I’ll start with a bit of context. I did a secondary PGCE when I was somewhat younger. I have since run companies through which I have hired around 50 people over the years. I’ve also been a primary school governor for six years including two years as chair of governors and have been involved in interviewing a fair number of teachers and even one headteacher (most stressful thing to do ever!!). 

Having just been involved in selecting two teachers for posts I thought it would be useful to give a bit of a view from my side of the table. I always think the interview process selects for those who are good at the system as much as the role so I figured a bit of insight might help those looking for new positions, especially NQTs.

The first part of the process for the recruiter is writing the job advert. If a school has particular requirements they will state them. They will generally give good indicators if they are looking for a particular approach or experience. Obviously if you don’t meet the basic job specification you will struggle but tailoring your application for the role is important. A bit of background research goes a long way also. Check out the school website and any recent press – brownie points for having inside knowledge. Actually, I remember reading a bit of research (I think from Harvard Business School although I could have made that up) that said the strongest correlating factor for a successful applicant was the similarity in interests between the applicant and interviewer. Find out what the leaders at the school are interested in!

The deadline for applications arrives and hopefully there are some. It’s amazing how at slightly different times of year or for no particular obvious reason you can get two luke warm applications or 40 amazing ones. The good news I guess is that if you aren’t successful there will always be opportunities in the future. Obviously you want the job either way though. Assuming we have a good number of applications the first step is to shortlist AKA get rid of the morons. That’s not really fair but there are always some that… 

Usually the shortlisting process will be done by a scoring system with various criteria and weightings. Things like “has relevant level of skill”, “suitably qualified”, “shows ability to deliver progress”, “teaching ethos” and all sorts of other things might be in there. As a selection panel member your job is to read each application, check there are no gaps in employment history, check previous qualifications and experience (were you once a lawyer?), look at past teaching posts, check your training history, reconcile that your references match your posts (why have they asked her??!) and finally read your personal statement. This may sound obvious but check the basic info on the form – we’ve had applicants who have put their name in the wrong box and it really doesn’t send the right signals. Also, it’s a pretty arduous process and communication is a core skill for teachers so communicate your basic information clearly and concisely. Don’t make us hunt for things. Make sure you put your mobile number on there. If we can’t reach you to find out if you accept the job we might have to go to number two, sorry. 

Ok, so really it should be pretty easy to this point. Personal statement. Not so much. Again some basics: Use normal typography that doesn’t hurt our eyes. Paragraphs are great. Spelling is important. Like, really important. Also, expect to be rejected if you use Comic Sans; it is appropriate in a classroom, not in a formal application for a responsible role adjudicated by adults. Seriously, I’ve had head teacher applications in Comic Sans – not appropriate. Read the instructions too; if we say one page and no continuation sheets we mean it. If we say to summarise your skills in relation to the person description in a grid do it!

What to write in your person description. Well, we do need to know that you are passionate but please keep the cliches to a minimum. Tell us you are amazing but also try to evidence it, not just make bold claims. A fine line no? I think a good structure is to start with why you want to teach in the first place. Then go on to describe your approach and why it’s effective. Give us evidence and reference actual experience where possible as we are looking for substance. If you are a PGCE student we will bear that in mind but you can still show off your skills. Remember a little bit of humility though; you are still a beginner. Teachers are a sucker for a learner in need even if they are an NQT 😉 Then at the end I think it’s good to say why you and your approach would be a good fit for the role and why you want to work at my school. I care about my school so impress on me that you will take the responsibility seriously! 

Ok, great. You were in the shortlist! Woo! Now we want to see you do a lesson. This will probably be in the relevant key stage but not necessarily. We will give you a topic, sometimes narrow (fractions) sometimes broad (friendship week). We want to see a high quality lesson obviously but we’re looking at a lot of factors. Lesson observations will likely be scored similar to the applications. The scoring might follow the teacher standards or not. Make no mistake, this is your opportunity to wow us. Forms and interviews are all well and good but seeing you in action is our top gauge. We want to see a creative approach but not a train-wreck. We want to see the dynamic with the kids – are they engaged and motivated? We want to see how you manage the mood in the room; sometimes we know we have a class that needs a calm approach or needs a bit of whizz-bang to get them going. Be flexible. 

Some gotchas though:

  • Bring a lesson plan of some form so we know what progress we should be seeing. 
  • Ask beforehand if there are any pupils who have particular needs or if the group as a whole has any quirks (almost no one asks about this).
  • Ask about the school behaviour policy in terms of rewards. I’ve only ever seen one applicant use our zone boards and they had done a placement with us. 
  • Extra marks for top resources.
  • Extra extra marks for things we can pinch 🙂
  • It’s fine to think on your feet so long as progress is made.
  • Remember the basics of learning intentions, plenaries, afl etc

Righto, you survived your lesson. You are down to the last three. Bloody hell, this is getting serious! Interview time. 

You will be unsurprised to hear that interviews are scored following a number of criteria. Normally there will be one formal question per criterion then some time for more free-form talk about anything that stuck out or was missed. Remember that we can’t give you points for things you don’t say. You don’t have to rush to an answer but try to give us something solid to work with. Be yourself though, if you fake it we’ll know. 

One that always gets NQTs is the obligatory safeguarding question. We have to ask it and we have to score based on what you say. You will be spoon fed the correct process on an inset day but that’s how it is. The correct answer is that you:

  • Maintain a positive environment in your classroom so pupils are confident to speak to you
  • You ask the pupil to explain the situation using open ended questions without other pupils there to interfere
  • You make it clear that you are not able to keep secrets but that you will do what is in the pupil’s best interests
  • You write down what they say WORD FOR WORD so it’s in their language
  • You take a copy of your transcript to the designated safeguarding lead
  • You monitor the situation and ensure that any follow up happens

Easy. Don’t mess it up!

Another gotcha is the “where do you see yourself in X years?” one. Be realistic, show us that you are prepared to take on responsibility but show us that you actually want this job first! Be careful of saying you want to be head of year if the head of year is on the panel too. 

Finally you will be asked if you have some questions. Have some. Good ones are around issues the school will be grappling with at the moment. How the school is performing assessment without levels is a good one. 

The final thing to say is that almost always the scoring ends up correct but we had a three way tie in our last one. Those are the situations where the details make the difference and remember also that we can go against the scoring so long as we have fair justification, I.e. A particularly valuable skill. 

Good luck!