The process of involving students in teacher recruitment is a controversial one. Kieran McGrane details the success of his school’s use of this recruitment technique, and offers advice on how to emulate it

Central government and teaching unions are often on a collision course about one thing or another, and this Easter a new topic was raised as an issue of potential conflict; students involved in interviewing for teaching posts . The main unions vehemently oppose this development, whilst central government see the involvement of students in the life of the school as integral to the improvement agenda.

Key questions that emerge include:

  • Should students be involved in teacher recruitment?
  • If they are, in what capacity?
  • Should they be supervised throughout their involvement?
  • How do you quality-assure the process?

At Bedlingtonshire Community High School, we make extensive use of students within the interview process and, to date, we have never received a complaint from any of the candidates. In fact, the truth is that, for many, the involvement of students is rated as the high point of their day. However, it is important to remember that, while students should be involved in the interview process, this is only one aspect of a complex picture; students do not make the final decision on appointment.

In trying to make best use of our students, at Bedlingtonshire Community High School we have adopted certain strategies that we feel work quite well.

Tour guides
Every interview, whether for a teaching or professional support staff post, includes a tour of the school. Candidates are taken around the school in groups of two or three, accompanied by two students. The way our tours differ from many schools is that we do not have a select group of students who are wheeled out for such occasions; nor do we have a well-defined ‘path’ for students to follow. It is my belief that both of these approaches tend to mask the realities of a school, giving a false impression to candidates. When I make appointments I want to know that staff have had a really accurate sense of what the school is like on a day-to-day basis.

Our tour guides are usually selected by a pastoral leader and represent a mix of students. They can only be picked if they have not been tour guides before so that during the course of the year as many students as possible experience this role. The students are made aware of the importance of the role: the fact that they are representing the student body and how the candidates will be feeling. The tour guides are then given a small number of instructions, which include:

  • Be back on time!
  • Go wherever you want to go and show the candidates the school in the time available.
  • Go to an area requested by the candidates.
  • Answer questions as honestly as possible.

I am constantly amazed that with so few directions students do such a good job. They tend to respond positively to the freedom and responsibilities offered to them and are always excellent advocates for the school. At the end of the process the students are quizzed informally about their opinions of the candidates. The last thing to do is write to parents congratulating them and their child on how well they represented the school, and expressing my gratitude to them.

Interview panels
We always have an interview panel of students for any post appointed in school. Again, we never use the same students twice in order to spread the net of those who gain this valuable experience. This usually disappoints those involved because at the end of the interviews their first words are often, ‘Can we do it again please?’

The advice given to students is similar to that of the tour guides. We explain to them protocols about organising the room, introducing themselves, speaking clearly, taking notes and ensuring that each candidate has the same experience. The aspects given over to students include:

  • Identifying a chair person
  • Devising the questions
  • Deciding who will ask what question
  • Keeping to time!

I find the notion of senior staff providing students with their questions nonsensical. I have seen this done and the students involved have not been clear about what answer they should have expected from candidates. In devising their own questions students are inherently clear about what kind of response they are looking for and this helps them analyse the answers and provide effective feedback to senior staff and governors. I also prefer students to manage the process themselves, without the need for the support or attendance of a teacher. Again, I think this provides a very strong message to the students about how they are viewed.

Panel feedback
This is done formally to those candidates who it is decided will be involved in the formal interview. All of the student panel attend and each are asked to rank the candidates in order of preference, justifying their decisions. This is always revealing and demonstrates just how insightful our young people can be given the opportunity.

At this point students are thanked for their involvement and it is made clear that their contribution forms only one part of a range of information that will all be reviewed before making the decision. It is important that this point is emphasised and that students do not leave thinking they have effectively picked the successful candidate.

As with tour guides, we always write to parents to congratulate those involved and formally recognise their contribution to the day.

Involving students – is it worth it?
I have never been tempted to reverse what we do in school and believe that involving students enhances the process in so many ways. Students demonstrate a sense of pride in, and loyalty to, the school that may have hitherto been hidden. At the same time I have always been impressed with the very mature and responsible manner in which they conduct themselves. I now can’t imagine ever making an appointment without involving students in some capacity.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Kieran McGrane and the leadership team at Federation of West Sleekburn Middle School and Bedlingtonshire Community High School, Northumberland