Heads taught to spot bad apples

In mock interviews, actors play the role of candidates with a dodgy past

Actors are pretending to be "dodgy" job applicants in a scheme to show headteachers and governors how to spot those who might pose a risk to children.

The workshops have been organised by Buckinghamshire county council in response to heightened concerns about child protection after the inquiry into the Soham murders and a row earlier this year over convicted sex offenders working in schools.

Headteachers and governors who take part in the sessions are first shown a short drama by actors, in which a head and a department head disagree about the suitability of two teachers they have interviewed. Buckinghamshire council's personnel officers then give them tips on running structured interviews and scrutinising job applications.

The school staff finally take part in a simulation in which they examine applications from five candidates played by the actors, shortlist three of them and give them 15-minute interviews. Each of the characters has details from their past which they are unwilling to discuss, including one who had a relationship with a pupil, and another who was the subject of an internal investigation at a previous school.

The safe recruitment and selection in schools programme was developed by Buckinghamshire council in conjunction with Steps Drama, a training company specialising in work-based role-plays.

Simon Thomson, an actor and a director of Steps Drama, said that a fictional character he plays, Lee, has gaps in his employment history which he initially claims were caused by his mother's death, but were actually related to stress and irritable bowel syndrome.

"Some interviewers might change the subject and feel embarassed the moment I mention that my mother died," he said.

"We try to encourage them to get past comments like that, which can be smokescreens, but to be sensitive at the same time."

The project has been run with more than 150 heads and governors in Buckinghamshire and is to be repeated for other primary and secondary schools in the authority this term.

The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations expressed concern this week that builders and other contractors working in schools might be evading criminal checks. But the Department for Education and Skills said unchecked builders did not have access to children without supervision, and new guidance would encourage heads to carry out checks on contractors where they felt it was necessary.


* Prepare a broad line of questions, but listen carefully to the answers and ask as many follow-up questions as you need.

* Use the full range of question styles. Try to keep questions as open as possible to start with (ask "Could you tell us about that gap in employment?" rather than "What did you do in that time?"). Then ask more specific questions, down to the point of yes or no answers, when you want to confirm details.

* Do not be afraid to ask about matters which the interviewee appears to be uncomfortable discussing, where necessary. But be sensitive - this is an interview, not an interrogation.

* Trust your instinct and the hints you pick up from the candidate's body languge to help decide if you need to ask further questions on a particular subject.

* Never make assumptions.

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