Psychometric speak

Psychometric testing, a method of assessing abilities and personality through a series of written questions, is beginning to make its mark in the field of education recruitment.

James Bywater, head psychologist of SHL, global supplier of psychometric tests for the workplace, says: “It’s already in extensive use in some education authorities, and mostly used for recruitment.  Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a drive to professionalise the role of headteacher from senior professional to managerial. ”

Personality and ability tests are the main components of psychometric testing.  The former measure a person’s work style preferences while ability tests measure a candidate’s aptitude in various skills.  West Berkshire County Council uses both as part of the recruitment process for headteachers.

“It’s a really effective way of finding out about a candidate’s suitability for a role,” says Maureen Graham, workforce strategy manager at West Berkshire County Council.  They currently use a personality test to discover more about an individual’s management and leadership style and preferred way of working.   Ability tests also examine knowledge and skills across a range of specific areas such as verbal reasoning or numeracy.

“Headteachers are responsible for huge budgets and a large staff team,” says Bywater.  “A questionnaire might look at whether you like working with data, budgets, finance, spreadsheets etc.  Even though this role is often delegated within schools, headteachers still need to be fully aware and understand financial processes.” Psychometric testing helps to identify this ability or weakness, he explains.

“Headteachers regularly present information to explore different initiatives or ideas at meetings, so presentation skills are important to the role,” continues Bywater.  “Also, they often have to work in isolation, so need to be good at working on their own, managing and prioritising work tasks. Psychometric testing can help to identify these vital skills.”

Crucially, it’s not used as a stand-alone type of assessment as West Berkshire County Council uses other methods, including interviews to choose the right candidate, says Mrs Graham.

Heath Monk, chief executive officer of the ‘Future Leaders’ programme sponsored by the National College of School Leadership, agrees that other methods should be used to provide a rounded picture of a candidate’s abilities:  “Psychometric tests are a good indicator of a certain type of ability such as strategic thinking, and we use it for this purpose.  But whether that is essential to being a good headteacher is another question,” he says.  “It’s definitely important for headteachers to have good interpersonal skills and an aptitude for building and maintaining relationships.”  The ‘Future Leaders’ programme aims to detect this capacity through group exercises; structured interviews; and role play scenarios.”

Users see real benefits in psychometric testing, and Gerry Heaten, headteacher of Inkpen primary school, in West Berkshire has recently taken part in a few tests as part of a recruitment process for a headteacher post.  “Overall, I found it a positive and enlightening experience,” he says.  “I hadn’t done anything like this before so it felt strange.  It made me think about my own character and attributes, and I was a little surprised when I saw a graph of some of my responses.” 

Are the tests lengthy?  “I had to answer around 100 questions which took around an hour and that felt about right,” says Heaton.  “I enjoyed it in a funny kind of way.  As a teacher, you don’t often get time to focus on yourself so that aspect of it was nice.”

And it’s not just confined to senior appointments as psychometric testing is being applied in other contexts.  “I’ve used personality questionnaires for career counselling, succession planning, team building and career development purposes,” says Mrs Graham.

Why not see how psychometric testing works for you by trying out a free online test from SHL. Discover how good you are at solving problems, or whether your real skills lie in being innovative and creative.  You’ll get a free mini-report showing your results immediately if you choose the verbal or numerical reasoning tests.