Every year schools recruit new members of staff, from headteachers, to teachers, to classroom assistants and administrative staff. It is vital that a robust procedure is followed for all interviews to ensure that the successful candidate is a suitable person to work with children and young people

An interview is a vital part of the recruitment process and must be conducted face-to-face even where there is only one candidate for the role you have on offer. Nothing can replace the opportunity to meet someone to explore their motivations, interests and knowledge. A bad decision made at this point can mean a huge amount of time spent later managing someone who at best just doesn’t fit and at worst is a threat to your children.

Interviewing is the second stage of recruitment:

Stage 1: invite applicationsStage 2: interview applicantsStage 3: appoint and induct staff

Stage 4: develop and maintain safe school culture

The interview process is not only about finding the person to do the job but about sifting out any unsuitable candidates from a child protection point of view. It is the opportunity presented to a trained panel of interviewers to check on any gaps in the candidate’s employment history or any concerns or discrepancies there might be. You will also be looking to see whether this candidate is someone you can visualise working in your school with your team.

Letter for interview
After the shortlisting process, your selected candidates will need some basic information when you invite them to interview. You need to inform them:

  • when and where the interview will be held
  • about the interview panel
  • that the interview will be based upon the person specification
  • of any particular activities that will form part of the interview eg a presentation, meeting other people within the school
  • of the documents they will need to bring with them

The panel
There should always be at least two members of an interview panel with one person taking notes. At least one member of your panel must have completed the CWDC safer recruitment training at www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/safeguarding/safer-recruitment

It can be difficult to get the panel together in advance of the interview. However, if at all possible, it is beneficial to be able to plan the interview with the other interviewers and ensure that they know what to do, what is expected and what they should be looking for in an interviewee’s answers.

Do make sure that everyone on the panel has had opportunity to see the questions prior to the interview. They should feel happy with what they are asking, understand what the question’s role is in the interview and be prepared to follow it up if the candidate’s answer is insufficient.

Finding the right questions can be difficult. For jobs that come up regularly, such as for teacher and teaching assistant, it is likely that you will gradually build up a bank to select from.

Closed questions should be used in a limited way and only to establish facts. Avoid multiple questions within one question and hypothetical questions. Try to frame your questions so that there is as much opportunity as possible for the candidate to express himself/ herself and allow you to get as broad an overall impression as you can.

You will want to include questions that:

  • explore the candidate’s attitude to working with children
  • encourage the candidate to talk about child protection issues
  • explore any gaps or discrepancies there might be
  • allow the candidate to relate their actual experiences and abilities
  • check his/her ability to work within the school’s ethos of safeguarding and promoting wellbeing.

The following are some sample questions for exploring child protection awareness included in the CWDC training:

Tell us about a time when you took action to help protect a child.

  • Describe the procedures that need to be in place to protect children.
  • How in your work or life so far have you tried to ensure that children are protected?
  • Give me an example of when you had safeguarding concerns over a child.
  • Give me an example of where you had to deal with bullying behaviour.
  • Give me an example of how you have managed poor pupil behaviour.
  • What do you think makes a school safe and supportive?

When forming your questions, you should consider what kinds of responses you are looking for. Where candidates are finding it difficult to understand your wording it is helpful if you have prepared an alternative phrase or can expand sufficiently for the candidate to be able to answer.

The interview day
The interview is an opportunity for you to get the best out of a candidate. They should be given every opportunity to show how they could fulfil the requirements of the role. Wherever possible all the interviews should be arranged for the same day. This means that your impressions and knowledge about each candidate are still fresh in your mind when you are making a decision. When timetabling your interviews you will need to allow for enough time in between each candidate to discuss them with the panel and prepare for the next one.

The CWDC safer recruitment training suggests that there are seven basic ground rules to ensure effective interviewing:

1. Be prepared and meet in advance of the interview. 2. Have all the paperwork ready.3. Apply the same practices for all interviewees even where there is an internal candidate. 4. Stick to the agreed questions, although further information from an answer can be requested.5. Use supplementary questions on an area where you need more information from the candidate, eg to explore a gap in employment history.6. Make notes.

7. Avoid telephone interviews.

Equal opportunities
All candidates must be treated fairly. This means that the same procedures should apply to them all. Although the same questions should be set for everyone, it is also admissible to build in some flexibility where there is a need to explore particular features about a candidate’s background or work history.

Your questions should avoid asking about:

  • marital status
  • sex or sexual orientation
  • race
  • age
  • disability
  • religion.

The candidate will need to bring with him/her the original documents to show:

  • proof of identity
  • verification of qualifications

These must be original documents. If the candidate cannot provide these, then they must have written confirmation of their qualifications from the awarding body. Documents written in a foreign language must be accompanied by an authorised translation.

These will mean that once the candidate has been appointed an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) disclosure can be requested immediately. You should also ask during the interview if the candidate wishes to declare anything they haven’t done already and explain that you will be seeking a CRB check.

Making your decision
In order to make your decision you will be combining your overall impressions with the evidence you have collected. This includes:

  • the application form and written responses to questions
  • employment history
  • references
  • answers given at interview

Two references should be taken up prior to interview and any discrepancies between these and the candidate’s application form checked.

You should use your person specification as your key selection criteria for appointing a candidate. Do they have the skills and abilities you are looking for?

If your candidate does not have all the original documents you need or there is a reference you have not been able to follow up, you can make the appointment conditional. You should also point out that offer of employment is subject to the satisfactory completion of the CRB and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) check.

Following the interview
It is important that you retain your notes as evidence of how your decision was made. You will want to keep copies of the application, references and interview questions and notes together and stored safely. You must make sure that you have all the correct documents for the CRB check and that you have agreed the next part of the induction process with the successful applicant.

It is worthwhile taking time to develop your interview procedure. Appointing the right candidate is one of the most important jobs a school leader does.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010

About the author: Suzanne O’Connell has more than 25 years teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and trainer. ShareThis