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Pre-interview school visits

Career | Published 1 March, 2013 | By: Jennifer Beckles

The school visit is a revealing and invaluable part of the job application process, if used wisely.

Don’t be fooled into thinking a visit to a school is a quick show around with a few introductions. It can and should be much more than this so make sure you go prepared. It’s definitely worth doing this groundwork because you’ll get the essential lowdown before you sign on the dotted line and hopefully avoid ending up in a job that isn’t really for you.

Jayne Halliwell, headteacher of Park Walk Primary School in southwest London encourages visits as part of the job process. “It is a golden opportunity for people to find out whether the school is right for them and shouldn’t be passed up,” she says.

No two schools are the same, and there are many things that make a school unique, from the diverse intake of children to the management style of the headteacher. The spirit, feeling and intention of a school, or ethos, probably count more than anything else so that’s where your focus should be. And the best way to find out about this is to have a few questions in mind when you visit. Here are some pointers:

How are you greeted by front-of-house staff?
A warm, cheery hello could signal a happy workforce, but if you’re ignored or staff seem cold and indifferent then perhaps all is not well. 

Do children seem happy?
Tense, unsmiling faces or withdrawn children are always a cause for concern. Children’s wellbeing should be high up on the agenda of a good school so find out how they promote this area. 

How do the children relate to each other?
Do they get on well, and show consideration for each other? Of course, there will be disagreements but if you see chaos, disorder and fists flying, then you can safely bet that behaviour is a big issue. 

Do staff seem happy?
If teachers feel valued and fulfilled in their jobs, they are likely to be enthusiastic, good teachers (although this can be difficult given the continual onslaught of government initiatives.) Even so, a good headteacher will contribute to staff morale by interacting and communicating well. She will expect and get the best from staff and provide good opportunities for continuing professional development.

Find out the aims, values and objectives of the school and if they resonate with you then this is a good sign. If not, then move on.

Always have some questions ready so that you can get useful information that will help you to decide whether you want to apply for the job, says Jayne. She suggests asking the following questions:

  • What is in the school improvement/development plan? 
  • What are the priorities within the plan? 
  • What is the staffing structure? 
  • How much support is there for EAL/special needs/EMAG children? 
  • Does the school have any special characteristics?

It’s also worth asking about rates of staff turnover. Although high turnover does not necessarily mean that staff leave because they are unhappy, it is still worth asking what the underlying reasons might be. Or if that seems a little too confrontational then take a look at the last Ofsted report and you should get some indication of this as well as other evaluations. But remember it’s not an interview so don’t bombard the school with questions.

Of course, you’re naturally good with kids and enjoy being around them (why else would you be teaching?), so grab opportunities to show off your skills by talking and interacting with children if the opportunity arises.

Lastly, be yourself, smile, act confidently, dress smartly, and be courteous to everyone you meet.

Do you have any tips on visiting schools that you would like to share?  Post below to let others know. 

Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking

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Comment (26)

  • I have done these things when I have visited a school, but have never been shortlisted at a school where I made a visit.

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    13 March, 2009


  • I agree, I think in terms of equal opportunities, which application forms promote in terms of anonymity and declaration of equal opp. data, visiting the school could potentially lead to discrimination.
    I went to look around a school and in fact was taken to a small room and questioned by both the HT and DHT after the secretary showed me around. This was their chance, I felt to shortlist further than a paper sift would allow. My application which should have meant being shortlisted in terms of meeting essential and desirable criteria I think probably was binned. The questions they asked me were non-standard.

    I would never pre-visit a school again. I have always been shortlisted from the application in schools I did not pre-visit, but in the 2 I visited did not get shortlisted. First impressions are hard to get rid of (I look younger than I am and this i felt went against me for leadership positions).. Having interviewed people myself the paper application gives you a good impression of who meets the role. The interview confirms it. When I haven't looked at forms it goes entirely on first impressions, which are not always accurate. In visiting a school all staff get a first impression and comment on it. This could affect your chances!

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    28 March, 2009


  • Yes, actually I have had a similar case. I am just finishing a BA PE (with QTS), therefore am in the process of job searching! as you do...... So far I have applied for 4 jobs......2 I have gone to interview and two not, no surprise, the two I pre-visited neglected to short list me, whilst the two I did not visit did short list me. I attended one school and got shown around by a building manager, so there was little point in that......the other I attended an open evening, met the HoD and other dept staff, thought it went really really well, with a guaranteed interview - WRONG! So I agree with those against........let your application remain 'impersonal' - until you get the interview then that amazing person on paper comes to life!

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    3 April, 2009


  • I disagree completely. If, after the visit, you aren't shortlisted then I think it is a good sign that you are not right for that particular school. During the visit process, you can show so many people round it is often difficult to remember who is who anyway, particularly if you are showing groups of candidates round together. I would advise anyone applying to a school to make a visit first because it is so important that you know what you are letting yourself in for before getting to the interview stage. There is nothing worse than going through the whole process just to find that the school is not what you thought it was going to be - and vice versa from the schools' point of view too. You have to be happy with the school and they have to be happy with you. First impressions do count and say an awful lot about you - so be yourself.

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    4 April, 2009


  • Well at the moment in the very competitive job market for teachers - I think if those that can be bothered to go and find out about the school sets a good impression on them. It shows that you are genuinly interested and not just after a job. Particularly if you are an NQT. Indeed I have gone to visit schools that I was thinking was going to apply for the job, but on seeing the school I realised it was not for me at all. I feel it is more for you.

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    28 April, 2009


  • I have visited several of the schools I have applied to (and been shortlisted for some I have visited, and some I haven't. It is not always possible to visit though - esp. if you are applying to lots of schools and/or are currently working or doing supply. Some schools I have approached have given up doing pre=visits at all because they are currently swamped with potential applicants (I am primary). The visits I have been on with only one or two candidates have been the most beneficial, but the ones where you are herded round ina group of fifteen or more, have not been especially beneficial.

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    2 May, 2009


  • I have only asked for one pre interview visit and it was refused by the school on the grounds of equal opportunities. Yet candidates are allowed with previous experience of the school. Go figure.

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    17 May, 2009


  • I think going to a school, for a pre interview visit is a good idea. However I have been refused a by some schools a visit for a whole host of reasons. This made me suspicious of the standards of their working environment, for their students and staff. It is in the schools benefit to show people around and be proud of their successes. Furthermore it is an opportunity for professionals to share ideas.

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    17 May, 2009


  • I am currently in the process of applying for a post in a school I was at in my first year placement of a BEd. They will see from my application form that I was placed there so should I go?

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    1 June, 2009


  • I would NEVER apply to a school without visiting first, mainly because you can tell instantly you walk through the door whether it is worth your while applying.

    However, more and more schools do seem to be using it as part of the recruitment process for an initial sifting, which is bad recruitment practice and clearly unfair to those who can/can't visit.

    Those schools where the staff look strained or tired and/or the children sullen, I will not apply. In one school I went to, the HT referred to the children in groups, such as 'the army children', 'the council estate children', 'the village children'. I couldn't get out fast enough and made my excuses and left swiftly. I didn't feel I could work for a head who spoke about the children in such a narrow way. And she was wearing fishnet stockings and black patent leather stilletoes. Enough!

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    2 June, 2009


  • I recently visited a school where I knew there were two internal candidates.One had been informally"promised "the job.I asked the Headteacher when I visited if there were internal candidates and was told "no".Having visited several schools in a bid to improve my chances at the short-list stage, I have discovered that several of them subsequently employed internal candidates.A teacher at one of the schools told me that the walk rounds were for show as "they already knew who they wanted to employ".I think this happens far more frequently than we like to admit. What hope for us poor old NQT

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    12 September, 2009


  • Having just visited a school prior to making an application, and being told to come for an interview in two days time, BEFORE the application closing date, I was a little suspicious and sure enough, having travelled over 60 miles twice in three days, I was not offered the job. I found out later that the job was given to an internal candidate and clearly, I was simply there to make up the numbers. It is very distressing and I wish people could be honest and stop wasting my time. Harumph!

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    5 December, 2009


  • i've recently found that these visits have been interesting for myself to see what the school is like however i feel that with so many people gong for primary jobs (at one look around there was over 65 people!) I will be spending more time looking around schools than actually in my final teaching placement. i understand head teachers want you to get a feel of the school before you apply. However how are you ment to look around all the jobs that come up before you finally get a job!

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    7 March, 2010


  • Not all schools let you visit either. I recently moved to Wales and was advised by the GTCW to ask the schools if I could visit prior to the application date deadline. All of the schools I have asked have said that they only invite short-listed applicants. I would have loved the chance to visit some of the schools as none of them are familiar to me.

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    6 June, 2010

    Scottie Rach

  • School visits are becoming part of the interview process and its plain wrong.
    in any case you never get to see the nuts and bolts because you will be carefully guided around the part they want you to see. Like the rest of the interview process in schools these days its just an excuse for someone to have the day off from teaching to show you around. It makes the whole process far more stressful than it needs to be. WHy have equal opps opportunity forms which are detached from the application form, so the interviewers look at everyone in the same light and then go and compromise it with a show round. Any head /HoD worth their salt would be making a note of the ones they want to see.
    However, any interview I have been to, I have only seen people who have been for a showround get the job... so I do request one Its part of the game but a very unsafe practice on my opinion

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    24 June, 2010


  • I am a Secondary teacher who was a "maturer" entrant to the profession having worked in Industry. I always pre-visit - if only to get an idea of the ambience and a sneaky look at how the classorom is set-up before I teach (Chemistry is my subject and so you need to have some understanding of how to best use facilities available). In industry, when I had an important presentation to do, we ALWAYS asked to see the room 1st so that you can plan for success (sounds corney but it does work!)
    I'm also Chair of Governors at a Priamary School and have been involved in a number of interviews over the last few ears. Shortlisting is not linked to school visits as it SHOULD be done by people who have no impression of the candidates other than what is presented before them. Therefore, we shortlist to the person spec and job description. It isn't always possible to remove prejudices about candidates if you have seen them and if any staff who are shortlisting have seen candidates we all make it clear during the shortlisting that this is the case. What I will say however, it is ABUNDENTLY clear who has visited the school as they often make a much better application as a result (commenting on knowledgeably on displays, the children's work etc.).
    I would always recommend visiting beforehand - it has always proved invaluable to me from both sides of the table!!

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    8 November, 2010


  • I have been visiting schools and come prepared. It is really difficult when you get there and they say they've had loads of people look around the school and your in a large group and everybody is competing to get the headteachers attention by asking lots of questions. It highlights how tough it is out there.

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    23 March, 2011


  • And one can't help feeling suspicious of early shortlisting when the school announces that it will only consider a school visit if they like the look of your CV...

    Has anyone else experienced this?

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    31 March, 2011


  • Now I wish I hadn't requested a visit after reading all your comments above! This is the first time I have done it and only because I am tired of getting a false impression of a school on their website and then seeing something completely different on the day of interview. I thought it would give me a better chance of being shortlisted for a job....not written off the list altogether!

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    5 April, 2011


  • What about a school visit after you have been short-listed? That must be a better idea! At least then you know they are interested in your CV and it gives you an edge when asking questions during the interview. Any thoughts

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    7 May, 2011


  • I visited a school 200 miles from my home. The closing date was advertised as the 18th of March, the interview date the 21st of March! So they sorted through all the applications and sent out interview letters over the weekend? No chance! Guess what? The job went to an internal applicant! This practice MUST be stopped!

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    14 May, 2011


  • I agree with Starlightexpress. The school visit is really a pre-selection interview and a hidden way of shortlisting candidtates you like the look of and not what they are capable of. It masks discrimination because you cant exactly hide your colour, age or gender. So gives the opportunity of dismissing candidates before they have even made an application.

    Some visits I have been trooped around in large groups where the loudest candidate is the only one getting the questions in and heard. At other times I have had Headteachers actually interviewing me in a closed room. And there have been occasions where Heads are too afraid to even shake my hand in fear of catching something.

    People who think that the legal system for equal opportunity ensures that it couldnt happen are simply burying their heads in the sand.

    Of all the schools I have wasted my time visiting (it has become a full time job just to visit schools and make an application) not one school had a black teacher. Most of the schools that had male teachers, the male teacher was always in a senior position in the school... ie the deputy head, or the head.
    So what does that tell you.

    I am sure not all heads or schools are like this and with some it may have been just a coincidence. I am sure that in areas of London/Birmingham there are more multi cultural staff and children. As feedback from one Head I was infact told that I would be more suited to working in such an area.

    For me the school visiti is a waste of time and effort. As an NQT I would be happy with anything to be honest...only after my induction year would I be more choosy depending on where I want my career to go etc. I have visited at least a hundred schools, and of course there are some differences but ultimately the differences are not so huge to make me think that I could not possiblly work there. I am adaptable, and I believe that I could make it work in any school. Some might require more work and effort that others but hey I know that I am capable... but others think differently apparently.

    Oh well. Somewhere out there there's a ray of hope.

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    16 November, 2011


  • My Head has said more than once 'oh, they came to visit, no good'.

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    28 January, 2013


  • I am struggling with this. I have been to visit one school, who had a list of people visiting and were noting down who arrived. I don't know if this was then used in the shortlisting process or not. However, I am currently employed in a different school, so it will be difficult enough asking for a day off for interviews (should I get any). I certainly don't feel that I can ask for time off to visit a school I'm considering applying for. Does this mean that I am less likely to get shortlisted? If so, it is not only unfair to me, but the schools would be limiting their selection greatly.

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    11 April, 2013


  • Can any one help with this..... I am thinking I might have to change jobs this year. How do you go about time for visiting schools.? What are the rules about time to do this? Are there any? And interview time? Thanks

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    13 April, 2013


  • I am going on a pre-interview visit tomorrow but unsure how to dress. Would people normally wear smart black trousers, smart top and a jacket? I am only 22 and just finished a Uni degree so a bit unsure about this whole process!

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    14 May, 2013


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