Short of using a crystal ball, there is no way to predict with absolute certainty how someone will perform on the job. The limitations of references are widely known and many excellent candidates cannot do themselves justice in an hour-long interview.
You can get a better insight into a candidate's strengths, and areas needing development, by building a range of activities into the recruitment process.
An "assessment centre" - where an employer asks a group of candidates to perform a range of tasks - should provide you with a challenging and fair process that examines the various skills and qualities outlined in your person specification.
Activities that are popular with senior leader appointments include: RAISEonline analysis, student panels, staff panels, observations of teaching, mini panels focused on key themes, learning walks, presentations, personality profile assessments, leading assemblies and, of course, the final interview.
This round of activities needs careful planning but, when completed, is extremely effective. The day may result in complete exhaustion for the candidates but the panel is left with a robust amount of information on which to base its recruitment decisions. Importantly, unsuccessful candidates can be given detailed feedback, providing them with a positive experience they can build on for future interviews.
The ability to analyse data is becoming ever more important. For example, you could give candidates a RAISEonline report (or part of it) and ask them to identify the salient points and suggest what strategies they would introduce to address the issues identified.
You could also put them in front of a student panel. It is intriguing to see how candidates interact with them. The students agree questions in advance and interview the candidates. Although this is a clear statement of the importance of pupil voice, they will not actually make the appointment. A panel member should be in the room to observe the activity and receive feedback from the students.
There are various personality profile assessment tests available that will give you an indication of a candidate's preferences and motivations. You do not de-select a candidate based on the result of these tests; however, they are a good opportunity to get to know the candidate a little better.
If you do have a staff panel exercise, it might involve the senior management team - but it should be representative of the entire staff and not only senior teachers. The head will have the deciding vote, but the aim should be to reach a consensus with the rest of the panel - otherwise why involve them?
All of the activities should be related to aspects of the role and rooted in the person specification. These assessment days are focused on the challenges that the successful candidate will face. By providing a range of activities, you build a body of evidence to give you the confidence to make an appointment. Having gone through such a rigorous process, the successful candidate will know that they deserve the job.
Aaron Ashton is a recruitment director at TES Prime, the leadership recruitment service, www.tesprime.com.