How we’re recruiting teachers remotely
Our recruitment process has gone digital. Here's how we're assessing Training Programme candidates through our virtual development centre.
Education professionals across the country have all had to rapidly adapt to support pupils remotely. It’s not simply a case of emailing out a new timetable to students: P.E. with Joe Wicks, followed by maths with Carol Vorderman. Lesson planning, marking, pastoral support, tutor time, pupil safeguarding, free school meal provision, and the many other daily responsibilities of schools continue unabridged. The duty of care each school has for its community hasn’t been crudely left at the school gates.
In the current climate, we know we can’t afford to slow down either. We’re committed to building a fairer education for all, and it just got harder. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds will have been disproportionately affected by their time in isolation and the attainment gap will have widened. With interest in our Training Programme at an all-time high in response to the global crisis, and even more people choosing to teach where they can make the greatest difference, we’re in a unique position to support our schools.
So we’ve adapted our work to continue recruiting teachers remotely. It’s been a time of rapid change, troubleshooting and reflection. We’ve learnt a lot and challenged some of our preconceptions along the way. It’s a work in progress, but it is also a working process, and we’re keen to share what we’ve learnt with the wider community.
Luckily for us, any changes have come at the end of our regular recruitment season. Prior to the UK lockdown, we’d already recruited a pool of talented, diverse and committed people ready to start teaching in schools this September, using our standard in-person development centre. This entails a structured interview, a group exercise based around a school staff meeting, and a teaching episode, in which candidates teach a tricky concept to assessors in role as pupils.
Being an international recruiter allowed us to get ahead of the COVID-19 changes by a few weeks. In late February we were scheduling candidates travelling to our London office from category 1 and 2 zones, so we took early action and started exploring how we could continue to operate our development centres remotely. Eight working days later we reopened our development centres, on 30 March, and have been running them virtually every day since, assessing hundreds of candidates each week.
Consistency is key
It was important for us that the key components of our standard development centre were still delivered remotely, giving candidates the chance to reflect and act on feedback. We’re interested in their actions and behaviours over their prior level of experience or opportunity. We pay careful attention to their potential for development, their attitude towards feedback and the level of change they demonstrate in response.
While designing our virtual selection process we considered radical changes to our model. However, after exploring the potential of online assessment, and several days of rigorous piloting, it was clear that our existing tools could be adapted to suit our new digital environment. This has allowed us to ensure fairness and consistency across the recruitment season, whilst maintaining the validity of our decisions.
Creating a virtual reality
Our candidates are assessed via Zoom, an online video conferencing system that many people are now familiar with. This allows face-to-face assessment and works well one-on-one and with multiple participants.
We’ve increased the level of resource we use to run our selection days, with an additional assessor for every three candidates. This allows us to increase the time and focus we spend observing and evaluating each candidate. Every candidate is assessed by four assessors throughout the day and hiring decisions are made holistically through guided discussions.
We reviewed our existing interview questions and added a question relating to ethical, moral or social challenge, and a realistic school-based problem for candidates to solve. This creates new opportunities to collect evidence from candidates against softer skills.
The group case study
Where we expected a possible decline in candidate performance, strong verbal communication skills have often been more evident. Candidates have been using Zoom to communicate and support each other in new ways – using the chat function and online reaction tools such as thumbs up (a totally new one on us).
The teaching episode
Candidates are now asked to prepare an online tutorial for a one-to-one session with a pupil. The whiteboard function on Zoom allows candidates to interact more directly with the pupil. Candidates can also share video clips or slides, something we rarely saw at our face-to-face development centres. Candidates have delivered some fantastic teaching episodes, using technology, props and models, interactive games and songs.
We know that nothing can replicate a real classroom environment. What we’re looking for is evidence that candidates can communicate concepts simply, build effective relationships, adapt their approach and reflect on their own performance. Those who possess these skills are still clearly identifiable online.
The self-evaluation task that follows the teaching episode provides the opportunity for candidates to comment on how lessons might be adapted to suit a real classroom environment, providing us with further clarity around their expectations, experience and adaptability.
What is clear, and what I have become increasingly confident in, is the ability to determine a candidate’s potential via online assessment. This confidence is based on what it has always been based on:
- the ease with which our assessors are able to identify positive or negative behaviours against our competencies
- the very clear picture we get of our candidates when reviewing assessment notes at the end of the day
How have our changes been received?
We’ve been overwhelmed with the response from candidates and those we work with. I leave you with two recent pieces of feedback:
“I am really amazed at how the whole day was carried out, I am sure people worked really hard to adapt to the situation and this did not affect the quality of the day or the rigour that is applied to every step of the selection process. Congratulations!”
- Development Centre candidate, shared through our anonymous candidate feedback survey
“I have benefited enormously from all of the work that Teach First have done on video interviewing and assessing, I am now confident that we can use video interviews to support our staff recruitment for September.”
- Anna Hennell James, Chief Executive Officer, Orwell Multi Academy Trust