You’ve spent hours sifting through hundreds of applications. You’ve gathered senior leaders for interviews. You’ve covered the costs of flights, visas and accommodation.
You daren’t think about the total cost of employing each person and bringing them to your international school. But your new teachers are here and the new academic year begins, full of hope and expectation.
At this point, things can go one of two ways. Hopefully your new recruits will arrive, exceed expectations and your students will come on leaps and bounds. But in some cases your new staff won’t last a month, or won’t show up at all, leaving your improvement plan in tatters.
These two scenarios demonstrate why recruitment is arguably the most important job an international leader has.
Usually, when recruiting locally, the teacher visits for the day, you observe a lesson, there’s a school tour, a series of interviews and everyone has a pretty good idea what they’re getting into.
When you’re recruiting for an international school this process is not feasible and the costs of getting it wrong are much higher, both for schools and the teacher.
Schools invest in flights, visas, accommodation and healthcare, while teachers are staking their income, their house, their children’s education on this job working out.
So, how do international school leaders minimise the chance of getting it wrong? Here are a few tips based on my experience:
1. The advertisement
The international advert has additional weight attached – you’re not just selling your school and its vision, but also the lifestyle in your city or country.
When drawing up the advert, the tendency is to oversell both; after all, you want to maximise the pool of applicants to choose from.
However, the advert has to be an honest, but positive, appraisal of your school and city. This will avoid disappointment later down the line.
I see adverts describing extraordinary facilities and a five-star lifestyle – sounds great. But when a teacher arrives and realises the accommodation is tiny and the salary doesn’t cover a taxi to the five-star hotels, they will begin to question the integrity of everything you say.
Be very specific in what you’re looking for: will you accept NQTs or do you want a minimum of five years' teaching experience? Do they need specific curriculum experience or are you willing to train them?
Where you place the advert also needs consideration. If you want British trained teachers there are lots of options, but if you need cheaper local hires, are there local websites where people look for jobs?
This can be tedious, especially when you get 200 applications for one job. Therefore, a points-based filtering process is a good approach – you can set your own criteria, but here are some areas to use when allocating points:
Qualifications and grades (A levels, bachelor's degree, master's degree, teaching qualifications, etc); teaching experience (years teaching or years of IBDP, etc); additional subjects (it’s handy to have flexible staff), ECAs and trips (what have they offered students?), pastoral care (homeroom tutors or university guidance?). The list can be as long as you want.
Then group applicants based on these points: Group A (definite interviews), Group B (potentials) and Group C (out of contention). This highlights key information and can be completed by HR to save you time.
3. The interview
Usually this will be via video conferencing – make sure you have IT support ready. It’s not a great advert for your school if you can’t manage a video call.
It’s good to get a variety of opinions, so include the head of department and an SLT member on the interview panel. A consistent set of questions helps compare candidates, but don’t be afraid to freestyle a little.
Take the opportunity to check on any comments and experience claimed in their application – can they expand on things, or is their knowledge superficial? Ask about their best lesson recently, this gives a good indication of how they will teach.
Once I’m satisfied they can teach, I’m looking for personality, the potential to fit the department – there's nothing worse than personality clashes. You must look at them as part of a team in your unique setting, not as an individual.
You must also take the opportunity to paint a realistic picture of your school and community: are the kids tough to deal with? Do you expect them to work weekends and evenings? If your school is not right for the candidate, you want to know now, not in September.
4. Clarify any questions
The interview is an opportunity to put any doubts to rest. Most unanswered questions following the application will turn out to be void of any genuine concern, but it’s better to ask.
Has the applicant moved regularly? Have they failed to list a referee from their current school? Did they leave some of the application form blank? Does this represent sloppiness or is there a problem they don’t want to divulge?
Do they seem nervous about the change and are they asking questions about every detail? New teachers will understandably be nervous before a big move, but do they seem proportionate or could they result in a no-show?
5. The follow-up
After the interview, it is important to do further checks before making an offer. It’s not always possible to see people teach when recruiting internationally, but you can ask for a video of them teaching – this can even be done at home.
Ask for observation forms from recent years, for planning and tracking documents. Ask for references, one of which must be the current school; having a bespoke reference form (a simple tick sheet with a comment box saves time for the referee) can give you the exact information you want.
Arguably the biggest concern for international school recruitment is safeguarding.
Safeguarding has to be present in all areas of your recruitment – the advert should reference your commitment to safeguarding, the interview should include safeguarding questions and referees must be required to comment on any concerns around safeguarding.
In addition, look for local police checks; ACRO checks can include any foreign criminal history disclosed to the UK government. Stating that these checks will be conducted in an advert will be enough to rescue problems further down the line.
7. The induction
Once the offer is accepted and formalities are agreed, the induction process begins.
People need to be reassured about the big move and regular communication is key to settling nerves. Share key policies, timetables, pictures and floorplans of accommodation and what furnishing there is. Provide some cultural books and perhaps language lessons.
Assign a staff buddy and share their email before the summer. Inform them about logistics, like unlocking phones before leaving, about social events on their arrival, the dress code for the first days in school, etc. Each year, meet with new recruits to reflect on how you can improve your induction.
Hopefully, with all these steps in place, you will end up with happy teachers and outstanding learning. Taking time to ensure you have a finely tuned recruitment process will save time, effort and money down the line.
Ian Thurston is head of secondary at Dar al Marefa School, Dubai, an IB continuum school for children aged 3-18