It's always fascinating to compare the reality with what's written on an application form. Caroline turned up in what looked like carpet sliders

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
It's always fascinating to compare the reality with what's written on an application form. Caroline turned up in what looked like carpet slippers;People;Features arts

School secretaries, or administrative officers as they're now called, are crucial to a school's success. Appoint a bad one and they can cock everything up with alarming speed.

Doreen, who'd served us well for many years, was retiring and we needed to appoint a replacement. Fortunately, we had the ideal person to hand. Sandra was a classroom support assistant, adept with any age group. She had the right qualifications, excellent relationships with everyone and was efficient with parents and paperwork. She had a delightful sense of humour and was keen to do the job. What more could you ask?

At the next governors' meeting, I suggested we wouldn't find a better person, and that we should appoint her. Everybody agreed except Melvyn, who doesn't come to many meetings, and when he does, he's late. He's on the personnel committee, and he said it was important that we followed the rules by advertising and interviewing. Other governors nodded, so we discussed dates for the committee to meet. Unfortunately, Melvyn couldn't make any of them, but he said it was fine for us to go ahead without him.

We spent an evening drawing up an eye-catching advertisement, and I phoned the local paper to see how much a couple of insertions would cost.

Horrified at the price, I reduced it to one, which was fortunate, because the phone didn't stop ringing for two weeks after it appeared. I asked Melvyn if he'd like to help me draw up a job description, but unfortunately he was busy that day. By the end of the week I'd printed, packaged and posted 73 application forms and detailed job descriptions. It took a great deal of time to go through the applications and give them the attention they deserved. I'd asked Melvyn to help, but unfortunately he was busy, so I divided them between the remaining three of us. Some were weeded out quickly; two years as a swimming pool attendant was not quite the experience I was looking for, and a spell as a bookie's assistant didn't really light my fire. But eventually I shortlisted half a dozen from my pile. Then it was back to the other committee members to see what they'd come up with. I didn't get much school work done that week.

Nine applicants (more postage, stamps, phone calls) were invited in. It's always fascinating to compare the reality with what's written on an application form. I hadn't bargained for Caroline turning up in what looked suspiciously like carpet slippers, and Deirdre may have been nervous, but after half an hour of being unable to get a word in edgeways I felt I'd been verbally ravaged. By the time I'd shown the last woman round the school I'd forgotten what the first one looked like, but after another long evening with the personnel committee we managed to whittle the applicants down to five. Plus Sandra.

On to the interview, and by now my wife was getting used to the idea of eating alone. I'd hoped Melvyn would be available for the interviewing panel, but unfortunately he was very busy that week. On a rainy evening, all the candidates turned up in their Sunday best, ready to convince us that salary was the last thing on their minds, because they knew how cash-strapped schools were. All six smiled a great deal and said how wonderful they thought children were. Particularly Sandra.

By 10.30 that night, it was all over. What did the committee decide? Yes, we appointed Sandra. I didn't even bother telling Melvyn... Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.


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