Recruitment: Chemistry, character and trust

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Educating Greater Manchester’s Drew Povey explains to Liam Donnison how chemistry, character and trust plays a part in the recruitment and retention of teachers

The chemistry of a successful school can be seen in all its glory in Educating Greater Manchester, the Channel 4 fly-on-wall documentary series about life at Harrop Fold School.

It is there in the details, in the countless interactions that happen in any typical school day. It is in the way a teacher listens to a pupil’s problems or in how a teacher skilfully guides a student towards that moment of understanding in the classroom. It can be seen in the humour and camaraderie between staff on display in meetings, in hallways, on the playground or in the staffroom.

Of course that chemistry wouldn’t exist if leaders didn’t find and appoint the right staff – and then support, develop and trust them so that they can make a long-term contribution towards the success of the school.

Drew Povey, executive headteacher at Harrop Fold School for the past nine years, explained the approach that he and his team take to the recruitment of staff and their retention.

Character and chemistry

Character is the key quality that Mr Povey and his team look for when they recruit new teachers: “Because of the nature of the school and what we’ve been through (we were the worst in country at one stage with the worse debt) it doesn’t really make sense on paper to work at Harrop,” he explained.

“Very often schools just look at skills and techniques – competence – when they decide on who to employ but we decided not to make competence the key priority. We wanted character. If we bring the right characters into the school then we are more likely to retain them over time.”

Mr Povey says that character is one of the “three Cs” along with competence and chemistry. He continued: “Will they fit into the team culture that we have in that faculty and the school? We always want people who come here who would be happy to admit mistakes.

“We ask them in interviews about the last time they made a mistake and what they did about it. You find out a lot about character and personality when you ask a question like that. Lots of leaders in education and other sectors hadn’t heard that question before in interview situations.”

Chemistry is about fitting in with the immediate and the whole team, Mr Povey added. “Schools often think they hold all power on recruitment and they don’t,” he said. “Our interview approach is about professional dialogue and finding the right fit. It stops the interview being about point scoring and more about ‘here’s what I really think and is the match right for us both?’”

Mr Povey says this process has a remarkably high success rate when it comes to retention: “We have around a 90 per cent success rate and we will know within a few weeks if the fit is not right.

“Very often it’s a conversation that we have. Not about them being better or worse, it’s just different. If fit is not right we will help them to move to a more suitable post. We come up with the right solution for the school and the individual.”

Always put people first

Harrop Fold has a firm focus on leadership succession: “We are always looking ahead – the best organisations do. All but one of our senior team came from the middle level leadership team and every middle leader has come from the teaching pool of the staff. We’ve got six teachers that work here that were trained as teachers and stayed through, as well as 10 members of staff that were former students at Harrop Fold.”

The leadership succession strategy – Mr Povey calls it “people first” – forms part of a wider approach to professional development that is designed to keep staff at the school.

“Our professional development is very key to making sure that people develop through the school,” he said. “If we help them develop through then why would they want to leave? We lose less than two-and-a-half per cent of our staff every year which, for the type of school we are and in the position we have been, is a very low turnover of staff – because people want to be here.”

Harrop will bring people in at senior levels if needed but their preferred approach is to grow their own: “There can be some positives in bringing in ideas from outside but we ask our staff to look outside at research so those ideas should be coming in anyway.”

Leadership legs

Another key element is giving staff the space to get their leadership legs. Mr Povey explained: “Staff want four things in their working lives: they need to feel part of something; they need to feel safe in their job so that they can try things and not be chastised; they need to feel valued; they need to feel in control of what is happening around them.

“Our job as leaders is to give people the opportunity to step up and do something. With the changing workforce at the moment people do not always want money. They want the opportunity to try something and move their careers on. We have a lot of development roles. We ask middle leaders to encourage that within their staff. For example, they might give a teacher in their department the opportunity to take on a data management role. This will give them the experience they need to apply for a higher level role.”

Own your CPD

The climate at Harrop means that every member of staff is expected to engage in – to “own” – their professional development. “You couldn’t be at Harrop and not develop,” Mr Povey continued. “You would be carried along or stand out so much like a sore thumb that you would have to leave. The best cultures are about everyone developing within it.”
As well as actively engaging with CPD opportunities at Harrop there’s a strong emphasis on staff doing their own self-directed research and inquiry.

“We have a huge onus on staff getting out there and finding out for themselves,” Mr Povey said. “It’s so easy to find information today. You can go on one social media site now and pick up lots of amazing ideas in a very short period of time.

“Ninety per cent of teachers want to improve but the biggest challenge for me is being smart with the timetable so that we can accommodate their CPD. We’re exploring the possibility of starting the school day an hour later once a week so that staff can have an hour of CPD every week.”

  • Liam Donnison is managing director of Best Practice Network, a DfE-licensed provider of National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) for school leaders. Mr Povey’s reflections on professional development, recruitment and retention form part of the new NPQs developed and delivered by Outstanding Leaders Partnership in partnership with Best Practice Network. More information at


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