How to handle the weird world of teacher recruitment

Coming to education from another job, Haili Hughes was surprised by the intense interview process. And she’s not alone

Haili Hughes

An Interview Waiting Room With No Candidates

It feels like you can’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV without being confronted by the latest grim statistics about teacher recruitment and retention. 

Extensive research has been done about the reasons for the crisis, with the Department for Education spending millions on publicity campaigns to attract new teachers to the profession. 

Yet one thing that is rarely explored is the impact of the recruitment process itself on the number of potential applicants being put off from entering the classroom.

Quick read: Return-to-work blues? Become a teacher, says charity

Quick listen: The truth about mental health in schools

Want to know more? The ‘12-year old headteacher’ saving her school

Before I became a teacher I was a national newspaper journalist, a profession in which job interviews are very stressful and high-pressured. But even by the standards I was used to, teacher recruitment seems to be quite intense.

I asked EduTwitter to share experiences and some of the responses were simply shocking.

One of the key aspects of a teaching interview is the lesson, where it is common practice for candidates to be given a brief before the interview, so they can prepare something to showcase their skills. 

But it seems that schools are increasingly surprising candidates by informing them of what they will need to teach on the day – sometimes only five minutes before the lesson begins.

If you have been teaching for a number of years, there are probably lessons that you could call upon from your resource bank; no doubt you would be experienced enough to cobble together something together. However, this kind of incident may put NQTs or early-career teachers off.

Sound of silence

Another teacher had a job interview in their training year and was given a Year 11 class to teach. Not a single student spoke during the whole lesson and no one answered questions when asked.

It turned out that they were told not to, to see how he would react and deal with the situation. I can’t imagine any other profession doing this to new staff.

Even more bizarrely, another candidate was told prior to the interview that there would be no observed lesson. However, on the day, she was informed that she had to lecture a random class on her life, without any notes or technology. 

Throughout the lecture, the head sat at the back on his phone. She (luckily, in my opinion) didn't get the position because she was not “pantomime” enough in her delivery.

Subject knowledge strangeness

Clearly, subject knowledge is very important and should shine through in any interview. But teachers have recounted experiences about schools using increasingly odd methods to test applicants’ subject knowledge. 

One Twitter user told me that, during an interview day, she had been told to complete part of the AQA Paper 2 English Literature GCSE in timed conditions. This was then marked and the results and misconceptions were fed back to her during her formal interview, like she was a student. 

Another teacher was asked to do an A-level paper and felt rightly quite insulted that her grade A at A level, MChem and PhD in chemistry weren't quite enough to convince the school that her subject knowledge was up to scratch.

For senior leadership positions, it seems only fair that the interview process should include tasks that encompass the candidate's wider skill set. However, some of the stories I was told seemed very excessive.

One teacher, who was applying for a deputy head position, was asked to give three presentations, lead three group discussions, teach, lead an assembly, attend a cheese and wine evening with staff and have an interview with 16 governors.

She got the job but now states that she would never do this to a candidate.

Role with it

It seems that some headteachers just love a role play. I have experienced scenario-style question-and-answer sessions myself during interview, but some school leaders have taken this to a different level. 

During one interview, one teacher was subjected to a mock staffroom scenario with other candidates, where the head walked in and screamed “Ofsted are on their way!” The candidates were then observed on their actions…

Unfortunately, it also seems that schools are sometimes using interviews as a chance to pocket heaps of free resources. 

One Twitter user told of their experience, where one of the tasks for the day was to plan a 10-week intervention for students, with each week’s worth of lessons detailed for a group of looked-after children in maths. 

The interviewers then collected it in just before telling people who made it to the afternoon and who was going home. Therefore, they got 11 free intervention plans that had no bearing on the candidate’s interview success.

When reading experiences like these, it seems obvious that the way we are recruiting teachers could be a major factor not only in the recruitment of teachers but also their retention.

I am lucky enough to be happy at my current school, but if I were looking to apply for jobs, stories like this would make me consider vacancies in other fields.

A fairer approach

So, what can schools do to make their recruitment processes less frightening and more fair?

First, sending key information about the lesson candidates need to teach in a timely manner would cause a lot less stress. How do schools expect to observe quality first teaching when candidates have not had the chance to plan properly?

All headteachers would expect their staff to plan lessons in advance and not just rock up to the classroom, so surprising people like this is just incredibly unrealistic.

Another idea might be to give interviewees the questions they will be asked in advance, so that they can properly prepare for the formal stage. It seems that some schools have already started to do this, which is a real positive.

Finally, schools should realise that somebody’s ability to not have a breakdown when faced with surprise challenges in the stressful environment of an interview does not necessarily make them an excellent teacher. 

They should practise what they preach about children and look at a candidate more holistically.

Perhaps, then, we can begin to make this rewarding, amazing profession attractive again and attract some brilliant new teachers into the greatest career there is. 

Haili Hughes is an English teacher at Saddleworth School in Oldham, Greater Manchester. She tweets @HughesHaili 

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories