Children are very honest. They ask some tricky questions and can see through people – you won’t get much past a year 7!”
“How would you affect students’ lives if you were appointed today?’ It’s a brainteaser that could put many an experienced educator in the hot seat.
But when that question is being posed by a 14-strong student panel and said candidate is a potential ‘superhead’ of seven schools, one teaching school and five children’s centres, it’s fair to say that this is no ordinary job interview.
Across the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, students are playing a key role in the recruitment of certain teaching and senior appointments.
“We’re involving students at every stage and giving them a say in who we appoint to ensure we get the best fit for our partnership,” explains Sue Poutney, ATLP’s HR director.
“A candidate may be great on paper, but we need to make sure that they are equally skilful in a classroom and can interact with, and inspire our young people,” Sue adds.
As part of the ATLP’s comprehensive recruitment process, candidates typically take part in interviews, lesson observations, assessments and presentations, overseen by a panel of teachers and leaders and, in some cases, students too.
At the Coleshill School, the junior leadership panel has a constant input in teaching employment. In the last year alone, they have contributed to more than 10 teacher interviews.
“The headteacher has given us great responsibility in every single teacher interview and has valued our opinion,” explains Joe Danks, Coleshill’s student voice director.
“During these interviews, our panel would split into three teams: two members would actively observe all of the candidate’s lessons, whilst two members would take each candidate on a tour of the school and about five members would interview the candidates from a student perspective.”
Students then feed back their findings so that leaders can make informed decisions about who they appoint.
Sue Poutney says: “It’s amazing how insightful the students are, with an honest, non-nonsense approach that’s genuinely refreshing. Their input is really valued as it’s important we get the whole picture from those who matter most.”
But what’s it like to be grilled by such an able and candid panel of students whose direct approach could make even Lord Sugar seem rather sweet?
Samantha Kibble (pictured below) found out first hand when she was interviewed for the position of deputy head at the Arthur Terry School. Fortunately, after 20 plus years of working with children, the senior leader was well prepared for and delighted by the prospect of answering to the students.
“The student panel was my favourite part of the interview as it was an opportunity to find out what the students were looking for in their new deputy head,” says Samantha, who officially started at Arthur Terry this term.
“The students’ opinions and views help to shape the school and therefore I was keen to share my vision and aspirations for their future education.”
She adds: “I would like to highly commend the students as were both eloquent and confident in the interviews. They were passionate about their education and this was evident in their carefully chosen questions.
“The students are a crucial part of the process as the deputy needs to be the right person for their school. Children are honest with their views and they should always have an opportunity to be part of any recruitment process.”
Emilie Jephson (pictured below, centre) a student from Arthur Terry was among those who put Mrs Kibble through her paces. The year 8 says: “Mrs Kibble was really friendly and answered the questions. She’s a great leader to take the school forward.”
Fellow student Carys Burnham (pictured below, left), enjoyed sitting on a student interview panel. She says: “It’s exciting and I felt honoured to be chosen.”
While their friend, Annie Tse (pictured below, right) adds: “It’s important to involve students as it directly affects their education. For a good deputy or headteacher you need somebody who can support everyone.”
Partnership primaries are also involved in selecting staff. At Hill West, headteacher Dr Beth Clarke explains that children have been asked to comment on prospective teachers that have taught lessons to them or to sit on the panel to ask questions. Sometimes candidates meet with the school council who ask them questions about why they want to work at Hill West and what they will bring to the school.
Two of the school’s pupils brought their skills to big school when they sat on a ‘super’ interview panel for ATLP’s new CEO. The group comprised of 14 pupils, including sixth formers, from secondary and primary schools.
Kristal Brookes, deputy headteacher of Mere Green Primary School, says:
“The pupils were fabulous and had some really fantastic questions: They all submitted their questions prior to the day and then each asked their questions to each of the candidates.
“All children were fully involved and participated in the session. They really used their initiatives and asked additional questions too. It was a fantastic experience and the children were brilliant.”
One of the candidates for the CEO position was Richard Gill (pictured below) the then joint headteacher of Arthur Terry School. Not only were headteachers, governors, trustees and senior leaders all involved in the recruitment process – but the national leader of education also faced an inquisitive panel of students. The group posed a number of challenging questions, such as Mere Green’s Joe Walsh who asked the regally forthright question:: “What will you change 100 days after your reign?”
Richard says: “It was good fun. Children are very honest. They ask some tricky questions and can see right through people – you won’t get much past a year 7!
“I was impressed by their skills. They want to know what you’re like as a person; how you will lead their schools; and, most importantly, how you connect with the children. And as educators, our first and foremost responsibility is to the young people we serve.”
The students’ positive feedback revealed that Mr Gill had more than met their expectations: they deemed the outstanding headteacher to be an “engaging and friendly team player” who won their “trust and belief” Their views mirrored those of the leaders and Richard has officially taken up his new post of CEO this term (and the young interviewees are keeping a close eye on his first 100 days).
Joe Walsh recalls that Mr Gill performed “brilliantly” and adds: “It was to test his ability under pressure, because sitting in front of 14 kids isn’t easy!”
At Stockland Green School, deputy headteacher, Rebecca Goode (pictured below, with some of ATLP’s student leaders) has been working hard with student leaders on a range of initiatives to develop confidence and give pupils an active part in leadership roles, and a greater say in how their school runs. As part of the strategy, students have also been involved in interview panels – to great success.
Rebecca says: “Taking part in interviews gives students a chance to develop their confidence and skills. It encourages them to ask questions and to work together and gain a clearer understanding and voice about what goes on in their school.
“Our students are incredibly intelligent and capable young people and I am always proud of the professional way in which they conduct themselves. By including them in this process, we’re gaining from their feedback and the children are gaining a sense of leadership and responsibility.”
The impact of involving students in key decision-making not only benefits their classmates and teachers, but the whole learning community.
Stockland Green’s Alishah Khan, said: “Students found the experience educational and useful, as it helped to develop key skills needed when applying for jobs or interviewing others. I also feel that the opportunities for students as such, increases passion of the students and they also feel proud and joyful to attend Stockland Green School.
“Students gained an understanding of head roles and pressure of having to only pick one candidate when all the interviews were great. Their favourite part from the interview s were witnessing the show and tell stories from the candidates and learning about their past and present.”
Joe Danks agrees. He adds: “We have had extremely positive feedback from all candidates and members of the Senior Leadership Team; on how we were great representatives of the school and how we were very thorough in the interview process.”
And in answer to the original brainteaser of how somebody would affect students’ lives if they were appointed today, Joe’s experience at Coleshill says it all:
“We believe all employed teachers will bring outstanding teaching to the school; meaning the school in general can only improve and become an outstanding school.”