'Plug me in and hire me'
At a click of the mouse a woman's face appears on screen. "Hello. My name is Rebecca Kirkman. I'm an Australian citizen," she says. "I'm here on a working holiday visa. I have a bachelor of arts from the University of Queensland, I majored in French, German and Russian, then I did a postgraduate diploma in educationI" After her brief introduction, you can choose to hear more about her teaching experience or personal interests: "I'm mad about movies, mad about music. Basically, I will give anything a go," she says.
At first sight it may look like an online dating agency, but this is Talking CV - a new recruitment service for schools.
It was developed initially to help recruit overseas teachers, who perhaps could not afford a speculative trip to the UK to seek work. And it gives headteachers a chance to see and hear prospective candidates before they come for interview.
"With international teachers, it's very difficult for schools to get a grip on what they're buying into," says Jane Mercer, managing director of MSM, an education recruitment consultancy which offers the service. "Some schools have had really bad experiences with international teachers because they haven't had enough information before making the appointment.
"Because we were focusing very much on international teachers, we felt it necessary to offer far more than: 'Here's the teacher, here's the work permit - here they come.'"
How does it work? Prospective candidates are videoed giving a five-minute presentation about themselves. This is filmed either at the firm's offices in Wimbledon or MSM travels to film teachers overseas. They are guided through the filming process step-by-step, and if they don't like their performance they can re-record it. "Most people do find it an alien experience," says Jane Mercer. "But out of 1,200 teachers we've profiled, we've only had three people refuse to video."
The presentation can then be accessed on the internet with a password, or sent to a school on CD. The video profile comes alongside the teacher's written curriculum vitae and consists of five mini-clips, each a minute long. Candidates introduce themselves, and then talk about their teaching area and experience, a positive experience they have had teaching, problem-solving and personal interests.
"We can screen and filter the candidates coming through to us and then publish the best ones," says Ms Mercer. "We can then advise overseas teachers whether it's worth their while making a visit over here for interviews."
She admits that some schools are initially put off by the technology.
"We've had some old-school headteachers who from the outset said: 'No, we're not interested in that - we recruit looking at CVs. That's all we're interested in.'
"When you're trying to describe a product like this, some people just mentally block - 'I don't quite get it, therefore I don't want it.' " But the technology, she insists, is simple to use and accessible for any PC with a conventional modem.
But how is it for the teacher on the other end of the camera? Jenny Ferguson is a 37-year-old art teacher from New Zealand working at King Edmund school, Rochford, in Essex.
"To start with it put me off, but then they were very reassuring," she says. "They have a separate little area and you're just on a webcam.
"Questions come up and you can start whenever you're ready. Some are really good questions and made you think about certain aspects of your teaching.
"It's almost so logical it's ridiculous. With modern technology, why hasn't this been thought of sooner? It was so easy to do and so direct. It creates an instant visual. There's no way you can get that from a CV or a photograph.
"I think it's giving the employer what they need to see in a quick bite.
And it also gives the teacher a chance to say: 'This is who I am, this is what inspires me, this is how I deal with these situations.' " But is Talking CV a mere gimmick, an add-on offered by a recruitment company? Or is it the future of teacher recruitment?
Jane Mercer of MSM believes it could solve teacher shortages by speeding up and easing the recruitment process, for home-grown teachers as well as those from abroad. But she insists it should never be seen as a substitute for an interview.
"In our travels we find that there are some eminently well-qualified teachers who have good classroom control, but don't have the funds or resources to get here.
"Some have applied and applied through the internet, through various agencies and have not received replies or have not been selected. And our screening and filtering processes are pretty tight.
"There is no shortage of teachers - it is a case of putting into place processes that schools believe in."
And what do schools themselves think? Peter Thomas, deputy head of Uxbridge high school, Middlesex, used the service to find a science teacher. "I was able to go home and use it at my leisure, instead of rushing around during the normal school day," he says.
"And you can get some sort of idea as to the candidate. Certainly, if you want to get some sort of impression as to the liveliness of the character and possible commitment, I would say it helps in the sifting process.
"So it provides a little bit of extra that an ordinary CV doesn't. But I wouldn't rely on it 100 per cent - because who knows what sort of acting skills people may have?"
MSM 20 Beulah Road, Wimbledon, London SW19 3SB. Tel 0208 543 8899; www.mercershawmatthews.co.uk