December 2010


  • All torque?
    Vocational education is the subject of a major government review but Michael Gove has already given the go-ahead to one new model for 14-19s. Daniel Cremin explains the genesis of the ‘university technical college’ and examines the initiative’s aims and ambitions. More
  • A question of equity
    Sir Peter Lampl has made widening educational opportunities for young people from ‘non-privileged backgrounds’ his philanthropic goal. He talks to Julie Nightingale about why he thinks the coalition government’s university funding strategy will leave Britain out in the cold economically. More
  • Open minds
    With the demise of Becta and cancellation of Building Schools for the Future, question marks hang over the future of ICT development. But, argues Paul Haigh, there is an easier, more cost effective option with open source software and tools. More
  • Apply yourself
    Even senior leaders make routine errors on job applications, jeopardising their chances of promotion. Richard Fawcett examines some common pitfalls and gives suggestions to make your letter and application stand out. More
  • Future focus
    While the coalition government in England prepares for a major review of the curriculum, with a focus on ‘traditional’ subjects, Scotland is in the midst of introducing an interdisciplinary Curriculum for Excellence which runs from ages 3-18. Is this the Holy Grail of an integrated, coherent, flexible curriculum? Brian Cooklin explores the detail. More
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Even senior leaders make routine errors on job applications, jeopardising their chances of promotion. Richard Fawcett examines some common pitfalls and gives suggestions to make your letter and application stand out.

Apply yourself

You have seen the perfect senior leadership post advertised nationally. You assume there will be strong competition for the post, be it assistant head, business manager, deputy head or head.

The pack of information arrives and in it are the application form, job description, person specification and some background material. You certainly think it is worth applying. So what will help to get you the job at this level?

Put yourself in the place of senior members of staff and governors making the appointment. What will they look for? What will they say about your application?

Mistakes, poorly written letters and what looks like a casual attitude are found surprisingly often even in applications at this level of seniority.

People making appointments will have in mind that senior staff set the standard for others and will expect to see evidence of that. Your application reflects on you and must be of the highest quality. Simple, basic errors can lead to immediate rejection, even if you meet all the criteria.

Completing the form

Before completing the form, it always helps to carry out background research to establish the context of the post. Check the organisation’s website and seek out other information from Ofsted or Estyn reports.

Does the school or college feature in reports on the BBC education website? What do the job description and person specification say about the skills, knowledge and other attributes sought?

Before anything else, photocopy the application form or copy it to disk and print out copies so you have forms on which to practise. Then, it goes without saying, follow instructions to the letter. Throughout the form:

  • write within boxes, not outside them
  • delete neatly where requested on the form
  • don’t over-print or change details
  • don’t leave gaps in your life: it looks as though you have something to hide
  • fully complete all sections
  • make sure all information is accurate

Double check whether the form asks for the earliest or most recent post held first. Even a minor mistake like this could run the risk of the selection panel saying, “Couldn’t even fill out the form correctly!”

Where a particular question is not relevant to your background or experience, good practice is to write ‘Not applicable’ in the space provided. If left blank it may appear that you have overlooked it.

Some areas on forms have apparently simple headings: ‘Professional achievements in or beyond school’ for example. At this level of appointment significant whole-school achievements are sought; beyond school, examples might be major responsibilities with a public examinations board or secondment to the local authority leading a project.

It’s never a good idea to put ‘See CV’, rather than completing the form.

Triple check that your contact information is accurate and appropriate. Nobody wants to waste time desperately trying to get hold of a candidate. If you have a disability, have you mentioned any arrangements you need at interview?

If completing a form electronically, sometimes the formatting can change or tabled information such as dates of qualifications and career history become incorrectly aligned. Test this by sending it first to yourself.

When deciding on referees, one should be your current employer: the headteacher or, if you are the head, speak to the local authority or other employer clarifying who you should name. And of course, it is good practice to ask before using someone as a referee.

Composing the letter

A well constructed, logical, engaging and persuasive letter will make you stand out from other applicants. It should initially answer the question: “Why should I see you at interview?”

In the first paragraph say why you are applying for the post, for example: “I wish to apply for the post of business manager. I believe I have the required qualifications, experience and skills that you seek.”

In the following paragraphs, unless instructed otherwise, set out what attracts you to the post (and organisation) and pick out up to five qualities that are sought. Demonstrate that you have them by using concrete examples. For example, in giving evidence of ability to raise standards cite percentage examination improvement over three years.

The selection panel should readily gain a positive picture of your educational values and, above all, what the benefits of appointing you are.

You will want to come across as enthusiastic and motivated; therefore refrain from derogatory comments about current or past experience. And be specific in using ‘I’ and ‘we’: say what you have contributed specifically and ensure team contribution is acknowledged where appropriate.

Rehearsing past achievements or current practice alone is not what the selection panel seeks. The letter should be balanced between past experience and the future contribution you will make. Your assessment of the demands of the post and how you will approach the issues and challenges is likely to be favourably received.

Again, basics count. It is surprising how many letters, even for senior posts, don’t follow instructions. To whom should the letter be written? Are there a specified number of words or pages? Use a minimum of 11 point type and a clear business-like font, and leave a margin at the top, bottom and sides of the page.

Follow the conventions of a business letter. For example, set text to the left and leave a line between paragraphs. If you start ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’, end ‘Yours faithfully’; start ‘Dear Ms Smith’, end ‘Yours sincerely’. Writing to a named person is preferable.

The letter should be personally signed and, below your signature, your name printed. Adding qualifications here could look pretentious.

Depending on the post and the organisation’s culture, your letter may be read by a variety of lay and professional people of differing backgrounds. Governors, for instance, may not be as up to speed with education acronyms, abbreviations and jargon; their use can alter the feel of a letter as well as leaving some readers mystifified.

Unless a word has entered common parlance, such as ‘Ofsted’, it is as well to write it out in full the first time: “I joined a working party to construct the Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) Policy.”

Some letters may require a particular structure. For example: “Write a letter of application that sets out your initial priorities as headteacher at The New Green High School. Demonstrate how your experience has prepared you for the challenge and how you would approach the task.”

You can then use headings of, say, ‘priorities’, ‘experience’, and ‘approaching the task’ to show how your skills and achievements are relevant to the post for which you are applying to assist the panel members in making their decisions.

Even when there is no indication of the desired letter content, avoid using the same letter for every application: the shape, emphasis and content should differ for each.

After all the work that has gone into your letter, do use high quality paper, printer and print setting.

Before sending them, check you are sending the form and letter to the right person. Is it the clerk to the governors or chair? Is it to go by post or email? And will it get there on time?

And for later reference, print off a copy of what you send. Finally, plan for success!

  • Richard Fawcett is a consultant and trainer for ASCL and oversees ASCL’s headship appointment service.

Apply yourself