When asked which of their errors causes the most regret after the event, the vast majority of school leaders will give the same answer: getting a staff appointment wrong.
Hiring the wrong person can be disruptive and damaging. Putting it right can be a painful, complicated and costly process. So getting a staff appointment right - or at least reducing the odds of getting it wrong - is crucial. The following tips should go some way towards helping you to avoid errors.
Start weeding out potentially unsuitable candidates before the applications have even been received. How you frame the advertisement can ensure that you receive applications only from the right type of person. Be upfront about the importance of extracurricular activities in the life of the school. If you describe the place as one where staff are always trying something new then cynics, or those who regard teaching simply as a means of earning a living, will be put off.
Another ploy is staff recommendations. Whenever a post needs filling, ask staff to let anyone they think would suit the role know that the job is available. The hope is that good teachers will be acquainted with other good teachers, or could spot them on courses, school visits or in social situations.
This is a useful way of expanding the number of applicants to pick from, and of getting to know more about a candidate. Another way of doing this is to link with teacher training programmes that place students in schools for teaching experience. Many schools have these relationships to thank for a steady stream of high-quality teachers - the recruiter gets an extended view of the candidates' teaching practice, which can be much more useful than an interview.
Another benefit of the teacher having already taught in the school is that, when they take up the job, they know what to expect in terms of how the school is run and the environment in which they will be working. These things can sometimes come as a surprise, and any incompatibility can render what seemed an excellent prospect a disastrous appointment.
This is why many leaders encourage applicants to visit the school before applying for a position. One principal, who adopts this technique, explains that "it often saves a lot of time", and that sometimes it reveals that the candidate is definitely one to shortlist.
One thing that principals should note is that modern human resources legislation demands systematic and fair recruitment, and requires the choice of shortlist and successful candidate to be evidentially justifiable. No longer can you decide not to shortlist someone because you don't like the look of them. This is one of the reasons why shortlisting should never be a task for one person. Other reasons are that an alternative view is valuable and recruitment can be a good development opportunity for your colleagues.
At interview, a tour of the school can be useful as interviewers can ask the candidate to critique the school. A good tactic here is to put up an inappropriate display panel to see if any of the candidates notice. Another idea is to get students involved in the process, giving their views. Questions can be designed to ascertain what candidates have actually done to back up their claims of what should be done.
Even if you follow all these steps, you will never know for sure whether the person you employ will be successful. However, if you follow them and read sound expert advice, you should stand a better chance of not making a mistake.
This is an edited version of the chapter "S is for Staff Appointments" from The A-Z of School Improvement by David Woods and Tim Brighouse. TES subscribers can claim a 20 per cent discount by using the code GLR 8RW at www.bloomsbury.comeducation