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Headteacher recruitment is easy

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Headteacher recruitment is easy

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The Secret Governor may or may not be on your governing board. They may also continue to refer to it as a ‘governing body’, which may or may not be an attitude which Requires Improvement. They have indicated that this post represents a very personal opinion, with which you may dis/agree wholeheartedly.

Recruiting a headteacher is easy.

Just get your vision right, your advertising right, your interview right and finally your selection right – and you’re there.

OK – so not that easy. With half of heads looking to retire in the next ten years, fewer applicants for existing vacancies and deputies paid to a level that doesn’t always make the jump to headship a sensible move – all schools will likely go through what our school went through this last year.

At Christmas 2014, our headteacher announced that she was planning on retiring. This led to a swift series of meetings with the LA and school improvement partner, the creation of a recruitment pack, short-listing and interviews. Like many other schools, this was then repeated as we didn’t appoint – and finally the appointment of our new headteacher by May 2015.


Before we really got going we started with our vision for the school. It is something that we had gone through already – we still had two years left on our school development plan – but this was the right time to review it again. It’s critical to get this right early on, otherwise you won’t be sure which headteacher to pick from the amazing line-up of candidates at the end of the process (!). We thought about our school, and what our existing headteacher has brought to the school – then we thought about where we wanted our school to go.

Your recruitment pack needs to stand out from the crowd. Look for examples – ask your local authority or academy group for examples of best-practice.

  • Don’t take the best one and copy it – use a range and make yours work for your school.
  • Don’t use a Word template – everyone uses Word and a different design or font isn’t going to make any difference. Try using PowerPoint and saving as a PDF for ease of design. Or try a YouTube advert like this one:

    Either way, put it in as many free places as you can find, then use the social networks to push them out to as many people as possible.
  • If he or she is leaving on good terms, think about putting in a letter from your outgoing head. Quite often an applicant will wonder why the incumbent is leaving, and to be able to say that they are retiring and what they love about the school is a powerful thing.

A quick word on recruitment consultants – there are three schools of thought.

  1. Get them in early.
  2. Wait until you’ve failed to recruit once or twice.
  3. My preference: stay away.

One of the most important roles for governors is the recruitment of the headteacher. They’ll be the figurehead for the school and the one to drive your vision. If you need help, ask your LA for advice (if they still offer it), buy-in advice from School Improvement Partners or if you’ve been networking efficiently, speak to fellow governors at other schools that have just gone through this. To spend £50,000 recruiting a Headteacher is scandalous.

A short list?

Hopefully you’ll have a range of candidates for the role. By the time the applications are in, have a shortlisting form ready and score each candidate accordingly (make sure the copies of these scores, as well as any applications are retained by the school or LA). Do the shortlisting individually and bring the scores to the Headteacher recruitment committee. You’ll be surprised at how you agree on some areas, and then you only need to discuss the areas of disagreement. Shortlist three candidates if you have them, but don’t be afraid to interview one candidate if that is all you have. The challenge here is what to benchmark them against, but if you’ve done your shortlisting correctly, and have a clear idea of who you want – you’ll soon see if they are right for you.

In our instance, we went two rounds and a total of three applications before recruiting a new Headteacher. Our new Head was head and shoulders above the other candidates (pun unintended). We were lucky – our Head had been overseas and was returning home. He came with fresh ideas, full of research and a strong vision. Compared to candidates that came from the UK he was a breath of fresh air – one other candidate was very well qualified, but very wrong for our school; another had just left an academy and was a shell of her former self. I felt very sorry for the latter of the two candidates, she is one of a quarter of Headteachers to leave academies in 2014 and her confidence was shot.  Our new Headteacher has already made a huge impact on pupils, staff and parents. He was absolutely the right choice for our school and I’m glad of all the support the governors had in his recruitment.

Things to remember:

  • Although you’re relying on experts to help you with the educational side of recruitment, remember you bring skills to the party too. You need confidence you’re recruiting someone who can do the job, but you need to put your skills into making sure you get the best out of each candidate in the interview, and that you can work with them.
  • Remember on day two to ask ‘is there anything that you’d change about yesterday’s responses if you had the chance’ – this can be the most revealing answer of the day – it certainly was in our case.
  • Your job is to get the best candidate for the school – can you do more to attract the right person? It doesn’t have to be increasing the salary, it could be that your pack isn’t as attractive as it could be. Are you ‘selling’ the right aspects of your school?
  • Think very carefully about recruitment consultants.

Image: Oily Spiral 1970 by Robert Stromberg – licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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