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Swear to write down the whole truth

As I sit down in the witness box and swear on the Bible to tell the whole truth, the importance of following the school's staff recruitment policy really sinks in.

The school is facing an employment tribunal from a trainee teacher who says she has failed to get a permanent post in the English department because of racism. Suddenly, every note, letter and school policy statement assumes significance. But being in a typical busy school, not every note, letter and school policy document has been written or filed properly. There is a detailed policy on recruiting teachers but it is soon clear that we have failed to follow it scrupulously.

My two-hour interrogation goes over what I did and said over a year ago. I genuinely cannot remember some of the conversations and actions that have assumed such importance now but were just routine interchanges at the time.

It is our headteacher, not me, who is really in the dock. She is grilled over her recruitment policy and her actions, for the best part of a day. It is quite clear that recruitment has in some ways been a bit sloppy, but the three judges dig around to find out whether this was due to organisational cock-up or underlying institutional or personal racism.

I know the truth is cock-up! At the time an English teacher had unexpectedly resigned and the head appointed the best available trainee to the permanent position. This had coincided with our complainant making a pig's ear of her teaching practice and refusing to respond to the training and advice she was given.

But were the school procedures for recruiting staff followed? Was the training given to the complainant, documented, with targets set and monitored? There was no proper paper trail, even though the dialogue did take place. Were the questions and responses each candidate made kept after the job interview? No, they did not get filed.

Despite organisational inefficiency, the school won its case and the tribunal accepted that there had been no racism. But it cost thousands of pounds in legal fees as well as scores of teacher and senior management hours in the witness box.

There is an overall lesson to be learned. Do things by the book and to the absolute letter when you recruit. Be sure to test your decisions explicitly against equal opportunities policy and keep a written record of that process. When a person is disappointed in failing to get a job, you want your recruitment process to be utterly transparent.

Sue Potts is a senior manager in an inner-city school in London.Leader with a gripe? We pay for all 400-word Sounding Offs we can use. Email

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