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Matters Arising

Many people have experienced the sensation of reading in a newspaper about an event they witnessed and wondering whether the writer was watching the same thing. "A magical theatrical triumph", when you were bored stiff; "a very even match", when your team hammered the opposition.

I had that feeling when I read in The TES (September 30) about a headship interview I had attended as a candidate. The writer, another candidate, criticised the school, the staff, the retiring head, fellow candidates and, most hurtfully in my opinion, the governors. The headline was "A job-lot of amateurs".

Governors are amateurs, but amateurs who generally work very hard, care about children, education and the school, want to learn more and, like the rest of us in education, try to do six jobs at once while trying to learn another three. This is the nature of an underfunded service undergoing a dramatic shift in its management and organisation. However, this does not take away the fact that the writer saw a completely different event to the one I attended.

Why was it not mentioned, for example, that the interview was held at the beginning of a new academic year? All teachers at this time of year are still putting up displays and evaluating their classes. The teachers in this school were friendly and helpful but, quite naturally, nervous about a group of "important" strangers wandering about the school so early on in a new term. On this basis, was it fair to draw any conclusions about their teaching methods or the environment of the school?

The governors were nervous as well, but anyone with interviewing experience knows that nerves can be found on both sides of the table. What was not mentioned was their friendliness, enthusiasm for the school and the considerable amount of work they had already done to get the day right.

I cannot remember any governor "delving into bags for prepared questions" but I do remember quite clearly discussing with governors "high standards of education" and that "children matter". Maybe the writer forgot that interviews are a two-way process and it is just as important for candidates to express their views clearly. I also talked about development planning, finance, teaching styles and my previous experience, things he suggested were ignored.

To describe fellow candidates as unsuitable is offensive. I found everyone to be friendly and full of good ideas about the post. And since when has a Birmingham accent been "northern"?

As interviews in education go, it was par for the course. Everyone knows that working schools are not the best places for these events, particularly when space is at a premium. Discussions about the process with local authority representatives always takes time and often needs reorganisation when a candidate does not turn up, as happened in this case. Was this mentioned? No.

And it is not very often that a chair of governors makes time to come and speak to all candidates personally when decisions are being made about who will go through to the second stage.

Education interviews are not brilliant, but this is not the fault of governors, schools or local authorities. We all operate within the demands of the system. It is the height of arrogance to suggest that only those within the teaching profession can make decisions about appointments.

Carry on the good work, governors. Considering the burdens that have been placed on your shoulders you are doing excellent jobs. I wonder if the "reporter" would have been so critical if he had been the successful candidate? Maybe a career in journalism would be more suitable.

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