Don's diary: Recruitment headaches

June 28, 2002

Week one: Monday

Four piles of application forms for departmental posts arrive from personnel. Turn with hope to the largest, ICT in education. The first CV states: "Aim: to secure a good, well-paid job in the computer industry."

Don't shortlist that one. One candidate has not yet completed her initial teacher-training course. Struggle to fill shortlists.

Twenty of 21 mathematics education candidates are pure mathematicians who have never worked in a school. They all give long lists of abstruse undergraduate mathematics courses that they could teach. Only interviewable candidate lives in Nepal and wants to work part time. Ask personnel if we can interview by telephone and beg retiring lecturer to stay on in a job-share if we appoint.


Message from vice-chancellor to say he does not want to approve the shortlists as two of the candidates - senior and experienced schoolteachers interested in research - have not completed their MAs, and this will not do in the research-active department of an old university.

Protracted email correspondence ensues. Bargain struck in which these candidates can be shortlisted as long as they provide a "robust research plan" before a post is offered.

Personnel vetoes phone interview - no conference phone. Nagging worry - any senior teacher coming here will have to take a pay cut of at least £5,000.

Week three: Wednesday

ICT presentations and interviews. All three candidates use PowerPoint. Presentation one barely legible - eyestrain produces headache. Presentation two exciting (this is the candidate we later appoint). Presentation three cannot be projected using our machine or candidate's laptop. Gather round laptop. Presentation consists of text only.

Member of our art education team announces that a colleague from a prestigious institution has not applied for our post because "the competition would be too great".

Worse news follows: mathematics PGCE to be inspected by Ofsted next year. Break news to current lecturer who has said he will never be Ofsted-ed again. He agrees to stay on part time if we appoint the candidate in Nepal. Much to his embarrassment, give him a big hug.


Presentations and interviews for primary science and art education. Before interview, the vice-chancellor suggests that, as it is only education, we do not need to test candidates' intellectual capacity. Point out that if they cannot think, they will be useless teachers and unable to do research.

One candidate asks whether there was a problem about shortlisting her. Her letter from personnel said the vice-chancellor would have to be reassured about her ability to do research. Appoint this candidate.

Hear from my deputy that a good candidate has been appointed for art. Now on tenterhooks to see if they will accept.

Meanwhile, hear on the grapevine that our only mathematics education candidate is being interviewed today, by telephone, by another university. Email finance director and vice-chancellor to say that we will have no option but to close the mathematics PGCE course unless we can appoint this candidate. Personnel agree to telephone interview. Frantic exchange of emails: interview fixed for tomorrow.


Primary science and ICT education have accepted. Still no reply from art. Personnel officer buys conference phone. Do phone interview, come clean about Ofsted. Excellent candidate is unfazed, and we offer her the job then and there. She tells us she has been offered post by another university and promises to email me tomorrow with her decision.

Go home to find letter from son's school saying that the head, the deputy and his class teacher are all quitting teaching at term's end. Sleepless night.


University open day. No one there - World Cup match. Go home early. Check email - candidate from Nepal has accepted. Still no reply from art.

Cassandra Canute is professor of education and head of department at an old university near you.

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