18th September 2009 at 01:00
Ours is a National Challenge school and a number of high-ranking teachers have left. We want to recruit a new head with experience in change management. How should we go about it

First, turn your focus internally in order to truly understand your needs. Only then can you look externally and find the right person for the role, the school and its community.

Discuss the context of your situation, possibly with professional input from your National Challenge adviser. This is a tough process so don't be afraid to ask tough questions. For example, why has the staffing structure suffered? Will the new head need to address this issue? Analyse events over recent years and how they might influence your future.

It may be easier to structure this discussion in three parts. First, look at historical problems and achievements. Next, examine your current situation to establish what works and what does not. Finally, look at where you want to be and how you will get there with direction from the new head. This will set the context, define your needs and shape your key priorities from the outset.

You can then draft a job description and person specification that outlines the kind of person who can make your vision a reality. Key priorities and required competencies also need to be spelt out when drafting an advert. And don't be afraid to pitch the role as challenging. This way you will attract candidates who are looking for a role that enables them to make a difference.

Remember that the best candidates may not be looking to move jobs. You could work with an agency to conduct a targeted search for someone who has worked, and had success, in similar environments. A search campaign will also obtain relevant referrals from other successful leaders.

Proactively manage your campaign - it is a good idea to establish regular communication with applicants throughout the process. By doing this you can nurture the strong candidates to apply, answer their questions to overcome barriers to applying, and likewise they can find out more about the job. This is an effective way of identifying who is best suited to the role. Background research is also essential. Look at inspection reports and attainment data to find out what impact candidates have had in their current and previous roles. This will help to substantiate statements in their application forms.

Think about designing activities as part of the final interview to assess key criteria and qualities. For example, in the context of a National Challenge school, a walk around the campus may enable candidates to analyse the quality of teaching and learning. Given your National Challenge status, you would expect them to visit your maths and English departments. Alternatively, candidates could lead a group discussion with a cross-section of the school community allowing you to observe how they interact with different people. This is a tough job. Do not be afraid to make the day intensive to test how each candidate would cope with such a high-pressured role.

Edward Clark is recruitment director for TES Prime, the school leadership recruitment service: www.tesprime.com. If you have a dilemma for one of our experts, email features@tes.co.uk.

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