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A governor's tale of the long hunt for a headteacher

Amid a recruitment crisis, a primary school governor finds that if at first you don't succeed in finding the perfect candidate, try, try, try, try and try again...

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Amid a recruitment crisis, a primary school governor finds that if at first you don't succeed in finding the perfect candidate, try, try, try, try and try again...

One year doesn’t seem like a long time until you break it down into minutes (525,600, as any mathematician or Rent aficionado will tell you). Then it seems impossibly long – even more so if you consider the number of seconds. But if you want a year to feel almost unbearably unending, I’d suggest that you try to recruit a headteacher.

I’ve been a primary governor for some years now, but have never had to recruit a head before. I assumed it would be like any other job: we’d advertise, we’d get lots of CVs, we’d shortlist and then we’d interview. Sorted in a month. Poor, naive past me.

I first got an inkling that things might not be all plain sailing at my safer recruitment training. For secondary heads, our trainer said, you could expect up to 50 applications first time around. For primary? “If you even get one, count yourself lucky. If you get more than three, go and do cartwheels in the playground.”

She was right. Boy, was she right. In eight cycles of advertising, we received four applicants. Not each time: four applicants in total. Of those, only two were worth interviewing. One of the others had flat-out lied about his school data – not even the school-only RAISEonline stuff, the available-to-any-idiot-with-internet-access Ofsted Data Dashboard stuff – which seemed like a waste of both his and our time.

All the while, I had other parents stopping me in the playground, furtively asking me what was going on – genially at first, with slight desperation after the first six months and downright rudely by the end. Which, I suppose, is fair enough (albeit annoying). If the governing body was a duck, the parents could see the gentle, seemingly unbothered glide across the pond, but not the feverish panicked paddling underneath.

And then, the interviews. This is what I learned from the two interviews I did:

  1. They are LONG. Very long. Like, Apprentice long. Ours was an entire school day, and included an assembly, a lesson observation, a data exercise, a presentation (with PowerPoint), a further presentation (sans PowerPoint), a meeting-the-staff lunch, a meeting-the-school-council biscuit session and an interview. All that was missing was getting them to go into London and make a profit on a box of tat we’d found in the art cupboard (which, given what’s about to happen to school budgets, might actually be a useful skill to have).
  2. You will be knackered by the end. So will the candidate, but they get to escape and go have a large glass of gin after their bit. You have to stay and dissect the day, without gin.
  3. Because you are all knackered, someone will forget that they’re supposed to be a governor and ask a completely left-field, irrelevant question that will tell you nothing about the candidate, but leave you worried about who you’re sat on a governing body with.
  4. Children like everyone. The school council meeting is effectively pointless. The most useful feedback we got on one candidate was, “I like that he likes football.” The most useful feedback we got on the other candidate was, “She has nice hair.” We went with the hair.
  5. There will be biscuits. At the start of the day, nobody will eat the biscuits out of some misplaced sense of politeness. By the end, governors will be elbowing each other in the face in a feral attempt to claim the last bourbon.
  6. You have to hold your nerve: if the person isn’t right for the school (even if they’re wonderful and super and you’d like to have them round for dinner), if you’re not excited, with zero reservations, at the prospect of having them as your headteacher, you have to say no.
  7. The interview is last, by necessity, but that means that you’re not likely to decide for certain if they’re the right leader for your school until the very end of the day.
  8. If the interview goes badly, you are left knackered, slightly grumpy and your school is still without a headteacher. This is not a happy feeling. 
  9. If the interview goes badly, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will bump into a fellow parent on the way home, who will ask you questions about how it went, even after you tell them you can’t tell them anything.
  10. You will get there. In the end. And it will be worth it.  

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