Recruiting Rachael(s)

Roughly 10% of my teaching staff are called Rachael (or Rachel).  I’m not sure how that happened, and I didn’t appoint them all myself, but it’s a mildly diverting statistic nonetheless.  As a recruitment strategy it would be ridiculous to suggest that appointing teachers called Rachael will help us raise achievement, but then, many of the strategies which have been employed in the past to recruit teachers, are equally questionable.

In the seventies and eighties it wasn’t uncommon for school governors to ask prospective female teachers whether they were thinking of starting a family.  On many occasions, particularly in the North of England, governors would also want to ascertain whether candidates were card carrying members of the Labour Party.

Things had moved on (in most schools) by the nineties but even then, looking back, the methods used to recruit teachers weren’t particularly sophisticated.  I was appointed to my first teaching post in 1992. I was interviewed by the Headteacher and a panel of governors, had a tour of the school with the other candidates, and met my future Head of Department for a 1:1 discussion.  Nobody thought to observe me teach, or even see me interact with students, and I don’t recall any safeguarding checks being carried out.

Back in the nineties there were a huge number of candidates for each job, even in challenging schools, and teacher training was far less fragmented than it is now.  My own PGCE course at Sheffield City Polytechnic (as Sheffield Hallam University was then) was outstanding, so I felt well qualified to teach, and my new school had references from my tutors.  Nevertheless, I know now that I wouldn’t want to appoint a teacher if we hadn’t observed them in the classroom.

If staff turnover is relatively low, and people enjoy working in a school, it is often the case that they will have been recruited over multiple decades and by multiple headteachers.  In my previous school in Hexham, by the time I left, half the staff had been recruited by me or my predecessor.  The other half had been recruited in the eighties and nineties by, first Patrick Eavis (brother of Glastonbury legend Michael) who shaped the ethos of the school and understood that subject knowledge, passion, and having a “hinterland” were all crucial, and his successor, Tony Webster.  They wouldn’t have been interested in the slightest if a candidate had used a “diamond nine” in the lesson observation.  I once asked Tony how the interviews for a physics post had gone (I hadn’t been involved).  “We got a good man”, said Tony.  “What’s his physics teaching like?”, I asked.  “Oxford man” said Tony.  “Interested in medieval architecture”. To Patrick and Tony, having an academic understanding of the subject, but also a passion for learning (anything) was key.

Sitting in on interviews conducted by Tony was a brilliant experience.  His body language was expressive.  If a candidate was talking and he folded his arms and looked away, I knew that there was no rescuing the situation.  He loved English and classics and always asked prospective English teachers which Shakespeare play they would teach if they could choose one, and how they would introduce it to the class.  I lost count of the number of candidates who suggested showing the class the film.  They didn’t know it, but they might as well have stood up and walked out there and then.

Recruitment is such an important part of the Headteacher role.  There are similarities in the process across all schools now but far more differences than you would imagine.  Here are some of the things I’ve learnt, and what I do and look for when recruiting staff:

  1. Go as early as possible; easier said than done when budgets are tight, but I try to be bold.  The recruitment crisis, and chronic shortage of teachers in most subject areas, means January and February are the best months to recruit.
  2. Think about where to advertise.  We’ve taken the decision to stop using the TES; the cost is extortionate and schools don’t need the geographic reach that it used to provide.  We use social media, and local websites; the Schools NorthEast service is excellent.
  3. Take time to produce a decent application pack; ours includes a letter from me with an honest appraisal of the school. I try to outline our values. That’s so important
  4. Offer opportunities to look around the school beforehand; it is time consuming but worth it.  And don’t delegate that to someone else.  I always meet the candidates and show them around.
  5. The lesson observation is a key part of the process of recruiting teachers, but we aren’t necessarily looking for the finished product.  We want candidates who display warmth and compassion, and very high expectations.
  6. Subject knowledge is key; we have developed a knowledge led curriculum, so we want to employ subject experts.  We can help with pedagogy and applying our systems, but if you haven’t got the knowledge and the passion for your own subject, there is little hope you will acquire it.
  7. Do the interviews yourself.  I trust my senior staff implicitly, and always take advice and involve others, but I won’t delegate recruitment; it is my responsibility
  8. If you are recruiting support staff rather than teachers, get help!  I haven’t had to appoint a network manager (thankfully) but know I’d need help understanding the questions (and answers) in an interview.
  9. If in doubt, don’t appoint.  There is always another day

Every headteacher makes the odd mistake; recruitment isn’t an exact science, but I think  most of the recruitment decisions I’ve been involved in have been good ones.  I’m delighted with the staff I appointed this year and they have a few things in common; excellent subject knowledge, high expectations, values which match ours, great relationships with the students, and passion for the subject.  I’m lucky too, that the 90% of staff I didn’t appoint are having such a positive influence on the school and supporting our improvement.

You can’t go far wrong if you employ lovely people, with great knowledge, who want to do a great job, and then treat them with decency and respect. They may not all be called Rachael but, as I’ve suggested to the rest, they can always change their name by deed poll.

Post from Framheadteacher Blog

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