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A foot in a dozen doors

How can you apply to a host of schools by filling in just one form and going for one formal interview? Ken Taylor explains.

An excellent system. Why don't all local authorities do it?" was one of the responses of a newly qualified teacher in Suffolk last September to a questionnaire seeking evaluation of our pool arrangements.

Well, some of them do - Brent, East Sussex and Sunderland to name a few - so it's worth the while of any aspiring teacher or newly qualified teacher to find out how they operate.

First, let's be clear that in pool systems newly qualified teachers are no longer appointed to the authority before being found posts at individual schools. Rather, there is a centralised system of application open only to students who expect to complete their training at the end of the academic year and to qualified teachers who have yet to find their first post.

In Suffolk the system is managed by the teacher recruitment officer and is one of the services offered to schools under the Teacher Recruitment Scheme. The scheme is financed entirely by schools, each of which contributes Pounds 1 per pupil per year, with a commitment which currently runs for three years. Eighty-eight per cent of Suffolk schools belong to the scheme.

Prospective applicants are sent an information pack which contains an application form and explains how the authority's first appointments policy operates. All applications received before the closing date, usually set in the last week of January, are considered for interview for the appropriate pool.

The primarymiddle pool

Applicants who are appropriately trained and seek employment in primary or middle schools (9-13 in Suffolk) are shortlisted for interview by a panel comprising three headteachers, an officer or adviser and the teacher recruitment officer. The panel makes its selection against three criteria:

* the needs of schools, as indicated by the vacancies already notified by headteachers for the next academic year

* the quality of the application as revealed in the application form and the accompanying personal statement

* the quality of the applicant as indicated by the references.

Shortlisted candidates are interviewed at one of the three area offices by a panel consisting of two headteachers and an officer or adviser. They are judged on their ability to articulate a coherent educational philosophy, to describe and reflect on their teaching experience and to show knowledge of the national curriculum, with particular reference to their specialist subject.

Evidence is also sought of enthusiasm, personal presence, maturity, self-confidence and richness of interests outside teaching. Successful candidates are then recommended to schools in three categories: highly recommended, recommended, worth considering. There is usually a very small number of candidates whom the panels are unable to recommend.

Details of these candidates, including their interview notes which give the basis of the panels' recommendations, are made available on request to all schools in the scheme at a pre-arranged date after the final interviews. A list of the names and basic details of all applicants not shortlisted is also sent. The responsibility for contacting, interviewing and appointing these applicants then passes entirely to heads and governors of individual schools.

The secondary pool

Applicants wanting to work in high schools or in a specialist role in middle schools are interviewed on a subject basis. Shortlisting and interviewing for each subject is the responsibility of a panel consisting of a high school headteacher, a middle school headteacher and the county adviser for the subject. Between eight and ten candidates in each subject are interviewed in the course of one day at a high school; and a further day might be allocated if there is a sufficient number of high quality candidates to justify it. The criteria used and the grades awarded are the same as for the primarymiddle pool. Interviews are not held in those subjects where there are insufficient applicants or expected vacancies to make them worth arranging.

In Suffolk we feel that these arrangements offer considerable benefits to all those who are in any way involved. All students benefit from having only one form to complete at a time when pressures of work are likely to be intense; and those called for interview have the opportunity to visit Suffolk schools and to receive interview practice and constructive feedback on their performance.

All schools benefit, but in different ways. Schools who have vacancies and need to draw on the pool are saved the cost of advertising and sending for references and find the interview notes provide valuable additional information, from colleagues whose judgment they trust, to inform their own shortlisting process. Headteachers and governors can then set up interviews and make appointments far more quickly than if they had to manage the entire process themselves.

The benefits to those schools without vacancies in a particular year are less immediate and tangible but no less important. These include the production and distribution of publicity material and attendance at recruitment fairs throughout the country, aimed at attracting high-quality candidates to the area.

The secondary pool arrangements offer a further benefit in that they enable the county's specialist subject advisers to make more efficient use of their time. Schools can, with confidence, interview students without the presence of a specialist adviser who has already seen these students in the pool interviews. Advisers are therefore able to work one day in one location instead of several days all over the county.

Ken Taylor is teacher recruitment officer for Suffolk County Council

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