Help! Teacher Vacancy

Looking for a Mathematics Teaching Post? Advertised to fill a Mathematics vacancy recently?

How difficult can it be to recruit the right people? Obviously… very, or I wouldn’t be writing this now. The normal adverts attract variable responses – last year 40 applications, this year 6. There was a flood of similar posts in the locality and just beyond – equally for English, so you can only surmise that schools are buying into the literacy and numeracy initiatives that Mr Gove has been determined are the way forward. You might well ask what happened to the literacy and numeracy ‘hour’ which went out of fashion only 7 or 8 years ago. Education practitioners seem to be driven by Leaders (generally politicians) who advocate returning to ‘things which worked in their day’ and so we re-invent the wheel and focus our attention on something ‘new’. Again.

Anyway, drifting out of range here.

crumpled paper

So lets start at the very beginning – an advert goes into the press, National and Local of course; lo! and behold! – also on the school website, but not Twitter – still too revolutionary. This time there was input from within the department about what was presented about us in the flyer to applicants – so we are inching (that’s never going to change to metric is it?) ever so slowly towards distributed leadership. We have respondents who are keen and eager to join us, of all breadths of experience, who all want to teach Mathematics at our stunning school – they have read our recent Ofsted reports and can show their up-to-date knowledge of AFL, quoting from publications etc. I read, digest and start to examine their C.V.’s further.

However, that short-listing process was just one step too radical for a Subject Leader to do by themself, and although the applications saw their way to my ‘desk’ (recall this is a hot-desking BSF, hence no personal space – or storage space come to that) only mid-morning, that evening, well before 6 hours had passed, SLT had deemed those candidates worthy of interview. OK. No-one discusses any of the why’s or wherefore’s with me, am I not worthy? Perhaps next time I might get an input, this is a learning curve after all. The candidates are invited, bless them, with 48 hours notice.

Continue. We have interview day. Those that haven’t been offered employment elsewhere in the intervening period do turn up. Yes, we have had several candidates who have failed to do that, and with no ‘phone call, or other information we have to ring them to find out whether they are lost (did they type the right postcode into their Satnav?) or simply decided on a duvet day. In what world did it become acceptable to not turn up to a job interview? Just ring and let us know you decided to withdraw (ok – leaving it till the last minute is still a tad naff). Courtesy in itself has become almost old-fashioned. Candidates are here. On time. We do the tour of the school thing, admittedly not by pupils – we have that strange notion that they should all be in lesson (that is subject to negotiation these days, seemingly). Pointing out all the new technology wizardry (which will be apparently unnecessary by 2040), and the captivating spaces throughout the building, the smiling and biddable pupils, the variety of teaching and learning very evident, it takes a brave candidate to drop out at this stage. After all, it’s not even 10am. Occasionally they do – I wonder why they really come, these distinctly precocious folk. I am intrigued (are we too scary?), but as we all know, job hunting is a STRANGE thing.

Candidates are now retired to a little side room close to facilities, and they will all be in an interview or doing something which ensures they are not alone for long together (also, they are never able to visit the ‘staffrooms’ at break or lunch as their timetables are out of synch with that of teaching staff – I have no idea if this is planned or simply a coincidence^^).


Now to the formalities – there are interviews (plural) – one within the subject/learning school; one with a panel of pupils; one with the Head and at least one Governor. Personally, I find school interviews singularly lacking in inventiveness, depth or rigour. But then, all interviewing has serious flaws and every type has objectors and detractors. We read out our questions, make notes on the candidate’s answers, try to winkle out more information from them given the constraints of our questions, try to find out who they really are based on their opinions. They can ask us questions – but rarely do, engage in two-way conversation – but that is a dying art due to texting methinks. It is all a TRICKY business.

Eventually the candidate is released – free to wander round school before leaving, and we, after seeing all interviewees, settle down to the debriefing of all concerned during the day. Now this is likely to be either a many layered cake, or a simple jam sandwich but will nevertheless be very SERIOUS. Especially if you are openly operating on many levels as a people person. You have to know your colleagues well to understand their pitch – that goes without saying, after all everyone here is an interested party. How honest are they – how honest are you? How candid are you willing to be? Are you willing to stand out on a limb for your principles, or willing to compromise? It is fatal to make assertions based on ‘intuition’, or opinion; all feedback has to be fully triangulated with references back to original data. Recruiting stirs deep feelings within the bosom of even the mildest of panel interviewers – some of whom become positively feversome in their desire to swing the group consensus their way. Of course, RANK is everything. You try to imagine each candidate in your department – working alongside you – with the children – with your colleagues. Did they prepare well? Are they passionate about learning? about children? about mathematics? about their own learning?

How good are your negotiating skills? Still unable to come to a consensus? The final piece of the jigsaw could be the written references. If only you had been able to ask for them before interview. Or even on the interview day. Witholding them until you are short-listed isn’t unreasonable, but surely on the day you should have them to add weight to the whole process?

There has to be a better way to cut out this soul-destroying, archaic way of recruiting teachers. It’s not helped by the current system whereby teachers have 3 dates by which they have to hand in their notice. Pity any teacher unable to complete the process by May 31st – they will be in their current post until December 31st. Similarly anyone applying after May 31st must, according to those who KNOW, either be an NQT (and not a very good one at that – as they would surely have been snapped up earlier), or someone of similar ilk who decided to jump ship rather than drown. Teachers may apply for several posts at any one time, but are likely to take the first one offered in case none of the others are offered – only in teaching are you expected to say ‘Yes’ at the time of interview – so you can end up in a school which was not at the top of your list, but have to make do.

Thereby moving towards the next initiative which has to be “Grow your own”. This is a phrase taken very much to heart in states in the US where similar lack of teachers has led to serious developments in teacher training within schools. Some starting as early as identifying students to be ‘Teacher cadets’. We have teacher training within schools too – and just as varied are the criticisms which are directed at teacher training establishments:

  • teacher training is disconnected from education, lacking academic rigour;
  • poor classroom management;
  • lack of subject matter mastery;
  • inability to use technology;
  • lack of knowledge of a variety of pedagogical approaches;
  • mixed ability to employ the most efficient assessment techniques;
  • inability to implement a standards-based curriculum;
  • lack of knowledge and understanding of how children learn;
  • low capacity to work with diverse groups including parents, children with disabilities, and children with limited English proficiency

We could make the whole process far more meaningful, perhaps. In Finland, teaching is a highly desired profession. Apparently, to work at Google and Microsoft, as in other highly prestigious organisations, the whole recruitment process is far more demanding and can take quite a long time. Even one of our local independent schools made the applicants for Head of Mathematics sit a Further Maths A level paper!



  • Adjective: Having or showing a quick-witted intelligence.
  • Noun: Intelligence; acumen.
  • Synonyms
  • adjective:     sharp – clever – shrewd – quick – stylish – elegant
  • noun:            pain – ache – grief – sting

Are you SMART enough to work in Teaching?

Are you CARING enough to work with youngsters?

Are you CREATIVE enough to teach Mathematics?

Send me your C.V.

Best Wishes.

PS. If you want to investigate whacky interview questions there are masses of them if you look! Maybe that’s the route to follow!

  1. Given a set of balance scales and 8 balls, one of which is heavier than the others, determine how, in only 2 weighings, you can identify the heaviest ball.
  2. Why do pupils learn about quadratic equations?
  3. Two dogs run a 100 m race. When dog A finishes the race, dog B is at the 90 m mark. They run at constant speed. If in the 2nd race dog A now starts  from 10 m behind the 0 m mark (110  m run for dog A) and dog B starts at the 0 mark, who wins and why ?
  4. If you were a cartoon character who would you be and why?

Some links to follow-up:

All opinions expressed are mine, and do not reflect the opinions of any other individual or organisation with whom I work. They should be so lucky.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s