Under the grill

11th April 2014 at 01:00

A colleague who is applying for jobs has just rung me in despair: the latest application form she's been sent is 17 pages long. Maybe that's par for the course if you want to be director general of the BBC, run the Bank of England or head up a flagship academy chain, but when you just want to teach kids that it's i before e, except after c, it seems like a waste of time.

Anecdotal evidence from other job-hunting colleagues suggests that application forms have been growing longer and longer over the past few years. These protracted documents appear to be a by-product of the new academy freedoms. When local authorities were in charge, application forms were tiny because the parks and recreation department had blown the photocopying budget on leaflets for the Britain in Bloom competition. You used to have to squeeze your entire CV into a text box the size of a coaster. Now you have to complete a 20-page exposition detailing how you're a perfect match for the school's core values, its person specification and the colour scheme in its hall. Many schools also demand an additional 1,500-word covering letter, which candidates get around by rehashing the stuff from the 20 sides of A4, and inserting a quote from Martin Luther King and some synonyms for the word outstanding.

And that's not the end of it. If you're lucky enough to make it to interview, you have to embark on a pedagogical decathlon. Typically, you have to analyse data, teach Year 8, declare "I'd talk to the child protection officer" after the relevant prompt, then eat a sandwich from the candidates' buffet without dripping mayonnaise on your lapel. Finally, there's that terrible X Factor moment after lunch when you find out if you've made it through to the final four. It's truly harrowing.

There's no doubt that this deters people from trying. I know several excellent schools that have advertised for key management posts and received only a handful of applications. But there are things we can do to make the application process less daunting. I've just been through it myself and the lovely school I applied to used a sensibly short application form that didn't take the greater part of 2013 to complete. On the day of the interview, we were supplied with plates of home-made biscuits and even the gruelling interviews were made bearable by the inclusion of a working lunch with some friendly students whose attention was divided equally between asking probing questions and stuffing down chips. All in all, a much more human experience.

Choosing the right candidate for a teaching post doesn't necessarily require psychometric tests, novel-length application forms and SAS assault courses over piles of enemy data. Simple, sensible and straightforward, that's what we need. I'd just put all the candidates in the staffroom next to a sink full of dirty mugs and employ the first one covered in suds.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham

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