Thursday, 25 April 2013

Interviews - part 2

The actual interview - the setting

Well done, you made it through all the hoops that the school threw at you and they finally want to interview you.  I always take a book with me to interview days because this is the part where you could end up sat in a room, with only the other candidates to talk to, for hours.  I don't mind talking to the other candidates and I've got some great ideas for teaching tricky topics, but not everyone is the same and you might be on your own for half an hour. It's just nice to have something to pass the time.

The interview panel usually consists of the Head and the Head of Department. I've also heard of a governor being there, someone from HR, another leader in the department (Lead practitioner, AST, head of chemistry and so on). In my last interview there were four people, I think my record is five.

The room can be set up in different ways. Often it is a large boardroom desk, with the panel sat round one end and you at the other, or them on one side and you on the other. There's also a more relaxed set up where you all sit on lower chairs around a coffee table. I perform better in the more relaxed set up but I think few schools like that informality.

The questions

Think back to your PGCE interview... you probably practiced a few questions and answers beforehand, and you can do the same here.  The same rule applies though - beware of sounding too rehearsed.  Most schools now have a stock list of interview questions they will chose from - ask your head of department or a friendly deputy head if you can have a copy.  They might also be happy to do a mock interview with you.  All the candidates should be asked the same questions and the panel will often write down key points of your answers to help them make their decision, so don't be worried if they seem to be writing like mad, or not writing at all (some people just remember).  That said, I have a colleague who, when he interviews, tends to go "off script" in an attempt to get the most out of a candidate.  I'm sure he gets glared at by the rest of the panel but this seems like a lovely thing to do rather than assume the candidate doesn't know.

The questions tend to fall into categories:

1.Opening question.

Often "Tell us about your teaching career to date" or "Why have you applied for this job?"  They are looking for you to recap the last few years of your career, or why you have decided to become a teacher. Make sure you refer to the school and try to highlight a few key skills that fit with the job specification.

2. Reviewing your performance on the day.

You will probably be asked to reflect on your lesson - "What grade do you think it was?", "What were the strengths and weaknesses?"  I've started to do myself a quick written lesson evaluation in some of the dead time I've have during the day so that it's fresh in my mind.  Make sure you are fair to yourself - say what went well ("I found the pupils progressed to level 6 work when I did..". "I'm glad I provided differentiated material for X as they quickly completed the activity and I was able to stretch them") but also say what didn't ("Those two pupils at the front struggled to use the key vocabulary so next time I'd make sure I had some words printed out that they could refer to"). Keep a balance too, one good for one bad. I've also found that praising the class goes down well ("I was very impressed with how well the class worked for me and took part in the activity. Please can you thank them for me").

If you did a lesson observation this can often be asked about during the interview.  If you've not already had a conversation with someone about your feedback for that lesson, it might take place now.  Alternatively they can use that lesson to ask "If that was the standard of teaching in your department, what would you do?".  This is obviously for a leadership role and they are looking for a strategic plan where you can show impact and accountability.  Try and give examples where you have done something similar, successfully, in the past, even if that is just with a PGCE student.

3. Example questions.

"Can you give us an example of when you have...?" This can be anything from dealing with a difficult pupil, class or parent to implementing something new or your use of something like AfL in lessons.  They are looking for you "saving" a situation - What was wrong? What did you do? Did you work with someone in a team? Was it successful? (of course it was or you wouldn't be telling them about it!)

4. "Why do we teach science?"

This one is often used for an NQT role. Remember that PGCE interview? It's the same question.

5. "Describe a lesson or series of lessons that went well and tell us why they did."

Take your pick here. Try and include examples of lots of different skills in your answer - questioning, interactive whiteboard, AfL, ipads, progress made by the pupils (quote data...)

6. Child protection.

There is always a child protection question somewhere. Remember the procedure, don't promise confidentiality, take notes, refer it to the responsible person in the school.

7. Something topical.

"How do you feel about the plans for the new National Curriculum?", "Do you think terminal examinations at GCSE will help all pupils?"  Make sure you are up to date with recent educational ideas and news. The Times Education Supplement is good for this, but I use twitter and ASEChat to keep an eye on changes and ideas about them.

8. "Is there anything you would like to ask us?"

My personal most hated question as I can never think of anything! A friend once asked "If I saw your pupils or teachers outside school what would they tell me about the school?" You can also ask about training in a area you are interested in or have a weakness in, or what support there is for you as an NQT.

9. "Are you still a firm candidate for the post?"

This one is usually at the start or end of the interview.  Be honest. If you say yes the school expect you to accept the job if they offer it to you. A few years ago I heard about a place that interviewed for an NQT.  The candidate said "Yes" to this question and when the Head of Department rang to offer her the job that afternoon she turned it down because her placement school had already offered her a place the day before.  The Head of Department was fuming because his time had been wasted and the candidate had essentially lied.  Teachers network and talk and that reputation will take a while to go.  

I once withdrew from an interview when they asked this question at the start.  I was getting a bad vibe from what I had seen and decided that I wasn't a good fit for the school.  The panel pressured me to stay anyway to "discuss my concerns" but I knew there was nothing they could say and I stuck to my guns and didn't waste their time.

As a PGCE student I knew of others (physics specialists) who attended three interviews in a week and were able, in answering this question, to keep all of them hanging on until they had gone to all the schools and decided.  I'm wouldn't recommend it.

One final thing - beware your language and the jargon.  I talk about "pupils" but plenty of schools talk about "learners", try and pick up on the in-house jargon and use it. I've had panels use "APP" in a question meaning 'general assessment in all year groups, in multiple ways" rather than this.

Oh, and always talk about "impact".

Once the interview is over you are usually free to go home and wait for the phone call....


You will have to have put two people down on your application form to provide a reference for you.  Please make sure you ask them in advance - I once didn't do one for a PGCE student because she had moved to her next placement, the school she applied to posted the form to me, I didn't check my post, the deadline passed.  If she had sent me a text or email to ask then I would have known to keep a look out for the form. Besides which, it's just polite.  It's also a good idea to send the job specification and your covering letter to your referee so that they can highlight the same great things that you do that make you the ideal employee.


Whether you get the job or not you are entitled to feedback.  Some schools are brilliant at this, I once had a Head call me to tell me that I hadn't got the job and then spend half an hour telling me how great I'd been and how much she had enjoyed meeting me.  She gave me a couple of tips to help and hoped I would apply again.  I've had other schools who say they will email feedback to me, and then don't. I tend to chase them once.  Sometimes feedback can be confusing - a school might say you need to emphasise data and pupil progress more in your answers (did they even ask about data?!), so you do so at another interview, and then they say they have no interest in data from another set of pupils.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Job interviews - part 1

It's that time of year again - if you want to be in a new teaching job ready for September then you usually have to have given in your notice by the end of May.  This means that a lot of teachers are currently attending a lot of interviews.

Teaching interviews are odd. I've had interviews for non-teaching jobs where you go into a room, usually with a manager and someone from HR, they ask you a few questions, you answer, leave and they call you later in the day.  It seems that teaching interviews have gone from the format of "teach a lesson, attend an interview, hang around" to a whole day with someone devising ever more random ways to see if you are the person for them.  What I want to do in this blog is record some of the things I've experienced and heard about to try and help the unsuspecting candidate prepare.


I'll own up now to having "being late" anxiety. I always do a trip out to the school, usually over a weekend, to make sure I know exactly where it is and how to get into the car park (my satnav always just seems to abandon me at the school with no idea how to actually get in there). It's also good to have a look at the outside of the building, but bear in mind that appearances can be deceptive.  I try to arrive about 15 minutes before the time the school asks for, even then I've been one of the last.... Most schools now ask you to bring a photo id with you, sometimes a current staff badge is fine but I carry my passport just to be on the safe side.  No matter how nervous I am I always smile at the receptionist and the other candidates.

Meeting staff

Quite early on in the day you usually meet the Head and the Head of Department - go for a firm handshake and a smile.  Heads often want to talk to the candidates for a period of time about their school. I've seen candidates ask questions, it's not something I've ever done and I don't know if it gives a favourable impression or not.  A few schools now provide coffee and something to eat during this to try and make it more relaxed - this has ranged from a danish pastry to a fried egg sandwich (beware the egg dribble!) Personally I like this, it makes me feel valued, if they do this for candidates that they may never see again how do they treat their staff?  Often you are given a timetable for the day at this point and a chance to meet science technicians to sort out anything you might need for a lesson.

The tour

It's pretty much a given that you will be given a tour of the school. This may be with a senior member of staff or a group of pupils but it is fair to assume that you are being assessed and judged either way.  I always look at the amount of rubbish on the corridors and the wall displays and try to chat with whoever is giving the tour.  Younger pupils are very good at telling you what things are really like, even though they have often been chosen to be a non-controversial tour guide.  If you get taken into a lesson for any length of time it is always good to wander around the class and talk to the pupils about what they are doing.  Once, on a tour of a school we were taken into a cover lesson. The pupils were sat on the benches, in their coats, whilst a poor teacher was trying to get them to do the set work.  In the same school we were proudly shown an NQT teaching; she was crammed into a tiny lab, miles away from the rest of the department, struggling to do a practical with 30-odd manic year 8s.  I withdrew from the process.

Teaching a lesson

When I went for my first teaching job, as an unsuspecting NQT, I wasn't asked to teach a lesson.  Now that sounds alarm bells - what are they trying to hide about their pupils? Another school didn't want me to teach a lesson but gave me a proforma, 30 minutes, a topic and asked me to plan a lesson. I was lucky in that it was a biology topic that I had taught the week before, the physics specialists really struggled.

Something that seems to happen more now, especially with leadership roles, is the "surprise lesson". Candidates are given 30 minutes in a lab with lots of equipment piled around the place and a scenario (often "You are the head of department and a colleague has rung in sick. Please plan and deliver a one hour lesson to 30 year 9 pupils using anything you can").  After the planning phase the class are shown in and you get to deliver a lesson.  This is more easily got around if you have stashed in your bag a hard drive with lots of power point/interactive white board resources for different topics, although this always feels like cheating to me and I've no idea how it is seen by those observing the lesson.

The majority of interviews will, fortunately, give you a topic in advance so you have time to prepare it, check it with colleagues and maybe even dry run it with a class of you own.  The most popular topic seems to be "How Science Works" - this seems to be being used by schools with pretty much every year group and gives you a lot of scope.  I've gradually built up a few lessons that fit this brief, that I know work.  For example, the work of Semmelweiss (pupils research the story in groups, record ideas onto a placemat and create a drama/cartoon/poster to retell the story) or anything from "Bad Science" fits the bill.  Another popular one is a revision lesson on a topic for year 12 or 13.  It's always good to do a quick practical or demonstration in these if you can.

I've never worked out what the best approach is for obtaining data about the class you are going to teach.  As a great teacher you want to pitch the lesson at the right level and provide differentiated materials but many schools will at best tell you "mixed ability year 9" or "year 8 targets 5/6".  This makes it tricky to do many of the things you would routinely do (putting pupils into groups, using names right from the start...). Other schools will provide you with a class list if you ask in advance or on the day itself.  The best one I ever had was for an internal post where I asked for the class data in advance and was then able to put together groups (by ability) and a seating plan for those groups - the lesson went much better as a result.

The length of the lesson is a particular bug bear of mine.  Lessons are often an hour long and schools will try and put two candidates into that time, allocating you 30 minutes each.  As we all know an hour long lesson is rarely an hour - by the time the pupils arrive (often after a room swap to get the best lab or class) you have lost 5 minutes. If you are the second candidate you are relying on the first candidate to not take longer than their 30 minutes, leaving you with 25. Except that you have to wait from them to clear up and then set up your own resources.  At one interview I'd planned for 30 minutes and ended up with 15.  Sometimes schools want a quick peek at your teaching and ask for 20 minutes, which at least gets round the issues I've ranted about there, but still feels a bit rushed.  I have had the luxury of whole hour lessons which were great as I was able to introduce an idea, get the class to do something with it and then have them feed back at the end. It just feels less rushed.

What I've found with the observed lesson is that what one school loves, another school will hate and it can be difficult to work out what will suit for a particular setting.  I always provide a simple to read lesson plan and I make sure I've checked the latest Ofsted guidance (as during the interview you are often asked to reflect and grade your lesson).  Make sure, whatever you do, the pupils make progress and you can demonstrate that, and that you try and form a good working relationship with the class - smile, praise, get them involved.  Over time I've realised that my interview lessons are a snapshot of me as a teacher, if that doesn't fit for that school then I'll only be miserable there in the long run.

The cut

Another new development.  I went to an interview once and I was one of 20 candidates for 2 posts.  We had the tour, taught our 20 minutes and were left sat in a room for 2 hours.  Then they sent all but 5 people home.  To add to the insult the people they kept were their own PGCE students and someone who had been doing cover for them.  I felt like my time had been wasted, and they refused to provide feedback for people who had been cut before the interview.

Other activities

The pupil interview
Prepare a joke, be your teaching self.

Data analysis
I was once at an interview with 4 other candidates. We were taken into a boardroom and given the same set of data, it was something about a C/D year 11 group, and given 10 minutes to look at it.  Then we were asked to discuss it as a group, what had we noticed and what intervention strategies would we put in place?  This activity is often joined with the...

Group Exercise. In my case one of the other candidates took over running the "meeting" by putting forward all her ideas, we had to wait for her to pause for breath to get anything in! She didn't get the job.  Make sure you know what FFTD and all the other jargon means...

You might be given some pupil material, a lesson outline, and asked to mark the work.  I've seen this combined with "Plan the next lesson" too.

Carry out an observation
Obviously you wouldn't expect to have to do this for a normal teaching role.  There are videos that some schools seem to have of someone teaching a lesson.  You might be given a lesson plan and data about the class too.  You will be expected to observe the lesson, possibly using an in-house form, and then hand this over to the school.  You might also have to meet with a senior member of staff to discuss the lesson (and when this happened to me they didn't give me the form back!) Remember the Ofsted criteria you used earlier - you'll need those in your head.  No progress = an unsatisfactory lesson, and make sure you talk about each aspect of the criteria, highlighting strengths as well as weaknesses.

Another new development which I've only seen used for promotion but I can see being used for NQTs too.  You might be asked to bring with you evidence of things you have led the department on, resources you have made, marking you have done or courses you have attended.  This might be given to the interview panel or you might discuss it with a senior member of staff.  Putting together a portfolio can be tricky, for example, I developed the use of an app called iMotion in the department.  Everything that has come from that is electronic so difficult to print out and put in a folder.  I'm not sure what a good portfolio looks like - has anyone got an examples?

Part 2 - the interview.