits to the school and a personalised application to suit the needs of the school are appreciated. And between the two, there must be an identification of the strengths and areas of development for each candidate.

Some recruiters will focus on the quality of education since leaving school, others on the personal characteristics from the accompanying letter, others on the number of teaching roles, types of schools, loyalty/commitment to previous jobs.

Step 3: The interview

Resources are stretched at this point. Visiting candidates in their own environment is important, but how much time out of school does that entail? Where are the gaps plugged in staffing? Supply for two days to get out and see the candidates?
Lesson observations with the cohort of the position advertised. The impact of this on the children is unsettling – can it be completed in one day to reduce this?

Including a school council task or a tour of the school can offset timings so do we use a “round-robin” approach to minimise disruption. This is the model that has been chosen most recently in recruitment in our small school. A 30-minute lesson observation, 30-minute interview with the school council, and a 30-minute interview with a panel.

The advantages lie in a panel of recruiters sharing professional dialogue and personality viewpoints that can be thrashed out in robust discussion, hopefully giving greater confidence for all stakeholders in the ultimate decision. Additionally, the access all staff have to meeting the applicants can support the decisions and is an important part of inclusion as a staff team.

However, this could muddy the waters. The ultimate conclusion must lie with the senior leadership team and those who articulate the vision. It is essential that all opportunities to see everything that the candidates offer are appropriated.

It certainly isn’t a time for flippancy and complacency. Personally, I like to see the applicants teaching the cohort that they will teach if successful – to see their interaction, organisation, professionalism, flexibility for the inevitable hiccups, opportunity to show incidental learning as well as the meticulously planned, but also the adaptation to differentiate on first meeting the new children and the speed in addressing needs and levels of understanding.

Step 4: References

What exactly do they tell you about the capability and suitability of the candidate? From a safeguarding viewpoint – an absolute must. But in terms of whether they are right for you and your school, references cannot possibly do that. But they can give an indication of where the really secure attributes lie.

“A wonderful teacher”, “a fabulous team player”, “wonderful AfL” – but is this evident in a large school with a PAN of 90 per year, where teachers plan collaboratively, share teaching assistant deployment and have a school policy based on published schemes, or being a class teacher in a mixed year class, leading the school in globalisation and British Values in a Christian context or deploying multiple teaching assistants with a need for layered and consistent differentiation in every lesson?


Getting it right is a non-negotiable. A quality teacher, with a strong and robust knowledge of the curriculum (at the age range taught as well as above and below) is a significant specification. You can’t “carry” colleagues in the longer term. This does not dismiss NQTs and RQTs.

As a headteacher you get a gut feeling for candidates positively and negatively. How much do these play a part in the final outcome? To what degree can they be trusted? How easy is it to displace adversities and colleague opinions, and invest in your own instinct? You must be careful. You must collaborate. You must speak with honesty and evidence. You must listen to each other’s opinions...

  • Rachel Jones is headteacher of Kingsley St Johns Primary School in Cheshire.

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