An end to the interview hell

31st March 2000 at 01:00
School governors are developing more sophisticated ways of appointing staff. Calling all candidates at the same time, making them wait while the others are interviewed and then wait again for the final judgment is almost unique toeducation. It surprises, even shocks, people from business.

One successful headteacher, who began in industry, clearly remembers being told the way things were done in schools. "It seemed brutal," he said. Certainly, fewer head or deputy head posts are being filled in this way and the change could filter down the staffing chain.

For headships, there is a legal reason why it may not be possible to make an appointment on the day. Although the selection will be made by a panel of governors, the appointment must be ratified by the whole governing body.

This legal hold-up is not required for other posts, but some governing bodies realise that it has positive advantages and are extending the practice. For candidates, it avoids the agonies of polite conversation and gut-wrenching anticipation every time the waiting room door opens.

But one advantage of the sudden-death approach is that everyone knows where they stand: no one leaves wondering how well they did or wait anxiously by the phone. Governors and the successful candidate can also enjoy a few minutes of congratulatory euphoria together and, like mother and child, start bonding.

But this is a limited gain compared with the problems the current process creates. First, there is the pressure on governors to reach a decision. Knowing that people they have been closely involved with for a day ar waiting nearby can make cool reflection difficult.

Having time to reflect may be vital to a positive outcome. Interviews can exhaust governors. One chairman, whose panel deliberated until nearly 10pm and then decided not to appoint a head, admitted that tiredness had played its part. "If we'd adjourned to the next day," she said, "we would all have felt happier with the outcome, and might have made an appointment."

Another reason for not deciding quickly is that there are more comprehensive approaches to appointing staff: personality profiling, assessment centres, group dynamic activities and micro-teaching sessions.

Interpreting all this evidence takes time. Clear winners don't necessarily emerge from these procedures because they help to produce a much more detailed picture of a candidates' relative strengths and weaknesses. Taking away the urgency to reach a decision allows governors to make better use of the information.

For headship appointments, the time candidates are given to look over the school is separate from the interviews. These can be at fixed times, allowing the candidates to focus on what they are going to say without the distraction of nearby competitors and releasing governors from the need to make a decision rapidly.

This won't prevent the staff from running an informal book on the winner, nor the people in the school office from thinking their choice is bound to be the right one.

But it does mean that the way staff are appointed is beginning to match the drive for improved standards evident in so many other aspects of schools.

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