Opinion

Recruitment Expert Annie Natarajan’s Guide To Selecting The Right School Teacher Post COVID

Annie Natarajan
Recruitment Expert Annie Natarajan’s Guide To Selecting The Right School Teacher Post COVID

‘And of course, they’ll need a PHD.' I found myself looking puzzled at the school's HR lead as we discussed a job description and person specification for their vacant Head of Senior school post. As a School Development Consultant, I assist schools with everything from restructuring teams to coaching to recruitment. As a consultant, you are in the privileged position of being able to challenge a school to think outside of its norms. I frequently warn potential clients ‘I will tell you what you need to know, which may not be what you want to hear.' My role is to get the organisation to where they want to be, and that usually means them reflecting on current practice, and moving it in a different direction or changing it entirely. That reflection can be painful for some, and for others, a liberating experience that takes a school to the next level of its journey.

So, back to my colleague who wanted a PhD as an ‘essential’ item on the Education section of the Person Specification. After much discussion, he admitted that as a school, they had always looked for PhD graduates for senior posts as they felt it was an indicator of the candidates’ intellectual capacity. Many support staff, such as this HR Manager, do not have backgrounds in the classroom, so it is often the default position to think that the more qualifications someone has, or the longer they have been in an institution, the likelihood is that they will be a ‘better’ candidate.

Loading The Dice In Your School's Favour

The reality is that higher academic qualifications are no indicator of an individual’s capacity to teach or indeed to lead. M.Eds and PhDs are certainly an indicator of someone’s intellectual capacity, commitment to continuing to learn or of subject knowledge, but they aren’t evidence of someone’s skill to inspire a group of Class 12s or an ability to lead a team to greater heights. Similarly, tenure is often valued over capacity or capability. Given the school in question wanted to improve its exam results, we agreed that a PhD would be ‘desirable’ rather than ‘essential.' The school eventually did appoint a candidate with a PhD, but more importantly, the candidate was an incredible leader who was able to inspire the team to really begin to develop their teaching and learning, and with that, of course, raise Class 12 results.

There is no magic bullet to recruitment. There are certain non-negotiable facts such as safeguarding & background checks and accurate job descriptions, but apart from these, how you recruit is dependent on your school's needs, your mission, vision and values, and brutally, your budgetary constraints! COVID-19 has thrown in its own challenges to schools and recruitment (alongside the evergreen challenge of finding quality candidates) is another area such as online learning that will need institutions to really reflect on what best practice will look like. Whether you need a Class 1 teacher, a Principal or even a CEO, always consider the following comments and questions when looking to recruit:

1. When a school loses a much-loved or respected member of staff, the first instinct is to jump to recruiting a replacement. An expected resignation at the end of a session is a great opportunity for a school to take stock of how a section or department is functioning and perhaps look to change things or indeed a confirmation that how things are working is fine. Mid-session resignations can be more tricky, but an interim appointment can give you breathing space to consider how things may look in the following academic year.

2. Job Description/Person Specification: If recruiting is deemed, the next wise step is to review the Job Description (what duties this role requires) and Person Specification (the experience and education needed for the role). Education and especially Board and curriculum requirements change frequently. Often candidates tell me they are left hanging after interviewing, not knowing whether they have been successful. Before posting the advertisement, it’s a good idea to agree on a timeline and stick to it! More than one school I know have lost out on great candidates or had to postpone their joining because of lack of timely communication. 

Consider the following questions: 

  • Do we need this post? Do we have internal candidates who could fill it?
  • Are the current Job Description and Person Specification ‘fit for purpose?'
  • What kind of experiences does the candidate need to have? Or, is this role suitable for a new entrant as well?
  • Where will we advertise? Locally? Newspapers? Websites?
  • What's our timeline to complete the process?
  • What does that look like? Onsite interviews? Psychometric tests? Think process rather than people.

3. The Interview: So, you have a fresh pile of applications on your desk. What next? How you whittle down that pile can be a challenge in itself. It is rare to find a candidate who meets every single part of your Job Description and Person Specification. My rule of thumb is that anyone who meets around 80% of it is probably worth looking at seriously. Prior to COVID-19, I would always suggest meeting candidates in person and with teaching roles, seeing a demonstration lesson. When asked about recruitment Abha Adams, well-known educationalist, told me ‘Seeing the person in the flesh is essential. You need to see what makes them tick, online-only interviews distort your perspective of the candidate’. For senior candidates, you might give them a written exercise such as planning a curriculum change or scenarios that they might face in their role and learn how they’d tackle them. Another consideration that does not fit neatly into tick boxes is how you feel the candidate will fit into your institution and current team. They may be an amazing teacher with stellar references, but if you don’t feel they are a fit for your team, be brave, and pass.

Consider the following questions: 

  • What will this process look like? Who will be key drivers and decision-makers?
  • What questions will you ask to ascertain if their vision and values fit with your organisation?
  • Onsite: demo lessons? Stakeholder interactions? Are you even going to bring them onsite?
  • Have you done your due diligence and asked for written references before bringing them onsite?

4. Post-Interview Process: Congratulations! You found your candidate. What is crucial for you now is to refrain from wasting time and money on the post process. I find reference requests vary from pages and pages covering everything from curriculum knowledge to standards of dress or just a few pertinent questions. Whichever format you choose, it's essential to follow up with a phone call to an office number (not on mobile, please!) to confirm the reference and the referee is who they say they are.

5. Induction: This is often overlooked with the new colleague being thrown into the deep end, especially for more seasoned ones. The expectation of giving them the staff handbook and letting them get on with it is misguided. Whether new to the profession or an old hand, a thorough induction to the organisation will reap dividends. Shiv Nadar School's Head of People, Culture and Operations, Arti Dawar, advises ‘Take time with induction for new colleagues regardless of their experiences. You will have a much more settled colleague who is able to impact more effectively on the children they teach or teams they lead. It’s an investment worth making.'

Agree on CTCs and contracts well in advance of a commencement date alongside any probation period and you should be on track for a successful appointment.

Consider the following questions: 

  • Safeguarding: have you followed up with phone calls and checked the veracity of the referee? Referees should be line managers, and not colleagues and or personal friends
  • Have you discussed and agreed on the CTCs? Have you proofed the previous CTCs?
  • What will their induction period look like?
  • Is there a probation period? This should be a formality, but are you prepared to ‘let them go?’ If yes, what should your back-up plan look like?
  • What further training they might need?

Implications of COVID-19 on Recruitment For Schools

As educators, we are entering a brave new world. Schools in India have risen to the challenge of online teaching, fiscal concerns and a host of other issues specific to each institution. Recruitment, as of now, is a whole new animal. Many schools have put essential roles on hold and in some cases, withdrawn offers. Moving on, it's likely that there will be a blended approach to learning with classes in person and online dependent on local requirements. When recruiting teachers, veteran educationalist Ashok Pandey, Director of Alchon International Schools, believes that the most in-demand candidates will be ‘those with remote teaching skills, confident in communication and genuine technical skills.' These, of course, will be the hardest to find. A challenge but not impossible.

Possible Solution

Regardless of how the next 12 months pan out for schools, recruitment will always be a challenge. Keep your vision, mission and values in mind alongside how your decisions will impact on the children in your institution at the forefront of how you recruit. Whilst there are no guarantees in life or recruitment, this should load the dice in your favour.

Annie Natarajan is Director of Recruitment and Development at Nehru World School, Ghaziabad. She is the Founder of Flying Patang, School Development Services.

(All opinions expressed in the article are her own)

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