How to find the right teacher for your school

Leaders need to hire someone who isn’t just a great teacher but who buys into the culture, ethos and aims of the school. Here’s how...

Jamie Stinson

Quality Not Quantity

Finding a suitable staff member is never easy – and especially during a recruitment crisis.

The pile of applications probably isn’t a large one and finding someone with the skills you need can feel like a struggle.

As a result, when you do find someone you think could do the job well, it’s easy to think that all your problems are solved as you rush to place the contract under their nose. 

But hold on a minute. Just because a teacher has the necessary experience, it doesn’t mean they are going to be a good fit with the school, its culture, ethos, aims and existing staff.

Unless your new member of staff has the right character to go with the credentials, there is a risk that you’ll be recruiting for that same position again sooner than you might like. 

So, if you have more than one good prospect on your list, how do you hone your shortlist to ensure you end up with the full package?

Ask yourself the following questions:


Is this candidate a good complement to my existing staff? 

Before you even begin recruiting, you need to know the skills and personalities within your staff team.

It may be that you have a hoard of really organised people but few creative thinkers. Perhaps you have a good spread of subject knowledge but you have a whole scheme of work that no one is that comfortable with.

Your staffroom may have an interesting mix of personalities but be lacking someone with that spark that gets people motivated on dreary, difficult days. 

Pinpoint what you are missing and then map that against your applicant list. 

Scott Page, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, argues that leaders should look at their teams like a toolbox, made up of a diverse range of objects capable of being used to solve a variety of problems.

According to Page, an organisation should create a team of people with different “cognitive toolboxes”.

He believes that having a more diverse team makes it better at solving complex tasks.

Will this candidate match the school culture?

This question requires you to have a firm grasp of your school culture.

Sift through the applications and look for signs of staff who will sign up for your aims, embody your values, and support and enhance your culture. 

Helena Marsh, executive principal at Linton Village College in Cambridgeshire, has a list of ethos-based criteria to narrow lists of applicants.

“We have essential and desirable lists, and we use that as the basis for shortlisting candidates, and [asking if] they fit with the culture and ethos of your school?” Marsh explains.

A candidate’s covering letter should be enough to tell you if someone is the right fit.

Do they match the job specification?

When you wrote the job specification, you should have had a good idea of who you were looking for, so it pays to remind yourself of what that was further down the line.

James Bowen, director of trade union NAHT Edge, says: “If you have spent time writing a person specification, then it’s wise to judge each application against that.”

However, Bowen adds, it’s important to remain flexible, seeing the specification as “a little bit of structure” helping you take a “logical approach”.

Is this the right school for them?

Schools are very different and, while many will encounter relatively similar problems, the prevalence and extremity of those problems can change from one to the next. 

As a recruiter, you need to decide whether this candidate is a good match for your particular issues. 

Do you need a staff with the diplomatic skills of an ambassador to handle a vocal parent body? Do you need a teacher who can handle the emotional toll of persistent and upsetting safeguarding issues?

You will know only by talking to the candidates on their school visit and making clear what the challenges are, and then asking for an honest view on how they feel about those challenges. 

Allana Gay, deputy headteacher in Lea Valley Primary School in North London, keeps an eye out for a bit of dogged determination when she’s recruiting.

“I look for more of a story of resilience or for scrappers – those who have had to work hard to get to where they are. Because I work in a school with children in difficult circumstances, I need to know they can stick it out,” Gay explains.

Will this person upset the team? 

While ambition and confidence are positive attributes, no team is going to welcome someone who edges into being abrasive or cocky, or who sees the school as a stepping stone to something else. 

A candidate could be the greatest teacher on your list but if their personality and approach are going to make everyone else unhappy, then it’s simply not worth the risk. 

“I would normally look for how the candidate talks about themselves and the impact they have on others,” Gay says.

“I want somebody who understands it is not necessarily about them but education as a whole. It is those people who are prepared to share their skills that are those to have in the department.”

Are you struggling to find the perfect candidate? Speak to our smartMatch team who can help match staff with your requirements.