You just can't find the staff these days...;Career development;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
... unless you make an effort at every stage of the recruitment process, says Jean Alder.

It's not easy to attract good teachers these days. In a buyer's market, potential recruits are armed with recent OFSTED reports and a wealth of undercover intelligence about schools to help them decide which posts to bother applying for and which to reject.

At first sight, my small 11-16 school does not look like a good prospect for ambitious teachers. We have some of the lowest examination results in our local "league", attract a high proportion of pupils with statements and serve a local authority housing estate where expectations of education are limited by parental experience.

Because we are under-subscribed, we also attract a number of pupils excluded from other schools, or those persuaded to try a "fresh start" to avoid exclusion. But in order to implement an ambitious post-OFSTED action plan, I needed to recruit a number of enthusiastic and creative teachers who could raise pupils' performance. Recognising the challenge, I set about a recruitment "campaign".

I began the campaign early. The first ads appeared in late January for September. They had to convey the opportunities for innovation and advancement at the school and had to reach the right people, so we spent a lot of time ensuring they were clear and informative. Recruiting staff is an investment, and although we had a sizeable budget deficit, we did not compromise on the size of the advertisements.

Our information packs included a personal letter. This gave me the opportunity to "sell" the school and make clear what teachers would gain by coming to work with us. I invited potential applicants to visit or to ring for a chat. Many did so, and I saw or spoke to them all personally.

I am sure that such a level of personal involvement not only spoke volumes about the style of the school, but also attracted enough applicants to ensure we had good shortlists to interview.

The interview day is important - after all the preparation you don't want to lose your best candidate because he or she feels unwelcome.

A pack of information about the day, introducing those members of staff who would be involved, was available on arrival, and I greeted the applicants for senior posts - sometimes with the chairman of governors. This is an ideal chance to set the tone for the appointment and another opportunity to sell the school.

Our staff are friendly and welcoming, but it helps if they are kept fully informed about the interview process and who the applicants are. Their involvement in the process, including the final interview, helps create the right impression for candidates and builds a sense of commitment to the appointee.

The traditional half-hour interview is a notoriously unreliable tool for getting to know candidates and judge how they might perform in your school. I have built lesson observation into the process - something which is especially helpful with practical subjects. In addition to the extra information you can gain from candidates, it also provides another opportunity for the department to concentrate on what constitutes good teaching.

Some of the govenors may be inexperienced at interviewing, so it is vital they are thoroughly prepared. It is also worth giving some thought to the final stages - how to tell candidates of the result and the arrangements for debriefing, for example. At the end of a long and tiring day, you don't want to embark on a lengthy discussion about who will do what and where.

Successful recruiting depends on thorough preparation, the earliest possible start, the active participation of appropriate staff and governors - and an understanding that applicants pick schools before we get the chance to choose them.

Jean Alder is head of The Turnpike School, Newbury, Berkshire.

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