Cold reception for outsiders

8th August 2003 at 01:00
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You've just landed the job you always wanted, but how do you deal with the failed internal candidate you pipped at the post? Phil Revell reports

It was the dream job. Head of geography in a solidly performing comprehensive - and on the Solent. "I'm a yachtsman so the location is ideal," says Andrew Harness. "It's a two-hour trip from London, but now the boat is just 10 minutes away."

There was no hint of trouble at the interview. Mr Harness felt he'd done well and wasn't surprised to be offered the job. He'd said he'd like to do some sailing with pupils, an activity the head and governors were clearly keen on.

"Problems started in the first departmental meeting when we discussed responsibilities," he says. "Pete, who'd been an internal candidate for the job, refused to talk about it, saying he had too much to do. The clear implication was that I was getting paid for the job, so I should do it all."

Pete was almost a fixture at the school, having been first a pupil, then a teacher. Mr Harness, now his boss, was keen to look at ways of using ICT in lessons. "We are moving towards whole-school assessment and reporting using ICT. This is one of my strengths and at interview the head said the department was well behind on ICT. You can see why. Pete is a Luddite. At every meeting he raises endless objections."

On Merseyside, Sara Field faced a more personal attack. "I'm a special needs co-ordinator in a primary school," she explains. "We got involved in a government initiative. There was money for a new post promoting mentoring and community approaches to attendance."

Ms Field's head saw this as an opportunity to restructure her senior management team, with Ms Field in the dual role. But, after a previous problem with an unadvertised promotion, the school decided to advertise the new job. "It was explicit that this was a job for senior management," explains Ms Field. "But a younger teacher on the main scale decided to apply. Sure enough, I got the job. I said, 'No hard feelings,' and he said, 'It really hurts. I'd be much better at it than you.'" Initially, Ms Field put this down to disappointment on the day, until an end of term party a few months later. "He laid into me," she recalls. "He said 'You can't do the job. No one likes you.' I thought, 'I don't need this'. I was shaken."

Trevor Arrowsmith, a trainer on the National College for School Leadership's programme for serving headteachers, believes heads can avoid these problems by following some simple precepts. He argues that heads have to establish clear benchmarks - and give a detailed debrief when an internal candidate goes for a job and isn't appointed.

But what happens when the victim is the head - and the stab in the back comes from a long-serving deputy who isn't up to the job?

The head of one Yorkshire comprehensive had resigned at short notice and the school had been unable to appoint a successor. A deputy, Richard Green, ran the school for a year as acting head. The governors advertised twice more. Each time Mr Green applied, and each time the governors decided the applicants weren't strong enough. "I applied on the third round," says Angela Wakeman. "When I got the job, I spoke to him and we went for a drink. He was angry and bitter about the situation. But the chair of governors told me they had no intention of appointing him."

The local authority told Ms Wakeman that the interview process had been flawed because the teacher representative on the panel had been reporting back to Mr Green what had been said. When Ms Wakeman tried to contact the school before taking up her post, no one was ever available to speak to her, and nobody rang back.

In his year in control, Mr Green had moved the entire leadership team up the pay scale, which the school could ill-afford. "Last autumn, I recommended that they shouldn't move up another point," explains Ms Wakeman. "He appealed: he thought points should go through on the nod. My view is that we have to use this as a reward for teachers' performance.

Those who aren't effective need to know. He was vitriolic about the decision, but the governors backed me.

"The people he line-manages are a constant source of conflict because they support him. I'm trying to work with him, but he isn't doing his job the way I want him to."

None of these situations has been fully resolved. Ms Wakeman is trying to persuade her deputy to take early retirement. Sara Field has had an apology for her colleague's outburst, but working relationships remain strained.

Andrew Harness is thinking about moving on. "After a year of this I am at the end of my tether," he says. "I've spoken to the head, but Pete is a good classroom teacher. There's no way any competence proceedings would get off the ground. At the moment, I feel the only answer is to leave."

All personal details have been changed

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