February 2011


  • Digital dangers
    Recent research shows that many schools feel they are ill-equipped to train staff in e-safety. Julie Nightingale looks at what schools can do to improve teachers’ understanding of online risks. More
  • Freedom and choice or a heavy burden?
    Half of ASCL members at the autumn information conferences said they were considering academy status but were still undecided. Here, Brian Rossiter explains why his school has opted to take the academy route… More
  • Joining forces
    Closing a school brings a raft of practical headaches as well as a heavy emotional toll, as Peter Crowe found out when he oversaw the federation and eventual closure of a neighbouring school 18 months ago. More
  • Ensuring natural selection
    In December’s Leader, Richard Fawcett gave his top tips for writing an application that gets noticed. Here, he looks at what you can do to ensure you make the right impression on the interview day. More
  • Be better together
    The schools white paper has set out plans for a national network of teaching schools. Steve Munby of the National College, which is playing a major role in the initiative, outlines the vision and answers some key questions. More
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In December’s Leader, Richard Fawcett gave his top tips for writing an application that gets noticed. Here, he looks at what you can do to ensure you make the right impression on the interview day.

Ensuring natural selection

Congratulations on getting your invitation to interview! Now what? Governors and headteachers seek an outstanding candidate. You will need to convince the selection panel that you are exactly that.

The time to start planning is when the letter arrives or the phone rings with that important message. Accept straight away and begin the preparations.

On the day you will want to arrive knowing:

  • exactly what the school or college says they are seeking in the person specification and job description
  • the school or college and its community. Review Ofsted reports and information sent to you, and seek out colleagues’ knowledge. What are the strengths of the institution, the weaknesses and opportunities?
  • the detail in your application. What did you write? “I improved the examination results every year for five years”? “I turned the budget round from an inherited deficit to a sound financial position”? It’s time to amass concise and hard evidence of your a achievements and how you accomplished them, then to make relevant links with the post you seek. You will be ahead of those who just talk generally about their experience. Do you need more information? A polite request may bring it or indicate it will be made available on the selection days.

If invited to visit the school before the selection days, go if possible. While pre-selection visits are not part of the formal selection procedure, your interest can only work in your favour.

In one form or another you are likely to be asked:

  • Why have you applied for this post?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? Weaknesses need careful consideration. As a senior member of staff you do not want to appear weak in an important area. Prepare to speak about a facet you have improved or an area you have strengthened.
  • How has your career so far (in particular your present post) prepared you for this role?
  •  What have been your major achievements?
  • What outstanding benefit will we get from appointing you?

Think about sharing your planned responses to these questions with a colleague in order to get feedback on how you might improve.

First impressions count

The day arrives. Remember everything counts on the day, not just the formal programme, where how well you fulfil the person specification is central.

The time-honoured phrase “You only get one chance to make a good first impression” is very pertinent. Success has evaded candidates as a result, in part, of what may appear minor matters.

How are you going to get to the school? How long will it take? Arrival is likely to coincide with the busiest traffic of the day and the candidate who arrives late certainly will be remembered!

Stories abound of a candidate doing up a tie as the prospective headteacher crosses the car park; the person who was abrupt with the receptionist; the candidate who criticised and diminished the secretary for having to pin a name badge to the suit.

You can be sure that the impressions given by these actions were passed to the selection panel. Those making the decision may well say: “If that is what they do on interview day, what does it say about what we can expect in September? Is that the standard we want?”

Just as top athletes use visualisation to help them win medals, visualise success. Arrive as the prospective post-holder. Applying for the post of business manager? Be that person. Hoping for headship? Behave and speak as the new head.

Meetings, assemblies and presentations

There may be many different selection activities. Thinking about what the selection panel hope to get out of each is important.

In all activities, in addition to an assumed knowledge base, how you relate to people, the panel or audience (and other candidates in the activity if in a group situation) is crucial. But above all, be yourself!

Possible activities, depending on the post, include:

Meeting for an introduction to the school with the chair of governors, headteacher or members of the senior team – what will be the first impression you give?

A tour of the school which may be with students or a member of staff – they will be asked for feedback.

Meetings with staff senior team (individual or group), middle managers and staff groups. Their thoughts will be sought.

Presentation you may be asked to present to the final panel, staff as a whole or a group of staff. You may be given the topic before the selection process or during it. Use as few notes as possible. Never read out a script and at least know by heart the opening and closing sentences.

Assembly taking an assembly for the whole or part of the school. How will you come across?

Scenarios/crisis management for example, written reaction to or group discussion of scenarios.

Group exercise ‘goldfish bowl’ exercise(s) where all the candidates work together on a task and are observed by the whole selection panel. Most panels will look for someone who draws others into discussion rather than dominating the task.

Written exercise analysis of a topic such as data on a school improvement. Style and accuracy are likely to be assessed.

Lesson observation
to see how perceptive you are in assessing quality of learning and teaching and giving feedback.

Social refreshments with staff; a more structured occasion with senior staff, governors and possibly invited guests; lunch with students or the school council. How do you want to come across to them?

One-to-one interviews or discussion groups may take place with students, staff and, possibly, governors.

Panel interviews may be used to discuss elements of the post. The panel may be staff, students or governors or a mix of governors and staff.

The interviews
For all posts there is likely to be a final single panel of senior staff (or governors for the post of headteacher).

Interviews need particular thought:

  • Wait to be offered a handshake; sit down when invited; make eye-contact with each of the interviewers.
  • Adopt an enthusiastic, alert, positive mind-set.
  • Answer every question honestly and openly and watch for how long you are speaking. Good interviewers will tell you the length of the interview and how many questions they will be asking. Be confident and positive about your strengths, but be careful not to ‘big yourself up’ unrealistically.
  • Seek clarification where needed.
  • Relate your current experience to the post you seek.
  • When discussing improvements you might make if appointed, be constructive, pointing out areas for development.
  • Never become aggressive if your answers are challenged.
  • Use humour carefully.
  • And, as for all activities, turn off your mobile phone.

Use time well
Try to use every minute of your day to your best advantage. When you have ‘free’ time, rather than sitting with the other candidates, talk to teaching and support staff, and students. Your interest always gets back to the selection panel.

Be unfailingly courteous to everyone and in talking about current colleagues: the candidate who deprecates their own school will be seen as disloyal.

Building rapport with the selection panel is really important.

On selection days, what you have to say clearly counts. And so too does how you present yourself and the overall impression you give in the context of the future role.

Congratulations if you are successful. If not, it is not discourteous to ask for positive feedback which should help future applications.

If you would like one-on-one professional support for preparing for interviews, an ASCL consultant is available.

  • Richard Fawcett is a former head, consultant and trainer for ASCL. He oversees ASCL’s appointment service.

Ensuring natural selection