Knowing in February that we would need to appoint a class teacher for September, we were able to start the recruitment process early in the year. Little did we know that this would be a recruitment process unlike any other that we had previously carried out.
Advertising and school visits
Our advertising and school visits took place before schools were closed for the majority of pupils, and therefore these happened as they would in a normal recruitment process. I encouraged candidates to look at the school website and social media accounts to gain more information. This could be useful if school visits were not possible.
Our shortlisting took place via Zoom, with the panel consisting of two governors and me. We had a large number of applicants, so I did an initial sift to create a long list from which to shortlist.
In advance of shortlisting, I shared the application forms with the governors involved so that we could be efficient with our time. I have learnt that everything takes a little longer virtually than it does in person! This meant that we had all been able to review the applications in advance of the shortlisting and were able to discuss the applications.
Considerations prior to interviews
- Safer recruitment – we needed to ensure that we followed safer recruitment procedures and that this wasn’t compromised in any way. This was checked with HR prior to the interview process;
- Candidates teaching – with not being able to see the candidates teach, we needed to work out another way of being assured about the quality of their teaching;
- Practicalities – it was important to try to consider the additional complications and concerns that a virtual interview might cause for the candidates.
Due to changes to working patterns, our interview panel was reduced to two (Chair of Governors and me). The shortlisting panel was balanced for gender which meant that the interview panel was not compromised and we were confident that we still had the skills and experience to conduct the interviews effectively. Holding the interviews virtually, necessitated some adaptations to their content and organisation.
The lesson – We decided that trying to organise for candidates to teach a lesson online was just too much for everyone involved, so tried to find the next best approach. Candidates were given a specific area of maths and asked to plan a lesson based on this, which they would then talk through as part of the interview. I asked for these to be sent the day before the interview so that I had time to familiarise myself with them. I analysed the lesson plans using a similar format to the one I would normally use when observing a candidate teach. At the end of the lesson explanation I asked for clarification on any areas a candidate hadn’t already addressed.
References – As we weren’t able to see the candidates teach, we asked them to provide an additional referee who could confidently comment on their teaching, e.g. a school based mentor for trainees. This gave us additional assurances about their standard of teaching.
School council – Normally we would involve the school council in the recruitment process. As this wasn’t easily possible, we asked the candidates to respond to some questions from the school council as if replying to them directly. Although the school council haven’t yet received the candidates’ response, our intention is to share the responses with the school council when it is possible to do so.
Interview questions – We tried to ensure that the questions we asked were very clear and easy to understand via video link. There were deliberately very few multi-part questions, and where these were necessary we were careful not to over face the candidates. We also reassured the candidates that we were very happy to repeat questions if necessary and were aware that it might feel strange being interviewed online.
Following advice from HR, we have adapted the pre-employment checks so that they can be completed remotely whilst complying with safer recruitment. Our School Business Manager will hold a video call with the successful candidate. She will show the necessary documents on the screen and then send copies for the SBM to verify and send to the local authority.
Top tips and considerations for virtual interviews
The process took longer and was more involved than I had anticipated.This may be because it was our first experience of interviewing this way, but there are some factors to consider.Think about the time between shortlisting and the interviews for all involved.There was more for the candidates to do in preparation for the interview, as the lesson plan and school council questions needed to be submitted in advance.I was also very aware of asking referees to complete references when they were dealing with many other challenges at the same time.A slightly longer timescale hopefully reduces the pressure for everyone.
- The interview timetable
Initially, we had planned for candidates to share their lesson plans in the morning and then have their formal interviews in the afternoon.We realised that this was going to be very difficult to fit in, and would result in the panel spending a very long day in front of a computer screen!We therefore adapted the plan so that each candidate had a slightly longer interview, but that it started with them talking through their lesson plan.We interviewed five candidates, with three in the morning and two in the afternoon.We allowed 55 minutes for each interview, including the sharing of the maths lesson at the start.This was sufficient time and the process didn’t feel rushed.It also meant that I still had time to phone all of the candidates on the day of the interview.
- It is exhausting!
I found the process even more tiring and intense than normal, both before the interviews and on the day.We built in a few minutes between each interview to discuss the candidate, including the scoring of their answers.We also made sure that we had a short break in the morning, at lunchtime and after the last interview.This gave us space to consider each person and to be fully ready for the next interview.If interviewing more than 5 candidates, it may be advisable to consider holding the interviews over two days, and be aware that everything takes a little longer than you might expect.
- Anxiety of the candidates
I tried to minimise the additional stress of an online interview for the candidates (it was a new experience for them as well as us), but they inevitably had additional worries about the technology working and about exactly what to expect.I phoned all candidates after shortlisting to explain the process and to answer any initial questions or concerns.I also encouraged them to email me directly with any further questions or worries about the process.This not only helped them, but also meant that we had already communicated quite a bit before the interview.
- Availability of the panel
Our panel reduced from three to two between shortlisting and the interviews.This wasn’t too much of an issue for us, but it would be wise to have a reserve panel member in case they are required to replace someone.
What we have learnt
It is possible to carry out interviews remotely and to appoint successfully. Our process was robust, fair and transparent, and we are delighted with the appointment we made.
Despite trying to reduce the anxiety for candidates, I think there is more we could do another time, such as providing candidates with a FAQ document about remote interviews to allay as many of the worries as possible.
The process for the panel members (especially for me as head teacher) was more time consuming and exhausting than we had anticipated. This was true of both the preparation for the interview and the day itself.