Selecting your school's next headteacher is a huge decision. The process should be well planned and the board's decision should be fair and have the school's long-term vision at heart.
The governors are the guardians of the school’s ethos and strategic direction. When a headteacher leaves and a new one starts, it is up to the governors to ensure that the school’s long-term strategy and ideas are not lost. Gillian Allcroft, policy manager for the National Governors’ Association (NGA), has some tips to help you get the big decision right.
Decide on a panel
It is the responsibility of the governing body to decide who should sit on the panel; government guidance stipulates that it must include at least three governors. A selection panel should have sufficient people to provide a range of opinions and experience, but not so many that it becomes unfocused; around five is ideal.
At least one member of the panel should have undertaken safer recruitment training. In all cases, it is vital to obtain specialist advice to ensure the board meets the requirements of employment and equalities legislation and follows good practice. Governors at maintained schools in England should note that the local authority has the right to an advisory place on the selection panel.
Define the headteacher’s role
The recruitment panel’s first task is to draw up a job description and person specification. A job description should encapsulate the core purpose and responsibilities of the role, while the person specification will list the qualifications, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities that the panel expect the successful candidate to have and demonstrate.
Keep a clear eye on the school’s strategic vision and define the ideal person needed to help achieve this.
Advertise the position
The job advertisement is an opportunity to sell the school to prospective candidates and stress what makes it a special place to work, as well as being honest about the challenges. If the school is outstanding, by all means celebrate the fact, but find some ways in which a new headteacher can make their mark, too.
It is likely that potential applicants will want to visit the school, so ensure there is a central point of contact to arrange this.
Narrow down the applicants
Governors need to be clear about how they will carry out the shortlisting process against the person specification criteria. They need a well-planned scheme that enables them to justify any differentiation between candidates in the event of an appeal.
Once a decision to shortlist has been agreed upon by all relevant parties, references should be taken up. These should focus on facts and include a confirmation of the candidate’s commitment to safeguarding. Open references should never be accepted. The references should be cross-checked with the candidate’s application to make sure there are no discrepancies.
Plan the interview
Once there is a shortlist, governors or trustees should seek the advice of their human resources adviser on how to structure the interview day.
Interview questions should gather evidence about what candidates have done. There will clearly be a need for questions about how they will apply their experience to taking the school forward, but panels should beware of posing too many hypotheticals.
Ensure that a system is in place so that the panel member who has asked the question can maintain eye contact, with a separate panel member taking notes.
Making the decision
If the appointment requires ratification by the whole governing board, governors must not offer the post until that process is complete. They must ensure that all the relevant employment checks are carried out.
It is best practice to contact the successful candidate on the same day as the interview takes place – and to not contact any unsuccessful candidates until the offer has been verbally accepted.
To complete the cycle, there must be an induction process led by the chair of governors to ensure that the new headteacher is properly welcomed and supported in their new role.
Gillian Allcroft is policy manager for the National Governors’ Association (NGA).
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