How Do Senior Leaders Find Work?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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If you follow me on Twitter and read my blog regularly, you will be fully aware of my #Find_TTkit_A_Job campaign from London to Scotland.

The article featured on The Guardian Teacher Network, in November 2011 and was written during a time when I was made redundant. It was recently re-published two-week ago. In the account, I detail how I was shunned for two job-interviews, when I knew (with reason) that I was the right person for the job. For whatever logical thought was used, I wasn’t appointed (the list is exhaustive), and my key message here; is to remain resolute in your own vision and values. The right job will come and keep your head held high!


As you may well know, my own needs have changed and once more, #Find_TTkit_A_Job search is developing slowly, but surely. It is now time to publish part 2 as a follow-up to @SteveThursbyMA‘s tweet. I do not intend on offering any insight to my application ventures. Far from it; but I do aim to bring you up to speed and share a small part of the journey.

If I told you I am currently writing this blogpost in a hotel room, somewhere in Scotland, would you be pleased? Surprised? Confused?

Over the past year, I have made my intentions clear online, that I am looking to relocate from London to Scotland with the publication of Find_TTkit_A_Job page using social-media. On the first day of publication, the article received over 6,000 readers and 99% positive feedback. The doors and dialogue this sort of openness has created, has been immense and I can proclaim, that it is a possible alternative solution for those seeking work. I have had countless emails, and DMs (direct messages) highlighting job applications I would have missed; words of advice and useful articles to read … If you are one to have responded, then I thank you.

I can only imagine my search for work is partially successful due to my online existence and that now, the actual job-process is starting. Whose to say, whether not Twitter has been my ‘eyes and ears’; well, I’ll let my followers be the judge of that and we will just have to wait and see … As for now, ‘you get out, what you put in’ and I am confident, that Twitter is already, and will continue to assist me in my job search. (When I say Twitter, I mean my professional learning network). I am prepared for set-backs and do expect this to be a long process. After all, the GTCS registration process took 6 months!

Cartoon Image: Credit to Malcolm Laverty
Cartoon Image: Credit to Malcolm Laverty

The sequel:

Having described ‘how senior leaders get their jobs’ and what could happen during the interview process, I now want to take step back and outline in the first instance, ‘how senior leaders ‘find’ employment?’

Time and effort:

No, it’s not a ‘copy and paste’ job; it says above, ‘time and effort’.

Once I knew I was facing redundancy in February 2011, I made a total of (no-less than) 18 assistant and deputy headteacher posts in and around North London and Essex between February and April 2011. All without success. Do not under-estimate having ‘redundancy’ written as your ‘reason for leaving’ on your application. It can create all sorts of questions and confusion for the panel. One that can only really be explained face-to-face.

By the time May 2011 arrived, I was dealing with the premature birth of my son, 82 miles from home. It was at that point, I decided to give up on job applications until things settled down and my mindset was realigned. (I know this situation is unique and not commonplace for most.)

Once I was redundant, during September to November 2011, I applied for 10 positions, 3 of which were deputy positions. Each application took on average 3-5 days to complete sensibly. Do keep in mind, that I had been working in a senior leadership job already for three years and I was (at the time) ‘not working’ …

Still, this is a very high number of applications.

I have also been vocal online regarding the application process and the countless frustrations this must bring to us all. You can read more at ‘What I’d really like to say about job-applications?‘  and also my ‘Recruitment ‘Musings.’

My application database from 2004-2013. School names private
My application database from 2004-2013. School names private. (Green submitted)

The jigsaw puzzle:

I do not proclaim to be the fountain of all knowledge here when it comes to job-hunting and finding successful positions. I’ve had my ups and downs too and the frustrations and hurt do not go away! But, they do make you stronger and wiser and something you must learn from.

I’ve also called upon countless colleagues (many on Twitter) to read my supporting statement and help me re-create the umpteenth version of the letter. N.b. keep to your values and beliefs and be sure to read and include the school’s vision too.

Anyone who reads your supporting statement will have ‘another opinion’ and they may suggest you to write it ‘another way’. This is all fine-and-dandy, but my advice, is to keep this ‘critical readership’ to a bare-minimum so that the various sources do not counteract each others’ opinions and your own. Also ensure, that the critique sought, will be provided with a fresh pair of eyes, dealt with professionally and honestly, so that this can aid your application and your professional development. This is of paramount importance. When I share my application. I expect the ‘red’ pen to come out!

Politics, paperwork, passion and performance et-al on the day can hinder your appointment. We have every right to believe, that when a job-advert is placed online or in print, the school (workplace) already know what kind of candidate they are looking for. I know, because I have done it myself! Not, that an advert has been written for someone in mind, but; that the advert is advertising for ‘a type’ of teacher that you know the school wants.

You need read between the lines. What does the advert and person specification say, and what does it ‘not’ say? This is complicated guesswork and one that comes with experience; until your theories are all blown out of proportion and you need to go back to the drawing board!

At this stage, your theory becomes as good as mine. It doesn’t matter how well polished your supporting statement is, it’s a matter of how well your fit the candidate specification and your performance on the day. You need to find out as much as you can quickly and adapt your application to support the school vision; as well as talk about ‘how you will fit this vision’ if given the chance.

Food for thought:

Saying this; do not apply for every single job advert you see. It is very easy to churn out countless applications and email them off. Be fussy! Choose carefully and invest your energy into your ‘most wanted’ job adverts.

Keep in mind your reasons for your application. What sacrifices do you need to make in order to move jobs? What are your reasons for seeking promotion? To simply ‘get out’ of a quagmire you may be dwelling in? Relocation or a genuine desire to climb the ladder?

What I would also add, is make sure your frame of mind is ‘on the money’. I’ve always found a new position when I am feeling confident, secure and happy at work and home. Nothing has ever come out of a tempting job-advert; a family bereavement; current poor management; low morale or job-boredom. Nothing.

Make sure you are content and stable before contemplating a move. If not, you will be exposed at interview (or even on paper).

Read, read, read:

You must do your research. Do all you can to read school policies; the website; inspection reports; interview material and if possible, visit the school or call to have an informal conversation over the phone. I’ve not always done this, but more and more, if I do have the time to make a visit voluntary, or at a predetermined time, I do all I can to attend.

Do all that you can to have ‘the edge’ over other candidates, with the primary aim to get one foot in the door. If you do manage a visit, talk with students and teachers as much as you can. Focus your conversations not just on the ‘feel’ of the school, but specifically to the job-description and school priorities.

Pen to paper (or keyboard):

Recognise the fact that you will have to complete many, many applications before you find the ‘right’ job. Do not forget, to tailor each application and proof-read until you know the contents of your application inside out. Read it again and then take time out to revisit with a fresh perspective. If it has a date, or any vital information missing, expect it to land in the bin!

Photo Credit: Graela via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Graela via Compfight cc

If you apply for one job and get it. Then you are one lucky lady/chap! Well done to you… But for many, many others, the competition for our ‘predetermined candidate/advert’, the odds are stacked very, very high against you. If you are a new teacher to the profession, it is highly likely that you will complete between 5-10 job-applications (London) before you are appointed. Some of my recruitment experiences in 4 London schools are:

  • 80+ applications for 1 Art teacher position.
  • 0 applications for a Head of English.
  • 4 applications for an ICT Network Manager.
  • 6 applications for a 2nd in charge of Mathematics.
  • 12 applications for a KS2-3 Transition teacher.
  • 50+ applications for a Teaching Assistant.
  • 25 applications for an Assistant Principal.
  • 1 application for a Food Technology teacher.
  • 3 re-advertisements for a Science Technician.

It’s just words!

It’s incredible to think, that a ‘successful appointment’ can simply can come down to ‘what you say’ on the day as part of your performance. It should be ‘a given’, that you can teach (well), but not everyone can (do it well), believe it or not(!) for an interview and a one-off performance. Lesson observations should always be part of the process, to provide a ‘flavour and insight’ into your style and relationships with the students. I believe 15-20 minutes can be enough, but so many, many schools continue to use a full one-hour lesson interview so that they can really interrogate your performance and student progress. After-all, this is how we will be judged and measured and one could argue, how middle and senior teachers should be measured. Senior teachers should be put through the wringer! But interview models are varied according to the school, the role and the headteacher’s preference. I’ve been on senior leadership interviews myself and have been asked to observe other candidates and provide feedback; other interviews where I’ve not been asked to teach; in-tray tasks; data analysis and so on.

What is your experience? I’m sure there are countless models, and as I say, it will all come down ‘to words’. How do you respond? What you say, and how you say it.


Finally, I will consider adding statistics to the following statements below; but, I am not going to do this until I am successful. For the time being, you will just have to guess. In the meantime, @MyJobScotland have received my tweets and are now offering me a beta-test version of their new website. They recognise, as much as I, that their online application system is diabolical and very prohibitive. So, I do hope that I can aid the process of many others in the future …

  • Number of applications submitted without GTCS registration: ?
  • Number of applications submitted with GTCS registration: ?
  • Number of long-lists / 1-day interviews: ?
  • Number of short-lists / 2-day interviews: ?

p.s. I’m back home and back on the applications at the weekend!

7 thoughts on “How Do Senior Leaders Find Work?

  1. Good luck with the job hunting. I moved from England to Scotland 2 years ago and I am still struggling to get a permanent job. I agree with your comments about myjobscotland. You may find the job interview process equally diabolical and prohibitive, not one school (out if many) has ever asked me to teach a lesson and actually see my skills. Just 3/4 questions in half an hour. I’m not sure it’s fit for the purpose. I hope your experience is more positive. Fingers crossed for you.

      1. All the interviews were for unpromoted positions. It does not make sense to me. I have asked numerous Councils/Schools about implementing a more rigorous interview system, some have replied very positively, unfortunately I have also been told ‘the school has no time for that’ and ‘it’s just a job’! One day……….:)

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