The bonkers recruitment process

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After losing a candidate for his English position at the last minute, our headteacher diarist reflects on the crazy nature of the school recruitment process.

A strange thing occurred before the Easter holidays. On completion of an excellent, rigorous interview, the successful applicant for our crucial English position withdrew the day after accepting the position – she withdrew by email sent to my PA!

This is a first. After 10 years of headship I have never had a prospective colleague withdraw, have second thoughts or withdraw by email after their acceptance of a job. This has left the school with a number of unanswerable questions, and, after my initial rant, a number of concerns.

Of course, in the long-term it is essential that schools have committed staff who want to work here. Especially as, since the advent of controlled assessments, the English department is the most pressured in my school, full of concerned staff analysing marking data (when they used to eulogise over literary texts)!

However, in the short-term, her decision reneging on her final answer – “I want this job, am a firm candidate” – leaves the school with major concerns. The first is filling such a key position. We had gone through the prolonged recruitment process and paid the extortionate fee to advertise the position. A six-week process had got four applicants, which by the day had been reduced to two as desperate headteachers understandably moved to keep English staff at any price.

The interview was set prior to the Easter holidays to allow for a June start when we begin the new school timetable. An arduous day’s interviewing saw classes collapsed to allow for interviewees to teach, staff off timetable, governors off work, cup cakes and best coffee; we looked our best, I even smiled!

Therefore, ignoring the expense, disruption and considerable time involved, we are now unable to recruit for June and will have to make do – not a great start to the new timetable.

It is a “bonkers” recruitment system that does not allow staff movement. Australia has a fixed system that only allows movement at the end of the year. 

While I admire the philosophy that the teachers stay with their charges until the end of the course, I prefer the idea of fluid movement, with a month’s notice whatever the position; the key to proper recruitment.

Our second concern is that this has shaken our judgement. The bewildered lovely head of department could not believe the withdrawal. “She seemed so keen,” was just one of the comments, which was better than my cynical deputy who asked me what I had said or done!  

My summation is that we, I, did nothing wrong, but that she had probably been offered a promotion in her present school. Her current headteacher is oft-quoted as saying all is fair in love and recruitment.

We will never know for sure. The email communication was the final frustration: “Unable to take-up the post due to a change in personal circumstances”.

Communication is essential in our business and electronic communication, by its very nature, loses so much in tone, and interpretation. 

Let’s be honest, I would never have been happy with a withdrawal due to the recruitment timeline, but a brief conversation would have helped and might have aided the future interview process – and it would have stopped us wondering. 

The current situation leaves us raw and wary of recruiting staff from this school. Enough, I will ring her and we will move on. 

As my mum used to say to me after my early romantic mishaps – “forget it, it’s her loss”!

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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