Internal bruising

31st October 1997 at 00:00
Jean Jameson wishes there was a more humane way to make inside appointments

If you drop something on your foot, you feel the blow, cope with the pain and wait for the bruise to develop a day or two later. Over time, it spreads into varying shades of black, blue, and yellow and its extent is often a surprise. An unsuccessful application for an internal appointment can also be a real blow and leave you feeling sore and bruised.

At first, you accept the decision with all the dignity you can muster. But as the bruise spreads, you brood on the possibilities. Internal politics, devious plans, sexist, ageist, racist attitudes, old grudges, preconceptions, points to be scored, ancient enmities and blatant professional jealousy can all play their part.

Last term we had a round of internal appointments at my school. By their nature, they are public events and the talk of the staffroom. Sometimes, someone runs a book on who will get what, but the winners are often outsiders, with favourites nowhere in sight. And when the decisions are seen as unfair or misguided, the staffroom cynics let loose and old prejudices between senior management and staff become reinforced. It can also be difficult for the unsuccessful to pick up their existing responsibilities with the same energy and commitment. They feel undervalued and rejected.

You know the rules when you apply for a job in another school - or outside teaching. You can dwell on your positive achievements and best attributes in your application, you can choose someone you respect as your referee and you generally don't know much about the competition. If you don't get an interview, it's up to you how many people know about your thwarted ambitions.And if you are not successful, you can drive away, convinced that the tall, silent one was the head's nephew, or it was all a set-up for the internal candidate.

Even if you are disappointed, the experience will have had some good points. An interview, particularly if it includes the ubiquitous presentation, gives you valuable, extra experience, the debriefing may be helpful for the next time, seeing another approach or way of organising systems may be useful back in your own school and it might have been a good lunch.

But the whole situation is different for internal appointments.

In our school, interviews for internal appointments usually take place after school to minimalise the need for cover. Candidates can either teach all day in their pie frill blouse and smart shoes, or rush to the loo to change when the bell goes. They congregate in the staffroom, where they try to draw breath and remember the points they intend to make - while colleagues passing through on their way home give them sympathetic or envious looks and comments.

The real crunch comes at the end, after the "agonisingly difficult choice" bit, when the head comes back to talk to the governors. I have experienced this as an unsucessful candidate and as an onlooker - and can see no reason for it. These people all live locally and could easily be contacted by telephone later that evening.

There is no need to put internal candidates through the stressful charade of beauty contests; of immediate congratulations to the winner from losers struggling to overcome their bitter disappointment. Hard enough for them the next morning, having to affect nonchalance in the face of the announcement in the staffroom.

There needs to be a written procedure for internal appointments, agreed by the governors and staffroom committee. Instead of references, each candidate could choose a "sponsor" from the senior staff.

The job description and person specification need to be clear enough to discourage inappropriate applications, so that all applicants can be given interviews. Arrangements and conditions for interviews need to be as good as for external appointments.

Perhaps the school's adviser or a neighbouring head could join the shortlisting and interviewing stages to act as an impartial voice - having one unfamiliar face in the interview room would make it easier for candidates to give formal presentations.

The telephone call to let each hopeful know the decision could offer a date, time and opportunity for debriefing for the unsuccessful, perhaps with the adviser or "sponsor". Debriefing should be seen as a positive staff development opportunity, not just a reinforcement of the feelings of rejection and failure you are already experiencing.

Jean Jameson lives in Clevedon, north Somerset

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