Schoolzone: internal promotion

Put inside knowledge to work

By Paul Hammond

Going for a job in your own school is never easy. The other candidates eye you with suspicion and your colleagues will feel uneasy about treating you with an unaccustomed formality. So thorough preparation is the key.

When you go for such posts it is a kind of double or quits. If you are successful you are pretty much assured of a smooth transition into your new role, free of the "getting to know you" routine that can hinder an outside candidate from making a quick impact. If the role goes to someone else, however, you will have to deal with failure in a very public arena and put up with the new person as they breeze into town next term.

External v internal candidates
For the employer, there are very clear pros and cons between appointing an external or internal candidate. External appointees bring new ideas and fresh momentum free of any baggage. Internal appointees have the chance to capitalise on a ready-formed awareness of character, climate and potential in the school environment.

The real picture is more complex than these two caricatures. Underneath the swish CV and sweet-talking of the chair of governors, the external candidate may hide substantial flaws that will only show themselves when the feet are well and truly under the table. With the internal candidate there is also the worry that once the day has been won, inertia will take over and fresh ideas set aside in a return to the status quo.

If you are going for a job in your own school then you need to convince the panel that you are the best all-round bet. In other words, show an awareness of the home environment but also offer a well-thought through set of initiatives that show the prospect of fresh thinking and sustained improvement.

Try to avoid the common mistakes of others that have trod the inside path. Some succumb to an overbearing chumminess or a smug demeanour. More likely is an over-anxiety that will prevent you from showing your true worth. Focus on the following six points and you will have capitalised on your strengths and successfully avoided the usual insider pitfalls.

1. Continuity plus
Look around you as your colleagues nervously rattle their 9am coffee cups. Are they relatively less experienced than you? Will the panel view them as a possible risk? If they do, your track record should hold you in good stead. Use your inside knowledge to show how your new ideas build on existing work rather than revolutionise it. At all costs try to avoid the sense that choosing you will only give more of the same. Some arrogant candidates view such posts as a suitable reward for services already rendered.

2. A sound track record
The panel may well be made up of people that know you well. This, however, doesn't mean you should assume that they will have your achievements learned by rote. As part of your preparation, identify key, relevant highlights that you should try to build into your answers. Unlike the external candidate though, you won't be able to exaggerate they work with you, remember!

3. Breadth and depth of experience
Have you had jobs at your school before your current post? If so, emphasise how you took on these new challenges with relish, giving the clear message that you could do the same with this new position.

4. Freshness of ideas
What do you have to contribute that demonstrates new thinking? To counteract the varied experiences of other candidates, show that you too are well versed in best practice from your involvement in, say, your subject association, your subscription to a journal or visits to other schools. Show good judgement in suggesting a select combination of sound current practice and choice new ideas.

5. Lack of baggage Beware!
The panel will most likely be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Avoid over-emphasising well worn achievements but instead acknowledge any difficulties you may have had in the past. Show how you have learned from them and moved on to improved practice.

6. Thorough preparation
Complacency can show itself by a tendency to under-prepare or skip certain elements of the programme. Some internal candidates miss out on the tour of the school (a key time for weighing up the strengths or otherwise of fellow candidates) for the sake of taking a lesson.

My advice would be to treat this just like any other job application. Take the day off, weigh up the school's strengths and weaknesses, do your research on statistics to build a picture of performance and treat your senior colleagues with the same detached politeness that you would in another school.


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