I wrote this blog because only after having done a few applications did I realise some painfully obvious things that I should have been doing from the start. Hopefully it can prevent you from making the same mistakes. The blog will talk about these things:
- Visiting a School
- The Application
- Personal Statement
- Interview Questions
- Interview Tasks
- General Tips
Visiting a School
I see the reasons for visiting a school as threefold:
- A chance to introduce yourself (presenting yourself as polite, friendly, knowledgeable etc)
- A chance to learn about the school in greater depth than its website can provide
- A chance to gather information you can use in your application
Before any application, you simply must visit a school. Some headteachers I have spoken to said they would not consider any candidate who did not visit the school first and I understand why. You are visiting a school to find out if you are the right fit for it and it is the right fit for you. Aside from asking questions to that end, I think the main aim of your visit – assuming you like the school and want to apply there – is to unearth any information that can benefit you in your application. Specifically, any information you can refer to in your personal statement. Even more specifically, any areas for development that you can be useful in tackling, because you have experience or knowledge in those areas. If your background is in assessment, ask where the school could improve upon in assessment. If your background is in SEND, ask where the school could improve upon its provision for SEND children. You can then refer to this in your application and explain how you can be of assistance to the school in achieving its aims. You should also ask for general areas of development across the school – i.e. what are the school’s areas for improvement and how do they intend to tackle them? You need to be able to evidence yourself as a useful candidate, who can have an impact on whole school development. This is the best way of achieving that in my opinion.
Before the visit, peruse through the school’s website and most recent Ofsted report, so that you have inspiration about what questions to ask. However, try to keep an open mind and not make any preconceived judgments before the visit.
Tip – If you can, try to arrange your visit during the school day at a time when you can observe transitions like playtime or lunchtime. Ultimately, the appointment time is likely to be at the behest of whomever is showing you around.
Most application forms are similar, just with sections in different orders. (Why there isn’t a single application form that all schools use is beyond me.) All applications will ask for the same specific information – give or take a couple bits. My advice is to keep the information outlined below in a word document that you can simply copy paste from. Trust me, writing it out again and again is a chore.
- Personal Details – name, address, D.O.B, national insurance number, date you achieved QTS, phone number you can be reached on at work or at home, teacher registration number, email
- Current or Last Employer – name, address, job title, salary, date started, salary scale point, brief description of your responsibilities there, number of pupils on roll, type of school
- Employment History – job titles, names and addresses of the employers, start and end dates, reasons for leaving – I would keep this in order of most recent first
- Education and Qualifications – school name, university or course provider names, start and end dates (I usually just put the year), names of qualifications, grades achieved (including GCSE and A-Level grades – you don’t need to list every subject)
- Courses and Training – names of the course, details about it, the organising bodies, qualifications if any (keep a track of when and where you went on a course)
- Membership of Professional Institutions – e.g. the union you’re a part of, any subject association you’re part of etc
- References – their names, addresses, phone numbers, emails, their relationship to you
The hardest and most time-consuming part of any application is the personal statement. Each job person specification generally tends to include these criteria: qualifications; experience; knowledge and skills; and personal characteristics or qualities. I find it best to present your personal statement under these subheadings or whichever subheadings are used in the person spec. You must write the personal statement in response to the person specification laid out in the job advert (it’s just like essays at university – there is a specific style to how they’re written).
Some schools go even further than just subheadings and bullet points, breaking each criterion down into essential and desirable points. Essential meaning that without meeting these criteria, you’re unlikely to get an interview (e.g. at least 5 years teaching experience, experience in whole school improvement). You must meet and include all the essential criteria in your application with examples. That being said, if you meet all the essential criteria bar one, I suggest you still apply (depending on what the criterion is). View desirable criteria as a chance to set yourself above other candidates. You can show that not only do you meet the essential criteria, but you meet a lot of the desirable criteria too, so look to include them where possible.
I repeat: you must write the personal statement in response to the person specification laid out in the job advert. Some schools also ask you to respond to the job description too; I think it is best to do both just to be safe, but the person specification is an absolute must. You must respond to all criteria in the person spec and provide examples to demonstrate how you meet them.
Here is an example of a criterion from a person spec:
Good knowledge of the National Curriculum and statutory testing.
Here is an example of a poor personal statement referencing that criterion in their application:
I have good knowledge of the National Curriculum and statutory testing because I was curriculum and assessment lead.
While being a curriculum and assessment lead is certainly helpful here, the candidate has not provided any examples of how that role and experience provided them with ‘good knowledge’. This person spec is asking the candidate to demonstrate their good knowledge of the curriculum and statutory testing through examples.
Here is a better example of a personal statement doing just that:
Having taught in four different year groups, including the end of both key stages, I possess good knowledge of the National Curriculum and statutory testing. While I was curriculum lead, I developed the maths and history curricula for the whole school in line with the National Curriculum. I also supported subject leads in developing their specific subject curricula. As a reading SATs marker and assessment lead, my knowledge of statutory testing and assessment is stronger than average. I have used this knowledge to deliver INSETs on assessment and to coach other staff on best practice.
Notice how the paragraph started by specifically referring to the criterion from the person specification (the part in bold). It then followed with examples of how the candidate met that criterion (i.e. the candidate has good knowledge of the curriculum because they have written curricula and supported others in doing so + the candidate has good knowledge of statutory testing because of their roles and they have even supported others using this knowledge). While not perfect, this example is infinitely better than the previous one. If you don’t include examples, don’t expect an interview. There will be other candidates who meet all, if not most, of the criteria so you must think carefully about how you do too.
The ‘criterion-then-example’ approach is a simple and sure-fire way to write a personal statement. Think of the person specification as a checklist that the headteacher will be going through and ticking off as they read your personal statement. With the example above, the headteacher will be looking to see if the candidate has ‘good knowledge of curriculum and statutory testing’ and will find it easily because it has been signposted.
Personally, I lay out the personal statement with each paragraph responding to just one criterion with examples. I then go onto the next paragraph and do the same. It makes it clear and easy to read for the headteacher. By using the same language of the criteria from the person spec, the personal statement becomes much easier to assess.
I mentioned in the school visit section that you should try to gather information about the school to refer to in your personal statement. Here are some made up examples of things noticed during a school visit that are then referred to in a personal statement. In bold is the information learnt during the visit, which is then followed each time by how the candidate can support the school:
- “…I noticed during my visit that the school has two NQTs starting in September. I have mentored NQTs in the past and I have significant experience in coaching early career teachers. I would be happy to dedicate some of my time to developing and supporting these NQTs.”
- “During my visit, you mentioned writing is an area for development across the school. Having been an English lead and writing moderator, I am confident that I can support the school in not only improving the teaching and learning of writing, but also the assessment of it.”
To save a lot of time, my advice would be to write a generic personal statement that you could use to apply to any school. Once you have visited a prospective school and studied their job advert, go back and edit your generic personal statement to make it more bespoke to the school you’re applying for.
For example, here is a generic paragraph about a candidate’s knowledge of behaviour management that could go in any personal statement:
‘Behaviour management is dependent on consistency and upholding the school’s behaviour policy. I believe that good behaviour is a precondition for successful learning. Like all aspects of learning, behaviour must be modelled appropriately for pupils. I am of the opinion that modelling the correct behaviour and having high expectations will lead to successful learning.’
Here is the same paragraph edited once a specific school is being applied for. The bits in bold are specific to the school:
‘Behaviour management is dependent on consistency and upholding the school’s behaviour policy and, in (school name’s) case, the values you have displayed on the posters in each classroom. I believe that good behaviour is a precondition for successful learning. Like all aspects of learning, behaviour must be modelled appropriately for pupils. I am of the opinion that modelling the correct behaviour and having high expectations will lead to successful learning. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement in the job advert about how we must have high expectations, so that all children can achieve their full potential’.
This isn’t a world-beating example, but you catch my drift. You take your generic statement and weave in bits from your school visit and the job advert where possible. By having a generic personal statement prepared, you will save yourself hours if you end up applying for multiple roles.
Tip – When talking about whole school improvement, try to use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ where possible. School-wide change is a collaborative action; using ‘I’ too much implies you see yourself as solely responsible for the change.
Tip – Schools often have a motto and it will likely be referred to somewhere in the job advert or application pack. If you can, refer to the motto in your personal statement, showing how you agree with it or can contribute to its implementation. Not a must, but it may help a little.
There is no way of knowing exactly what you will be asked during an interview. However, there are very common questions that tend to be asked. You may get questions asking you to expand on something you said in your application, so make sure to read over it before attending the interview. I’m sure if you google for AHT/DHT questions you can find hundreds of them. Below, I’ve listed questions I have been asked frequently during SLT interviews for both assistant and deputy head roles:
- How do you deal with difficult staff/parents/children?
- What qualities make a good leader? Which qualities do you have that would make you a good leader?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve had an impact on the whole school
- Tell me about a time when you enacted change successfully
- Tell me about a time when you enacted change unsuccessfully and what you learnt from it
- Tell me why you think you would be a good fit for this school
- Tell me about a time when you’ve helped colleagues
- Tell me about a time when you have delegated work to colleagues
- What would you do in your first term as AHT/DHT?
- What do you think makes effective teaching/leading?
- Tell me about a time when you’ve dealt with a difficult class/child
- If I were to observe you teach, what would I see?
- If you were observing others, what would you look for?
- In your view, what makes a good lesson?
I can only comment on tasks that I’ve done before. This section will talk about goldfish bowl tasks, in-tray tasks, data tasks, specific leadership role tasks and assemblies.
Goldfish Bowl Task
I believe this is a task borrowed from the business world. Essentially, you and the other candidates are given a topic or problem to discuss or resolve. The interviewing panel will be watching you as if you were in a goldfish bowl, hence the name. What they are looking for from a candidate here is whether you can present your points clearly, build upon the comments of others, not interrupt others while still getting your points across, and that if you disagree with others, can you do it respectfully?
The only time I did this task we were given a made-up case study of a child struggling with their behaviour in class. We had to come up with a plan to rectify this as a group. My advice would be to make sure you say at least a few points and try and link them to what others have said.
This is where you are given a list of problems you need to respond to and you are being tested to see in which order you would respond to them and why. There are certain things you must remember for this task:
- Safeguarding is always the highest priority
- Staff and pupil wellbeing are a high priority
- Delegate to other staff where possible (e.g. if SEN issue, delegate to SENCO)
- Think about the immediacy needed for response – does this need to be responded to right now?
- Consider if it affects the running of the school day – this can dictate the immediacy
This task will almost always include an angry parent of some sort. I learnt the best way to respond to an angry parent from @mattswain36. He suggests that you give parents a timeline (e.g. I will investigate and call you again at end of the day), assure them they and their child matter, and update them regularly when you have more information.
Here is one that I did on an interview day. We were given these scenarios and asked to order them and explain our decision.
- A parent has emailed in a complaint. They think their child is being singled out by their teacher because of their race.
- Admin staff message you to say the gates haven’t opened and KS1 are still lining up outside to come in.
- An angry parent is at reception demanding to see you.
- An email from a parent has positive feedback for a teacher.
- A parent has written on Facebook that the school is useless and specifically named a member of staff in the comments.
- A member of staff tells you another colleague has come in smelling of alcohol.
- A child looks upset and wants to talk to you. They have a bruise on their arm.
Have a go yourself. I’ll show you what I did below. Keep in mind, there is no single correct answer. Some can be debated in terms of their priority, but safeguarding always comes first.
I went for 2, 6, 7, 1, 3, 5, 4. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote for my justifications, but I’ve given it a go below from memory.
|Order I would deal with them in||Reasons why|
|Admin staff message you to say the gates haven’t opened and KS1 are still lining up outside to come in.||Safeguarding issue. Children are out on a street with cars – could be dangerous. Also holding up the start of the school day so a very high priority. Send members of staff to deal with it if possible.|
|A member of staff tells you another colleague has come in smelling of alcohol.||Safeguarding and staff wellbeing issue – this staff member could be putting children in danger. Could also be suffering personally. This could hold up start of the day. Needs immediate attention. Ask member of staff to bring them to your office.|
|A child looks upset and wants to talk to you. They have a bruise on their arm.||Safeguarding issue. Bruise could be unrelated, but must investigate. Ask DSL or other leadership to deal with it if possible.|
|A parent has emailed in a complaint. They think their child is being singled out by their teacher because of their race.||Respond with email saying that you will investigate and get back to them. Give them a timeline. Assure them that their child matters and you take racism seriously.|
|An angry parent is at reception demanding to see you.||Tell reception you will be there ASAP. Invite them to your office to give them a chance to calm them down. When you see them, apologise for keeping them waiting.|
|A parent has written on Facebook that the school is useless and specifically named a member of staff in the comments.||Doesn’t need an immediate, right-now response. Follow social media policy. Don’t tell staff member until end of the day so it doesn’t affect their teaching and it is hopefully resolved by then.|
|An email from a parent has positive feedback for a teacher.||This can wait until the end of the day. Forward email on to the teacher.|
In hindsight, I would maybe swap the email about race and the angry parent, but I thought the race email was a safeguarding concern so I placed it above the parent. I didn’t get any feedback on this task at the time so I assume the panel thought the response was ok.
You can find other examples of in-tray tasks here:
- https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2014/06/27/intray-exercise/ – this one is really tough, but good practice nonetheless!
In this task, you will be given data and you are tested to see if you can spot any issues. You may also be asked how you would respond to this to improve the data. If there are internal candidates, the school should provide data from a different school or completely made up data. Make sure you comment on this if given the school’s data and there are internal candidates! It simply isn’t fair otherwise.
My advice is to carefully, but quickly, go over the data and comb through it multiple times. In a data task I did, we were given a 30 page pack that included EYFS, KS1, KS2, demographics, exclusions – all sorts! I went through and circled anything that needed commenting on. Then, I went back to the start and commented on each piece of data in order and explained what I would do to rectify the issues. Make sure you are thorough – I missed out just one thing in that 30 page pack and it contributed to me not getting the role. Try and practice using your current school’s data – can you find the issues?
Tip – Look for any 3 year negative trends – this suggests there is an issue that needs resolving.
Specific Leadership Role Task
What I mean by this is a task that is specifically related to the role you are applying for. If you are applying for an AHT role with an assessment responsibility, they may give you a task on assessment. If you are applying for a DHT role with a responsibility for safeguarding, you could get a task on safeguarding.
For example, I applied for a role of DHT with a teaching and learning focus. I was given the curriculum of a different school in the same trust and asked to review it. I then had to give a 10 minute presentation on it.
If a DHT role, you could be asked to deliver a whole school assembly. The panel will be looking at your ability to talk to children, engage them and possibly deal with low-level behaviour (although I find this unlikely). My advice is to plan your assembly well in advance and then know it inside out before you have to deliver it on the day. Remember, technology can always fail you so have a plan B.
- Seek advice
If you are struggling with interviews or applications, seek advice from those that have done them before. Ask leadership at your school what they expect from a candidate. Speak to your leadership team about where you could improve your application. Get them to look over personal statements.
- Contact if you haven’t heard back
Unfortunately, a lot of schools don’t even acknowledge your application. No email or phone call to say they’ve received your application. Some may not even reply to tell you that you’ve been unsuccessful. I know – awful, right? Especially after you’ve spent hours writing a personal statement. Make sure you contact to see if you’ve been successful or not. On one occasion, I had not heard back from a school. I rang to find out if they had received my application and they said I had been invited for an interview. I didn’t receive any email telling me this so it was lucky I called to check.
For any current SLT that may be reading, please make sure your applications include a sentence saying, ‘If you have not heard by this date, you have been unsuccessful’. It means we don’t sit there twiddling our thumbs waiting to hear back and we can move onto the next application. It also saves you having to contact all unsuccessful candidates!
- Beef up your application
Get your school to pay for you to do courses like an MA, NPQSL or plenty of others! Do free courses online with Seneca and FutureLearn. Ask to sit in on governor meetings a couple times to say you’ve done it before. Ask to sit and do finance with the head or business manager to give you a better understanding of it. With the head’s permission and supervision, ask to be in charge of running the school for a day or if you could shadow them. Essentially, try and seek out areas you do not have experience in and gain experience in them. Keep a hold of any certificates from courses you do – they could come in handy!
- Don’t take feedback to heart
Some schools give rubbish feedback. Some schools give useful, personalised feedback. Don’t take anything critical to heart. Use it to progress and make your next application better.
Last of all, best of luck in your application. If you found even one thing in this blog helpful, then it was worth writing it.