How to find the right teaching candidate for your school

4th April 2018 at 14:15
Quality not quantity
Leaders need to find someone who isn’t just a great teacher but who buys into the culture, ethos and aims of the school. Here’s how

Finding a great teacher among the applications in your recruitment pile (which, in the current recruitment crisis, may be  rather small) is not always easy. As a result, once you find someone you think could do the job well, it’s easy to think all your problems are sorted. 

Not so. Unless schools give due consideration to whether that teacher is a good fit with the school – its culture, ethos, aims, existing staff, skills requirements – then there is a risk that leaders will be recruiting for that same position sooner than they would wish. 

So, if you do have more than one good prospect on your list, how do you hone your shortlist to ensure you get 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 intimately.

It may be that you have a hoard of really organised people but few creative thinkers, or you may have the opposite problem. 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 might have an interesting mix of personalities but you lack 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. 

A toolbox is 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 that you to have a firm grasp of what your school culture is.

Sift through the applications and look for signs of a teacher who would 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 set list of ethos-based criteria when it comes to narrowing her list 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.

From a candidate’s cover letter, Marsh adds, you should be able to tell if “they are 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 at 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 that 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 from each other and, while all 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. 

So, 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 persistant 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, 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 is 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 Talent Match team who can help match staff with your requirements.  

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