Panels, cut the flannel;Talkback

Nigel Grant

Nigel Grant asks why teachers often get a such raw deal at interviews, and offers ideas for improvement.

Why are some teaching interviews so poor? Although many heads, senior staff and governors are decent and welcoming, others could do better.

My own experiences highlight some of the problems applicants face. At interview for my first post, at a Sussex comprehensive, I asked about A-level work. The interviewer said a high-flier taught it, and the school needed "a good hack". After the interview, the head peered round the door, said no appointment had been made, and left. He never entered the room.

Another Sussex school was upset when I said I had to leave immediately after the interview, and could they phone me? I heard no more. Yet another panel asked if I wanted the job, but were offended when I asked for time to consider it. Space to think, standard in business, should be part of common practice in schools.

I applied for promotion to a Kent comprehensive. Only at interview did the head reveal that the school was on two far-flung sites and the chance of A-level teaching was remote. The head of department admitted there was no A-level work as the school had no sixth form. I left.

My interview to become second in department at a north London Anglican comprehensive was odd, with only perfunctory questions. Later, a member of staff quietly said I stood no chance of being appointed as I am not white. I was given facile reasons for rejection and shown out by the chairman of governors, the vicar of the neighbouring church, who said I would not have liked the area anyway, because of all the Jews and the blacks.

I became head of English at a Kent secondary following the previous incumbent's appointment to an advisership. Only then did I find the tenure was uncertain. I decided to withdraw as I could have been left with no permanent position. The head never replied to my letter. Some honesty would have prevented all the trouble.

I was recently shortlisted for head of English at a Catholic comprehensive in south London. I was left in a corridor with three dusty publicity albums. The advertisement said the post carried four incentive points. But at interview the head said it carried only three - the fourth being for "marketing". To be fair, this had been mentioned in a job description - a single sentence in a document of three A4 pages.

We were shown around the school, but not the library or stockroom. Just before the first interview, we were invited to buy a sandwich or hot meal if we wanted a lunch, and taken to the staffroom, where the first candidate had to wolf down her food.

The English staff inspected us from a corner - the second in department had met us, but made no introductions. The other man and I decided to waste no further time. Although we had withdrawn, we were surprised the school offered no expenses - pound;15 would have covered our combined costs. One of my referees later said the school had written asking for an urgent reply, but had enclosed no SAE.

To help remedy this situation, schools should:

* abandon application forms as they take forever to complete, especially if the candidate is applying for several posts. Use the Department for Education and Employment's standard CV * start interviews quickly after a brief tour and a chance to meet relevant staff. One school I know interviews only after the chairman of governors has had lunch at home * offer drinks, lunch and use of a phone * release candidates after their interviews. Some teachers will face long journeys and will have to teach the next morning * thank the candidates. See them courteously off the premises. Give them expenses forms early on * allow the preferred candidate some time to decide * be honest. We all know the one about four unsuccessful candidates who, during a consolatory drink, found they were all second.

Many schools I've visited have left shoddy impressions, treating candidates with scant respect and lagging far behind good business practice when it comes to presenting themselves to potential new staff. Do they do the same for prospective pupils and their parents?

Nigel Grant is acting head of English at John Fisher RC School, Chatham, Kent.

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