Joan Sallis answers your questions

15th July 2005 at 01:00
In the last year we have appointed two new deputy heads. In neither case were the procedures in my view entirely proper, or calculated to get the very best person for the job.

The original one was an internal promotion and although there were interviews, the head was asked to assure governors of the applicant's personal strengths, so had a considerable influence. This was the deputy who eventually, after a considerable period of sickness absence, chose to revert to class teacher status, and although her job was advertised (minimally), the teacher who had filled her role temporarily during her illness was appointed without any competitive interviews being considered necessary.

This last decision owed something to the fact that the job description was such as to make our internal candidate the obvious choice and this fact may well have deterred some likely candidates, as local heads were well aware of it. Those external candidates who nevertheless prepared detailed applications in good faith were not given the chance to demonstrate their quality in a competitive interview. Surely pupils' best interests would be served by competitive interviews?

I sympathise very much with your feelings and agree with the last sentence.

The two top jobs in schools call for considerable qualities of stamina, resilience, quick reactions and strategic thinking, and the interview is still the best way we know of demonstrating these qualities in a competitive situation. The need goes beyond what can be tested in a post at a lower level, as possibly your first appointee may have discovered, though where ill health is a factor, one must not assume this. So I would agree that the procedures you outline leave much to be desired.

At the same time, although it is clear that the Government intend both head and deputy jobs to be subject to a governors' decision and in open competition at interview following public advertisement, I am not sure that in the case of a deputy appointment, what you describe is sufficiently irregular to be challenged after the event. For instance, while it is quite clear from the regulations that the head's opinion should not be a factor in the appointment of his or her successor (this is how I interpret the regulation that he or she must not attend any meeting on the subject), you have to allow on common sense grounds that in the case of a deputy the head must be satisfied with the choice, and indeed legitimately his or her preference should play a strong part both in the person specification and the selection arrangements. What is lacking in your head's case seems to be the confidence to put that preference to the test of open competition.

You cannot be sure you are getting the best until you try and there is no doubt that what happened was not the accepted procedure. Whether much good would come of challenging the process after the event I am less sure, but if you still feel uneasy, your LEA (technically the employers in community schools although governors have all the functions of employers) is the best first agency to try it on. However, even where there have been irregularities in procedures, further damage may be caused by challenging them after the event.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 020 7782 3202, or see where answers will appear

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