Post impressions;Briefing;School Management

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Big advertisements are not always more effective and don't ask for an SAE - it makes your school seem mean. John Howson on the tricky job of finding a new head.

This year around 5,000 adverts will appear in The TES for heads and deputy posts. Some schools, mostly Group 5 secondaries, the second largest schools, will receive requests for an application form from more than 200 people. At the other end of the scale, a few schools won't receive a single application.

Since the purpose of the advert is to attract the right candidate, a few simple points are worth considering. My suggestions have developed from more than a decade of monitoring the adverts in The TES and nearly four years of analysing questionnaires sent by the National Association of Head Teachers to schools advertising senior staff posts.

If it is true that what sells a house is location, location and location, then it is equally true that geography and house prices play an important role in determining how many applications a school will receive. Remote locations and areas with high house prices will prove less attractive unless there are special reasons why teachers would want to move to such areas. The growth of dual-career families has made relocating more problematic.

Local management of finances means that many schools can not afford the tax-free relocation allowances that are common in many parts of the private sector. Only in a very few cases do local authorities seem able to help staff out from central funds. This is a real problem in London and parts of the South-east.

What should an advert contain? With an increasing number of authorities offering a central service, it is easy to assume that they know the best way of marketing any vacancy. This may not always be the case. It always pays to check: one post was advertised recently without even the name of the school being included in the advert.

Applicants do like to know how many pupils are on roll and, in primary schools, the size of any nursery class, and whether the pupils are full or part-time.

On the vexed question of salary, saying nothing is not a good idea since candidates may wonder whether the school has a budget problem.

In the same way, merely putting in the salary range for the grade, a common device among church schools, is not a good idea unless the whole of the range is actually available. Such adverts might attract a candidate looking for a post at the upper end of the scale who does not reveal this until the end of the final interview, thus wasting time all round.

There is no evidence that larger adverts work any better than smaller ones but they do provide an opportunity to sell the school in a way that may interest candidates looking for a new post.

Until the National Professional Qualification for Headship becomes mandatory, heads and governors will still only have a fuzzy idea of who might want to apply for a post at their school. Just listing the name, address, group size and a pay band does not attract the interest of an increasingly discerning labour force. It is not just parents who read performance tables and reports by the Office for Standards in Education.

Do remember that there is a natural cycle to the school year that still affects recruitment to senior posts. A leading grant-maintained selective school once advertised for a head in July despite advice to the governors to wait until September. Not surprisingly they had to readvertise.

Church schools often face problems since diocesan tardiness can sometimes slow the process, causing these schools to be at the back of the queue. Indeed, the date of a governors' meeting to authorise an advert can be critical. It is better to act quickly but appropriately. If a school is using the local authority or other outside help, it should check how well that help understands market conditions before spending a significant sum on recruitment.

Finally, only ask applicants for a stamped addressed envelope if you are very certain of a good response. Not only does it smack of meanness but it also could put off the candidate you really want. Most schools only advertise one post but most applicants apply for many such positions. They may choose to ignore yours in favour of another one without this requirement.

* John Howson is an education analyst with a wide experience of the labour market for senior staff in schools.

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