School Management Update: More than the job's worth

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Once life was very simple. A teacher would find promotion or retire and all the head had to do was contact the education authority and everything was organised. Equal opportunities, advertisements, recruitment policy; these were somebody else's problem. Today the situation is more complex.

The first and most important step has to be to attract a strong field. Personnel experts regard this stage as crucial. "Job applicants and employers who do not spell out what they expect from each other are like house-buyers who buy without a survey and then discover that their new home has dry rot and subsidence," said the human resources manager at a large engineering company.

The TES sampled the information that schools sent out for posts advertised in a single issue in June, at the end of the most competitive recruitment period when more than 4,000 jobs can appear each week. All replied to the request for information within 10 days.

Some schools send out mountains of information; some very little. One school in Hornchurch, Essex, treated the request as an application and acknowledged it accordingly. A school in Shropshire had an advertisement which gave no address or contact number - although it still managed to appoint within the required time.

The quality of the information sent varied enormously. Most schools nowadays have a brochure and many included this. But, if the brochure is aimed at parents who know the school or locality, it may give applicants little to go on.

A school in Milton Keynes provided a 23-page copy of the governors' annual report, but only a 10-line summary of the head of department post advertised - no description of the responsibilities of the post and no information on the personal qualities required. One in five schools offered neither a job description nor a personalspecification.

For headships the situation was slightly better, but here the demand for detailed information about the school is likely to be greater. Preparing such an application takes a great deal of time. One deputy told me that she usually spent the whole weekend preparing an application and that she wouldn't waste her time on schools that sent out inadequate information.

It is surprising to see that more than half the schools sent no exam results and that only 45 per cent of those who had been inspected sent the Office for Standards in Education report or summary. Financial information is crucial to prospective heads, yet few schools sent details about their budgets.

Steve Harrison, the senior adviser with Lancashire County Council, argues that selection is a two-way process. "It's essentially looking to provide the candidate with as much information as possible." Lancashire's personnel handbook recommends the use of both person specifications and job descriptions. "They provide essential information to the governing body. It doesn't necessarily generate a higher number of applicants, but it does generate a better field."

One of the more detailed information packs came from the Macmillan City Technology College in Middlesbrough, where personnel issues are handled by the director of administration, John McCallum. He argued that the college brochure was a marketing tool in the widest sense of the word.

"It's not just aimed at parents: we have to market ourselves to industry and to potential job applicants." The college has no application form and does not send a person specification or a job description. "I get a better feel from a CV and a letter. There's more possibility of an individual approach."

Ann Mullins, headteacher at Highbury Fields School in London, has recently written a guide to recruitment and selection. She argues that schools need to think ahead about recruitment and avoid putting documentation together at the last minute. She also believes that job descriptions and person specifications are important. "They define a common set of criteria needed for a shortlist ... it does not promote equal opportunities if candidates do not know what the selection criteria are."

A number of schools were concerned about the cost of the recruitment process - more than #163;1, 000 to find and appoint a new teacher. But postage is one of the smallerelements in the bill.

Getting it wrong can be expensive. Failing to appoint a candidate will mean that the entire procedure has be repeated, usually in a shortened timescale. If this means you miss the half-term deadline for resignations, a temporary arrangement may also have to be made.

Appointing the wrong candidate will be even more serious. Apart from the disruption and loss to reputation that could follow, there is the possibility that candidates rejected unfairly could take action through industrial tribunals.

z Managing Staff Appointments by Ann Mullins,#163;7.50 from the Secondary Headteachers' Association, 130 Regent Road, Leicester LE1 7PG

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