Get a head in the process

27th July 2007 at 01:00
After three interviews, an assessment and giving a presentation on the role of the job, my recently graduated 22-year-old daughter has achieved full employment status as a recruitment consultant. The starting salary is approximately the same as for a newly qualified teacher.

A young man I know who works for a Speyside distillery in a middle management position had to jump through hoops to get his job, including participating in a group role-play exercise.

What do you have to do to become a headteacher in Scotland, on a salary of up to about pound;76,000, apart from following the traditional route of principal teacher and then deputy head? What complex human resource techniques are employed to separate the leaders from the followers?

It would appear that there is little uniformity across the local authorities when it comes to recruiting and appointing headteachers. Some councils have a long leet and a short leet, others just a short leet. A short presentation is required in some. Usually, a headteacher is appointed on the strength of a 40 minute interview. This is crazily inadequate.

One of the weaknesses in the system is that the people doing the interviewing often have no such formal training. Education officers generally come from a background of teaching or community education, and elected representatives and parental representatives are a mixture of all and sundry. Professionally trained personnel staff may give the whole process a nod and a wink but, largely, there is no such person on the interviewing panel to spot a trailblazer of a headteacher.

To give an employer the best chance of picking out a quality candidate, much more is required than just an interview. After all, people can spend hours preparing, possibly being coached. The questions asked of candidates are drearily predictable and easily prepared in advance. A formal presentation can be rehearsed to perfection.

Indeed, reading The TESS internet staffroom messages convinces me even if you take the difficult-to-please factor into account that many schools are short changed by their head. Increasingly, the complaints hover around a lack of intellectual rigour and a failure to be democratic.

Quite apart from the obvious qualities of a sharp brain and leadership, a head needs authenticity, approachability and acumen for dealing with people. Remember, too, that a person may be qualified to be a headteacher in terms of qualifications and experience but may not be ready for the job at that point in time. Appointing individuals to these top positions before they are ready means they will make a hash of it.

We need a much more rigorous selection process. Local authorities should throw out the old procedures and adopt modern practices for selecting these very important individuals. Professional human resources personnel should be integral to the process from start to finish. Psychometric testing, group role-play and on-the-spot dealing with problem scenarios are possibilities.

In some organisations, prospective chief executives have to take a staff meeting as part of the recruitment exercise. Other firms ask candidates to attend an informal party at which they meet and mingle with the staff they could be responsible for.

We need to do much more, otherwise incompetent contenders waiting in the wings will continue to take centre stage to the detriment of our schools.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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