How to Get What You Want By Going For What You Think You Want – The Middle Leader Interview

So. I went for a Head of Department role this week. As anyone who reads this chaotic cluster of thought bubbles may realise, I get itchy feet and bored if I don’t have my teeth in something and I wanted to see how I fared.

I had been toying between the role of HOD for the last few months, investigating the differences between that and Lead Practitioner and keen to know where my strengths would be better applied but more importantly, where I would feel most fulfilled. I knew that I wanted to make an impact on a larger scale than my current classroom bubble would allow and so I filled in the application form, expecting a polite no but some incredibly valuable feedback and an insight into what my experience and skills could best place me within a school.

In holiday for the week in remote Devon with only a six year old to bounce ideas with, I received a phone call and instantly recognised the dialling code. Imagining that it would be a thanks but no thanks, I ignored it, perhaps somewhat childishly but I was in full-throttle relaxation mode and was not in a part of my day to entertain work (200 donkeys and an Easter egg hunt will do that to a girl). The voicemail? Congratulations Miss, you’ve made the shortlist.

Now, things not to do if you only have a six year old to celebrate with. Don’t ‘Yessssssss’ without explanation as it makes them incredibly nervous, but definitely do not outline that your outburst was due to the possibility of a new job. Both will lead to meltdown city and I embrace a learning curve with the best of ’em.

This post is not so much to outline my personal experience (and outcome) but more because on the lead up to the interview, I really struggled to find advisory blogs that offered an insight into a Middle Leadership role. Fortunately, I felt almost over-prepared, having spent my time responding to data and completing high stakes prioritisation tasks and walked in almost over-equipped to answer questions that I hadn’t actually considered.

Clearly, every interview day will be different and tailored to the personal demands of the school and their specification but I hope that this will act as another resource for people to use as they wade through Google! I also haven’t included my 20 minutes lesson- happy to share but again, I think a lesson is rather personal to your style.

The In Tray Task

My day started with a 25 minute in tray task- a series of questions that I was required to write detailed answers to within the specified time. What rookie error did I make? I didn’t read them all first. Instead, I answered until I pondered, skipped over that one and returned to it at the end. Whatever suits. The questions combined a large number of scenarios that I had come across during my prep and was rather an effective way of covering several basis in a short amount of time.

Questions (and a summary of my responses) included:

What do you think is a realistic projection percentage for English GCSE for a good school? What if it is an outstanding school?

A risky business. It is right up there with ‘how old do you think I am?’ I said I would share with parents that we aim for ten percent over the National average (locally, schools are performing at this level anyway and it sounds aspirational in relation to the benchmark), internally- aim for 70%. The grading of a school should not alter these figures- that is insinuating that you’re not teaching as hard if you’re anything less than outstanding which is simply not the case. A target is there to be met- it should be a balance between achievable and aspirational.

A parent has emailed to complain about their child reading Of Mice and Men (Y10) or Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Y7). What do you do?

Y10- Phone. Always phone. Explain the requirements of the exam board and that the text is not governed by the school. Pinpoint the aspect of the text that the parent is upset about to be able to place it into context, placing heavy emphasis on developing empathy.

Y7- Outline the presence of the Holocaust within History but also the possibility of World War poetry exposure at Key Stage four. Place emphasis on preparation for this through a range of texts and that an understanding of historical context will be invaluable. Again, pinpoint to overcome.

Do you feel that there are benefits to students learning from past papers?

I said no. So many changes, completely new format as of September- use the reading material to develop new resources that mirror both the new specification and exam format. The quicker students can navigate the exam, the more confident they will feel.

A teacher has been teaching punctuation incorrectly, What do you do?

Is it just the one? Offer up a quick CPD session to clear up misconceptions and share resources. A group environment is an ideal basis for staff to share an,’ oh I didn’t know that!’ moment and clear it up without formality, Happens again shortly after? Sit down and share concerns, offer support of yourself or a member of staff that is a grammar Queen/King and set a follow up date.

Which book would you recommend that students read and why?

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Mark Haddon. What better book to build compassion for another human being and get an insight into how to see the world differently? I would have written Wonder, but I was not mispelling the guy’s surname on interview day. No no no.

The final question provided a piece of work that you needed to provide feedback for. No full stops, eight million spelling errors and you had to blur your eyes to spot the good bits. ‘Well done <insert name here>! Fantastic use of precise verbs- I have highlighted the most effective ones in your work. T- re write the first three lines, including punctuation to give the reader a clear idea as to how dangerous the situation is for the narrator. Correct the three spellings in these lines.’ I dug deep on that one.

The Student Panel

This was tough and I always feel like the students are so structured and rigid with their questioning that it is such a challenge to get to a point that you can be personable. Questions included, ‘What would you bring to the school? Why do you want to work here? How would you make use of our iPads? ‘ I made every effort to ensure that I mentioned preparation for KS4 (all students were Y8) and asked what would help them to build their confidence in tackling GCSEs. In my opinion, the student panel is an opportunity to provide an insight to your personality in a teaching capacity but also to instill faith in students that you are well equipped to lead them to success. They admitted that GCSEs scared them and it would be helpful to make the process transparent; I saw the simple admission as trust gained.

The Formal Interview

The individuals taken to interview stage were met with the panel consisting of the Head, Assistant Head (T&L who observed my lesson) and a long- standing Governor. I will simply list questions here- I feel that my own responses are not necessarily relevant or valuable. This would be your chance to leave the imprint of your own ability to lead a department!

What are three qualities of a Leader as opposed to someone who simply manages a team?

What will you bring to the role that the other candidates will not?

Name your favourite moment in teaching.

Give an example of a time that you dealt with challenging behaviour………. How did the behaviour make you feel?

If you could be an electrical appliance, which one would you be?

What would your colleagues highlight as your key skill?

Tell us about a time that you dealt with a safeguarding issue (be careful….)

How are you equipped to deal with the changes to your subject recently?

What do you think the priorities are within your department subject?

Do YOU have any questions?

Best of luck!


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