Career clinic

This week Professor John Howson answers questions about interview failure and performance worries

Professor John Howson

Fruitless feedback

I have just failed my third deputy head interview in the past two years. I am 43 and have 15 years' teaching experience. I worry that I am getting too old. The last feedback I received was that I was "employable as a deputy head", but not at their school. How should I read this?

I would simply read the feedback as "We can't think of anything negative to say, but you weren't the person we wanted to employ." We would all like helpful feedback after interviews, particularly if it singles out precise issues we can address before the next one. It would surely be in the interests of the profession as a whole for schools to offer genuine and helpful comments to unsuccessful candidates. However, unless some glaring problem arises during the process, they often provide little more than a vague statement.

If you want a deputy headship, then you just have to keep applying. For some governing bodies your age may be against you - annual surveys suggest you are certainly towards the upper end of the age range for first-time appointments to that post. In our 2010-11 national survey, two-thirds of new appointments were to individuals below 40, and only 11 per cent to those above 45, and I suspect that many of the latter were internal appointments. I doubt we will find much change this year. If anything, appointments under 40 may be an even greater percentage with such a large proportion of the profession now in that age group.

However, if you are being called for interview for a high proportion of the applications you make then this suggests you are appointable. You just need to keep applying and maybe consider whether there is anything you can do to improve your performance at interview.

New job jitters

I started a new job recently. I have already had three formal observations as well as two "drop-ins". My formal observations were deemed satisfactory but my line manager has made it clear that there are "concerns", although they will not hinder me if I want to apply elsewhere. What should I do?

Starting a new job is always an anxious period. You have to get to grips with the new context and the school expects you, as an experienced teacher, to be able to perform immediately at the top of your game.

Increasingly, as pressure is applied throughout the system for improved outcomes, so lead-in times to achieve results are being scrutinised. For some reason, this school seems to have decided almost immediately after appointing you that you are not what they wanted and are putting pressure on you to find another post.

I certainly would not resign without another job to go to. That may mean toughing it out until next summer since we have now virtually reached the end of the recruitment round for September 2012. However, I would be looking very hard for another job in view of what your line manager has said to you.

Nevertheless, as you were appointed to this job that should give you hope for future applications, although you will have to explain the reasons for a sudden move after such a short period of time.

I would also look carefully at what is being said about why you are not achieving the standards they expect. If the school thinks you need more support, you can ask for some professional development to help rectify the perceived deficiencies, although they may be resistant to offering you any if they regard removing you as their preferred option. Push them for it anyway.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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Professor John Howson

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