New rules for the board

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
Legislation is set to change how headteachers are appointed. One mum argues the current process is shallow and it is crucial parents are involved

I have been a member of my local school board for six years. The school is a medium-sized secondary with a catchment encompassing areas of priority treatment.

When my daughter was moving from P7 to S1, we considered sending her out of the area to a school where students were less challenging, but her arguments to remain with her friends prevailed.

Our fears were confirmed and both my children would have gained Credit level 1 at Standard grade in streetwise. But my daughter left at the end of fifth year with a set of Highers that would have brought a glow to the headteacher of the most prestigious school and my son continues to do well.

The reason for this was a headteacher who was as hard as nails, not afraid to call a spade a f**** shovel, ruled with a rod of iron and cared deeply and passionately that every child was given every opportunity to achieve, while motivating and supporting a dedicated staff.

So it was with some dismay that we heard the headteacher was to retire at the end of last session.

School board members have been required to sit on interview panels for various school appointments but I had never done so. This time, however, I was to be one of the interviewing panel for the new head. Eighteen people applied for the position, and the three school board members who were to be on the panel met with the staff manager from the education authority.

We were briefly shown the application forms. A grid had been made up, names down the side, qualities and experience across the top and so the information had been lifted from each form.

From this the authority had selected 10 candidates and given each a half-hour interview. Again a grid had been constructed and by comparing one with another, five had been selected for final interview. A week before the interview, we received copies of the application forms of the five people.

These were forms of self-praise, all got on well with pupils and parents, every initiative they had ever been involved with had been successful and they were all eminently suitable for the post. But nothing was substantiated. The forms did not allow for personal details, so we knew little about them apart from what they did in school.

On the day, each candidate gave a prepared 10-minute presentation on continuing improvement. Then each member of the interview panel asked a question. The panel included a headteacher, an elected representative and the staff manager from the local authority. The questions asked were bland and predictable - inclusion, discipline, management skills and parental involvement.

Afterwards, we discussed each candidate, eliminating as we went and finally arrived at the successful one. The procedures we followed, I am sure, were correct. But did we pick the right one?

I don't know, and this is what is worrying me. Are two half-hour interviews sufficient to select a headteacher for a job which allows no trial period? What bearing does being able to regurgitate the current dogma have on the ability to run a school?

I would have liked to see each candidate confronted by a disaffected teenager or a parent whose only articulacy is with his fists, or to see how they encouraged and supported staff.

I think each candidate should have been thoroughly questioned about their application form, to determine why he or she thought they were so successful or good at handling youngsters.

Should members of the school board be on the panel? Yes, we are the only people who know the school through the children and know the area in which the school operates.

Did we make the right choice? I don't know. Only time will tell.

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