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Roll out the red carpet

What sort of welcome do you offer? First impressions are vital - for pupils, parents and for staff. Gerald Haigh helps you adjust your image

Here's a story, just slightly changed to protect identities. A new local adviser went to visit a primary school. The head was out, so the secretary put him in the staffroom to wait...

Then the bell rang and the staff came in for their break. They sat, presumably in their usual places, all around the adviser, holding animated conversations among themselves while ignoring him completely. For 15 minutes, he stared fixedly ahead, thinking: "If it's like this for me, what might it be like for someone who's come for a job interview?" If you're trying to persuade good people to come and teach with you and for you, it's important to start by knowing your school - in the sense that you can see it as it is perceived by visitors, parents, children and most importantly by applicants for teaching posts. Let's look for a moment at any possible contrasts between a head's vision and the ground-level reality as experienced by a job applicant.

You say your school has excellent community links, but why is it that when a job applicant called in for a paper nearby and to ask for directions, the newsagent snorted and made a derogatory remark about the behaviour of your pupils?

Solution: never stop working to win the confidence and support of local businesses. They're potentially powerful and influential. Take complaints seriously, and win them over with invitations and letters of thanks.

You pride yourself on the friendly, caring attitude of your staff, so why do people who ring for information about the school meet with a cool response from someone who gives the bare minimum and clearly just wants callers off the phone as quickly as possible?

Solution: if you believe that your school is warm, friendly and caring, then make sure that the people who answer the phone and your receptionists reflect that. Many excellent people are not really suited to "front of house" and perhaps you'll have to shuffle your office jobs around a little.

You believe that your school has traditional values - good formal discipline, strong rules about uniform backed up by a regime of detentions and exclusions. You insist on quiet and conforming behaviour in class, on corridors and in the dining room. So why is it that last term you recruited someone who has turned out to be running a highly liberal, non-confrontational regime. He's successful in class, and the children like him, but his frustration with the regime is leading him to look for a new job.

In a recent radio discussion, a psychotherapist said: "Ideology is what's on the outside. What matters is flexibility inside." That's true of schools and the people who work in them. In this case, the teacher and the people who run the school need to find the flexibility that will enable them to work together. Good leadership implies that school management will make the first move.

What's really important to you about your school? Is it the trappings of discipline and order that come between you and this colleague? Or respect for pupils and the promotion of good learning in the classroom, which are values that you share? Recruitment that's not followed up by retention can be worse than no recruitment at all.

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