Pre-application visits to schools

5th March 2014 at 00:00

Pre-application visits to schools



Posters often enquire about visiting a school before they put in an application.  I am afraid that I have to add that some schools actually make visiting a prerequisite for consideration for a post; if you don’t visit, you don’t stand a chance of being shortlisted.


I feel quite strongly about this, as I do about the other unfair practice, that of observing candidates in their own school.


I believe that it is unfair to insist on a school visit.  It is unfair on those who live a long way away, and on those who cannot spare the time to come, because of childcare or because they are teaching and cannot be released.  Or are doing supply and would lose a day’s pay just for half an hour on a pre-application visit.


I wish schools wouldn't do this, I wish they would STOP saying that they give preference to those who visit, I wish that they would NEVER give such a preference.


So that’s my view on it! 


Not that this will be helpful to you, you need to go by what he school wants, whether or not I approve of it!  And many schools encourage visits but do not insist on them, which is fine.


N.B. If you are working, your own Head is not obliged to allow you time off to visit another school.  S/he may allow it in PPA time, so you could try asking a colleague if they would swap PPA with you and then go and ask the Head, giving this as a solution.  But you have no absolute right to be given time off for this.


In fact - not many people know this - you don't actually have right to time off to go to an interview, unless you are being made redundant.  You have to ask, and ask nicely.  Don't go in saying "I won't be in on Tuesday 'cos I've got an interview".


There are three questions to consider about school visits:


  • Should you visit? 
  • What if you can’t manage to visit?
  • What should you do and say, what questions should you ask, during a visit?

Should you visit?

If there is any mention at all of visits in the advertisement or documents, then of course you should try to visit if at all possible.   Adverts can say things like:
  • Visits welcome
  • We encourage you to visit
  • We strongly suggest you to visit
  • We warmly invite you to visit
  • Please contact if you would like to visit
  • Visits will be held on the afternoon of . . . .

These all mean: you have to visit if humanly possible.  :-(


In these circumstances, with these sorts of comments in the details, you should try your best to visit. 


If there is no mention of visits – and it is not a Head or Deputy Head post – then normally you are not expected – or even wanted – to visit.  In general, it tends to be maintained primary schools who want you to visit.  Independent schools – with a few rare exceptions – do not encourage or wish for visits.  They will arrange a full school tour, often accompanied by two or three older pupils, on the day of the interview, so you are not going into the school blind.  In fact, many independent schools would be taken aback – and embarrassed even – if you asked to visit. 


So unless it says something about visits, don’t ask.


What about secondary schools?  Traditionally, they, too, have not expected – or allowed – pre-application visits.  But our poster Middlemarch has found some new information on this.  This is what she says:


Middlemarch:  "Theo and I usually advise secondary applicants that pre-application visits are not welcomed by secondary schools (despite being very much the norm - indeed, often required - in primaries); however, I've recently been mentoring a fast-track to leadership teacher who, in response to my question about pre-application visits, told me this:


"We have had a lot of vacancies lately [at my current school] and have openly asked for visits, to enable the applicants to see the school first hand, and to give us a sneak peek at the quality of the applicant. I would say it is not as necessary lower down the pay scale but it does demonstrate real enthusiasm for the position.  Considering the job market at the minute, I think you need every chance!

 SLT positions are different, some schools say that they would welcome visits.  This means, you really need to go and get as much information as you possible can so that your application is strong as possible.  However, more common practice is that head teachers have allocated slots of time where applicants can have a look around.  These are normally included in the application pack, and you book yourself in.  


I'm not sure if I mentioned it in my last e mail, there were 7 other people looking around at this school at the same time as me, all had a student tour, all met with the head - in pairs!  This was one of three possible slots. Very off putting, but it does give the head an insight before shortlisting!!  Obviously when visits happen, you need to have completed your homework and know your stuff, but it just means the competition starts earlier! "


So - it seems that some secondary schools are now using pre-application visits, but will usually say so in the pack or the job ad.     Comments and quotes by kind permission of TES poster @Middlemarch


The same rule, therefore applies: if it doesn’t mention the possibility of a visit, then don’t ask.


What if you can’t manage to visit?


There are loads of very good reasons why people cannot visit.  Cost, distance, other commitments.  I would hope that a school would understand this, and make allowances.


You can say in your application that circumstances prevented you visiting the school, but that you have researched it well, and feel that you know the ethos etc etc   It’s also a good idea to contact the school, explaining that you cannot visit but would someone be available to speak to you  by phone?


Once arranged, this is your chance to ask any questions that have come up during your research.  Not too many - max 2 or 3.  But if you have nothing much to say because the information given is so good, then say so.  Certainly don't ask anything like Do you think I am the right sort of candidate for this post, nor the other one What sort of person are you looking for?  They have no idea if you are right, and the sort of person that they are looking for is set out in their paperwork. Don't invent a question just for the sake of it..  But having phones, in the actual application letter you then ask for Mr/ Mrs/ Whoever to be thanked once again for the time they took to speak to you by phone as you weren’t  able to visit as you would have liked. 


This explains your non-visit, and shows your expressed interest.


What sort of things to ask in this short phone call?   You might ask if they are looking for skills in a particular area and then ask about one or two things you have noticed from the application pack, or a recent  Ofsted, their website,  etc.  


Do all your research before the call and have a pen and paper to hand to note down info, just as you might on a visit.  And make it to the point and brief – you don’t wish to seem as though you are trying to show off or impress.


(With thanks to TES poster @LadyKaza for telling us how she phones  the school when she cannot visit).


What questions should you ask, during a visit?


That’s a nice easy one: nothing.


By that I mean, of course, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to make yourself stand out (honest! That’s a really bad idea!) .  Nothing to show off or try to impress.  As a general rule we are totally put off by such things.


Dress smartly, be polite, pay attention, smile at people.  But don’t feel that you have to talk. 


As for asking a question, unless you really really need to know and would make you decide not to apply (e.g. I am Jewish and in the winter months I need to be home before nightfall on Fridays, for Shabbat.  Would it be possible for the timetable to allow this?), then don’t ask anything.


If you are specifically and individually asked if you have any questions, it’s fine to say No thank you, I have all the information that I need for my application.   If that’s true of course, and it should be if you have done your homework.  If you haven’t done your homework, you could look a fool asking something that is in their documentations, or on their website.


Best wishes