Some people feel as though they are jumping through hoops during assessment processes for senior roles. Perhaps they are, but there is a great deal at stake for Governors if they get it wrong.  I’ve recently finished recruiting a Head for a school where the candidates had to go through a process that was several times described to me as ‘rigorous’, ‘intensive’, ‘thorough’ and even ‘gruelling’.

Yet, never as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unfair’. In my view, the assessment days were, to an extent, only a reflection of what a Head might be expected to go through on an average day on the job – OK, perhaps one of the more demanding  ‘average days’! Believe me; the assessment days were as gruelling for the Governors as they were for the candidates. Governors, by the very nature of their role, are volunteers and not necessarily education experts, therefore they need the relevant tools and information to make informed decisions.

After my process of preliminary interviews and long-listing a whole heap of applications down to a reasonable pile, I was able to present the Governors with a couple of handfuls of candidates who were each potentially strong enough to do the job. Then the Governors chose a handful of those who most interested them, to be invited to short-list and final interviews.

The shortlisted candidates were given some homework to do before the assessment days, in preparation. The first day of assessment started early and kicked off with a round table discussion, just to break the ice and to see how up-to-date they each were with current educational issues. Then they all dispersed around the school to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning, their skills in leadership and their capacity to build relationships with various stakeholders. They observed lessons, gave feedback, conducted assemblies, met with senior staff, spoke with children, inspected the site, and all under the watchful gaze of a team of note-taking Governors.   In the afternoon, after lunch with the children, they then faced a carousel of panel interviews to question them on their views and experiences of various elements of the job of a Head. One might have expected that this was enough for one day, but in the late afternoon, just as the sun was setting, the whole staff team gathered eagerly in the school hall for each candidate to present to them with reflections on their thoughts about the school. This was a great opportunity for the staff to meet their ‘potential’ new leader, and an opportunity for the Governors to witness how they would stand as a figurehead for the school.

By the end of the day, after a brief, informal drink with the Governors, the candidates dispersed for a well-earned rest. Several comments came to me, from them, that there was a mixture of exhaustion and elation. Whether or not they got the job, they said, they’d had a great opportunity to get to know the school and the various assessments had, in their own way, been excellent INSET.

The second day was the final interview. This started with a written exercise. In this instance the Governors chose to focus on strategic marketing, but quite often we assess on other areas such as financial management, academic data analysis or managing daily operations. Following this, the candidates went straight into their final interviews, one by one, beginning with a pre-prepared presentation on achieving the school’s key priorities and then a formal interview with questions by the panel for an hour.

There was no surprise that the candidates looked slightly shell-shocked by the end of it. Yet they appeared to have got so much out of the days that, as one said to me ‘I’ve got really into this school - I feel like I’ve already arrived and am unpacking’.      

When it came to the decision-making process for the Governors, with the copious notes, score-taking along the way, and input from the wide range of stakeholders, the Governors had the full picture. They knew where the candidates’ skills, competencies and weaknesses lay. They had an insight into the candidates’ personalities, and as importantly they knew what initial impressions the candidates had given the various stakeholders around the school.

So, in discussion, when they faced an incredibly tough choice between two excellent finalists, and one Governor reminded his fellow colleagues, ‘we’re tasked to do what’s best for the long term future of the school ‘, they were able to reach a decision, fully informed, and make an outstanding appointment.

And what’s more, the appointed candidate knew that he’d earned his stripes and, having got to know the school, knew it was the right place for him.