“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world”

Steve Jobs


Prior to Covid 19, predictions were that there would be a global shortage of teachers.  This might change given how much education has had to change and adapt in recent months but whether or not it changes, in my opinion, how we treat people during the recruitment process needs to change.


In the past few years, I’ve seen a drop in the number of quality applications received when posting jobs.  My thoughts are therefore that there is a shortage and that schools should be going over and above to attract the right candidates and to make the recruitment process smooth and meaningful.  Sadly that hasn’t been my recent experience.  I don’t think the process is working for applicants or their current or previous employers.


I think international teacher recruitment needs a real shake up. Although technology has greatly reduced costs and efficiency over the last few years, I don’t think it has improved the way we treat people.


I’ve been involved in teacher recruitment from a recruiter perspective internationally for more than 15 years.  I’ve been applying for international jobs myself for almost 25 years.  I’m currently head of a large international primary.  Like most schools, a number of our teachers move on each year.  Having also been head of three other primaries, I get requests from teachers I’ve worked with previously to provide them with information about schools I know and write a reference for them.  This year, I’m also moving on.


Teachers who have been working internationally for a number of years seem to think carefully about applying – making sure that a new location and school will suit both their family circumstances and professional life.  I write fewer references for more established teachers.  Younger teachers seem more willing to jump at an opportunity and give things a try which means they apply for more jobs at the same time – for some of them, I’ve written more than 10 references.


Let’s start and have a look at the process.  The main methods of recruitment still seem to be:

  • Newspapers

  • Recruitment agencies

  • Recruitment fairs – although I don’t know anyone who has attended one of these for a while


Although there are some schools which still advertise under their own name, more and more adverts seem to be saying a school in xxx is looking for a xxx.  I understand that sometimes there are reasons why schools don’t want everyone knowing about staffing changes – especially in leadership positions but who applies for a job in a school if they don’t have more information.  I know of many teachers who have contacted the recruitment agent to ask for more information and get no response.  I wonder if schools know that sometimes they are not getting the service they pay for.  I’m not slating international recruitment companies – some of them are great and really offer a personal touch.  Unfortunately they are not all like that.


Having found an advert or got a notification about a job that interests you – in fact, on the same day you find four jobs which interest you.  You start the application process:


  • Download the information about the school and position

  • Find out as much as you can about the school, location etc

  • Tweak your CV to better match the requirements

  • Write a letter of application – making it specific to the school and the post and perhaps including specifics they have asked for – your educational philosophy, your strengths and areas for development etc

  • And then having done all this ….. they want you to fill in their application form:

    • It’s 10 pages long, you have to fill it in online and you can’t move on to the next page until you have completed everything on that page – but you don’t know what else they are going to be looking for so how much do you put here – you might want to use that information for a later answer

    • it has been formatted in a way that when you add your details you get blank pages appearing so you have to spend your time editing the template

    • it is an editable PDF but it won’t allow you to edit it

    • or in the worst case, it’s not an editable PDF so you have been asked to print it out, fill it in and scan it – is this really the best we can do in the 21st century?

  • And then you submit your application – you may or may not get a response.  From the people I’ve spoken to this year, most organisations don’t respond.  We currently speak a lot about teacher wellbeing – teachers who put a lot of time and effort into an application form and CV feel completely demoralised if they don’t get a response.


So what happens next is a waiting game with some applicants being invited to interview.


Recent feedback from personal experience, friends and colleagues includes:

  • You are invited to an interview at 3 pm in the location of the school.  They know where you’re based, that means a 3 am interview.  There is no flexibility in the timing – what teacher can be up, dressed, ready to interview in the middle of the night and then be fit for their job the next day.

  • You are invited to interview at 9 am your local time – you arrange for your class to be covered, find a quiet place in school only to discover that they’d got the time difference wrong and they want to interview you at 11 am so you have no time to find cover for your class.

  • You are invited into school to do a model lesson but are not given any information about the class – just teach a Y5 maths lesson

  • Your application can’t be taken any further as your new school wants to see a video of you teaching but your current school won’t give you permission to share a video of the children as it breaks their child protection policy.

  • The interview was for a new school and the questions consisted entirely of questions like, ‘what scheme do you use for maths’ do you think xxx is a better spelling programme than xxx.  Was this actually a job interview of was it an opportunity to  gather information about running a school and not gathering information about the candidate

  • You go to a school, teach a lesson, have an interview and never hear back from the school again.

  • Leaders from the school ask to come into your school to observe you teach a lesson, interview you for three times as long as they said they would -so you are using up one of the meeting rooms in school and cover had to be found for your class and you never hear from them again.


It’s not all negative, but knowing around 40 teachers who are moving on this year, writing references for around 15 teachers this year and going through the process myself has made me realise that we have lost the personal touch and for me, teaching and learning is all about relationships.


There have been a quite a few positives for the people I know:

  • A teacher wrote to a school, they had no vacancies but invited them for a tour of the school and have now kept their application on file

  • A school gave candidates a 15 minute Skype call with the outgoing teacher to answer their questions before they put an application in

  • Head teachers and principals offering to answer any additional questions prior to interview – sometimes by telephone during their weekends

  • Receiving a lovely email from a head – of thanks for the depth and honesty of the reference, saying it helped to back up what they felt from the interview

  • Leaders getting back to people who were unsuccessful explaining why


A couple of teachers I know were devastated at not getting a position because the interaction with the head of school prior to the interview was so positive they really felt it was the sort of school they wanted to work in.


So how can we improve the recruitment process for applicants and those supporting them?


  • It would be so good if the bigger organisations (BSME, COIS, ECIS, COBIS, FOBISIA etc) could agree on a single application form which all of their schools agree to use.  Schools can then elicit the particular additional information they require through the Letter of Application

  • These bigger organisations insist that all of their members follow a code of safer recruitment and have taken part in safer recruitment training and that all applications must go to a school account – not to the personal email of the head teacher

  • Schools set up an account specifically for applications and that account sends back an automated response ‘Thank you for taking the time and interest in our school.  We receive a large number of applications for our posts so we will only be contacting shortlisted candidates.  If you have not heard from us by …. unfortunately you have been unsuccessful this time’.  At least in that way they know you have it – it’s so much better than no response.

  • A single reference form is used by schools – you can tweak what you are writing to suit the position they applied for but then the same form could be used for multiple schools saving leaders lots of time.  Nobody asks for anything new or innovative, it’s just the same questions in a slightly different format and a different order.  School leaders are VERY busy.

  • Schools only request references from teachers they are going to interview – again a great time saver for school leaders.  The bigger recruitment companies seem to have an automated system that whenever someone applies for a job, they request a reference.  If I’m writing a reference for someone, I ask to see the job advert or ask the applicant to tell me more about the position they are applying for.  I want to help teachers in their career development and so spend a lot of time writing the reference.  I’d much rather spend this time only writing references for teachers who are genuinely being considered.

  • Schools set up a specific email for the references to be sent to – again with an automatic response ‘Thank you for taking the time and effort to complete a reference for us’.

  • Anyone involved in the recruitment process has had some training in recruitment.  Taking part in a Safer Recruitment Course should be compulsory.

  • Schools think carefully about the types of questions they ask:

    • Think about a warm-up question to settle the candidate

    • Are you interested in their experience so only ask questions about that, not the ‘what would you do …..?’ questions

    • Design questions which check competency – give me a specific example of when

    • Do you use opinion questions – about what the candidate would do in a particular situation

    • Experience verification questions – eg what was your main responsibility in that position

    • Credential verification questions – people should easily be able to answer questions about qualifications they have listed or jobs they have done – eg how long did you work at ….. ? or what was your role when you worked at …..?

I genuinely believe that anyone who has got through to a face to face (even if that is screen to screen) deserves a response and preferably a personal response.


I fear that a drop in numbers and a lack of funding will mean that nothing changes in the foreseeable future but it would be great to think that leaders, schools, educational associations and recruitment companies could work together so that the process was better for everyone involved.