Teaching is a strange profession with foibles that we all get used to. In fact, for many teachers, it’s all they’ve ever known. For example, choosing the date of your holiday is a complete fantasy, much like the idea of 13 weeks’ freedom is to those outside the profession.
Recruitment is one of those areas where teaching is not like the real world. For a start, nobody else begins to worry in May that if they don’t find a new post soon, they’ll be tied in till Christmas. Perhaps for those on multi-million pound salaries there are longer notice periods but for normal folk – the “unfortunates” as I like to call them – four weeks is pretty standard. Four months would seem extreme, let alone seven.
It’s made all the more strange that, at interview, you’ll likely be expected to decide on the spot whether to accept a job offer. Elsewhere, it’s not unheard of for people to wait days – even weeks – after an interview for an offer.
Having recently been appointed to a new post, I’ve had lots of experience over the past nine months of exploring job opportunities, and I can’t help but think we as a profession have got one or two more things wrong.
Let’s start with the advert. Of course you want an “enthusiastic, dedicated professional”; can’t we take that as read? Or do heads imagine that there are potential applicants ruling themselves out owing to lack of enthusiasm? Ditto “dynamic” or that over-used word “committed” (unless you are, in fact, looking for someone used to the confines of an asylum).
Load of rubbish
Then there’s the application form. I’m all in favour of templates, although it would be better if we could get one standardised example. Perhaps then we could consign the “are you a member of the GTC?” question to the bin – a question that authorities are finding it hard to let go of five years after the GTC’s demise.
Once the box-filling is done, it’s on to the more daunting personal statement. A good applicant will use the person specification to focus their thinking but, again, school leaders can foil us. It’s amazing how many insist that teachers summarise their skills and experience on two sides of A4, but can’t manage to keep their specification to the same length. What hope has a teacher of explaining how they meet three pages of criteria on a single sheet of paper?
It wouldn’t be so bad if schools were clear about what they were looking for. Do heads really scour personal statements for evidence that a candidate has “a positive mindset” or “high levels of professional integrity”?
Perhaps the interview day is the easiest of the many hurdles: most applicants can prepare for teaching a lesson. But how many fall at the first hurdle? More importantly for school leaders, how many good teachers are put off applying to your school? Because, believe me, an unhelpful application pack is the first hint that a school’s leadership team doesn’t have a clear direction. And first impressions work both ways.
Michael Tidd is deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire