Eight months into a new role, and over a year since I applied for it, it’s now safe for me to talk about the bizarre business of applying for jobs in the school system. At a time where recruitment is repeatedly in the headlines, it strikes me that schools should try to get things right to recruit the best candidates.
The system is already filled with difficulties that complicate matters. The need for teachers in classrooms leaves us with the odd situation of fixed resignation dates. Teachers wanting to start a new job in September need to have something lined up this month; if not, they’re stuck in post until Christmas. Compared to a fairly common four-week notice period in other jobs, seven months can seem excessive – but it’s necessary.
There is much, though, that isn’t. For a start, there’s the over-the-top use of adjectives in the adverts. What is the aim of posting an advert saying you’re looking for “an inspirational and outstanding practitioner”? Is that meant to provide some sort of self-selection process? I don’t imagine there are many teachers looking at such adverts thinking it’s not for them because they they’re not inspirational. Or do they sometimes post adverts for “adequate and moderately interesting teachers”?
Should a teacher decide that they are sufficiently inspiring to go any further, then the application pack is often filled with more meaningless superlatives. But the meat of the matter should be in the job description and person specification documents. It’s amazing how many schools I once ruled out on the basis of these documents. A quick trawl through the current adverts on tes.com will soon show some similar examples.
In one case, I found a person specification that ran to three pages. How can that ever be useful? Often, candidates are required to show how they meet the criteria from the person specification in a maximum of two pages. If the employing school can’t even manage that with the criteria, then what hope is there? That rather suggests that not much thought has really gone into the shortlisting process.
Then there’s the criteria themselves. I know headteachers are busy, but there are too many cases of criteria that contradict themselves or simply could never be evidenced. Even now there are examples of schools claiming that they’re looking for a teacher with up-to-date knowledge of the curriculum, but who also ask for confidence in using the literacy framework – a strategy that’s over 10 years old and very closely linked to the old curriculum. It seems that the requirement to be up-to-date didn’t apply to the person specification.
If, by chance, a candidate attempts to squeeze evidence of all these many criteria in their two pages, then one has to wonder what evidence they are supposed to provide. If the criterion is to “inspire respect”, what can you possibly write in a letter of application to demonstrate that? Perhaps short-listers will decide whether they feel inspired once they’ve finished reading?
I get it: time is short and leaders are busy, but the whole purpose of the person specification is to ensure that applications help you to shortlist. If you’re not prepared to put a bit of time into drafting the advert paperwork, then inevitably it will be harder to shortlist the right candidates. You even risk losing the best person for the job.
Or maybe for some leaders the skills they’re looking for most are resilience in perseverance, in which case, maybe making the application process as difficult as possible is the way to go.
Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979