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Headteacher In A Brand New School – The Leadership Challenge Of Hiring Teachers And Staff

One of the joys – and challenges – of building a school from scratch is being able to choose staff according to your values, as Hannah Wilson explains…

Hannah Wilson
by Hannah Wilson

As headteacher of a brand new school, with a small budget, I have consciously tried to innovate through my recruitment strategy. I find it quite staggering how much money schools spend on adverts in the national edupress, when there are candidates locally and regionally who could be engaged in a different, less-expensive way.

So, when I was appointed last June, I pledged to do things differently.

Strategy 1: build a following

I consciously worked to grow a following of educators who were interested in the journey of creating a school from scratch, and who, crucially, identified with my vision and values, which I shared at every opportunity.

I started a blog; was active on the major social media channels; and attended formal and informal events where I would deliberately speak to people I didn’t know.

Through the #womened and #bameed communities I connected with existing and aspiring leaders who are ambitious, dynamic, and also looking to challenge the system and affect change.

Strategy 2: emphasise the values

Wellbeing, diversity and equality are core values in my leadership and in the school vision, and so I made this explicit in the recruitment process.

I promoted the fact I was an inclusive leader and seeking to create a school where we can be teachers and still have a life. I pledged to recruit diverse leaders, offering flexible roles from the outset, not just to retain great staff (we have appointed three flexible leaders and our SLT are 60% female and 60% BAME).

Strategy 3: hold open events

I know how much time and energy it takes researching, applying, planning and preparing for interviews, so I chose to lead with face-to-face open events.

I encouraged interested parties to register on our website, then invited them all to meet me on a Saturday afternoon, when I presented my vision and explained whom I was looking for to join me on the journey.

This enabled applicants to go away and decide if they were aligned or not before I published the opportunities available.

Strategy 4: look for people first

Focusing on the souls not the roles, I created an open recruitment window. I didn’t detail the posts I was looking for, emphasising instead the type of people I wanted to recruit.

Applicants could build their own jobs from the outline of which subjects we needed, which positions we could create, which contracts we could offer. This gave those interested a clean sheet to design their own role, which was liberating for all involved. How often do we get to define our own role and shape our own career?

Strategy 5: let the candidates shine

Recruitment culminated in a values-led selection process. Each task provided an opportunity for the applicants to shine, to demonstrate their skill set, to show their potential and to develop relationships with their potential colleagues as our team evolved.

With no staff, students, parents nor building to use our neighbouring feeder school hosted us, and we held interviews for five days back to back.

Strategy 6: consider the future

Growing our talent pool was key as we know we have a six-year growth model for our student number, our budget and our staff structure. The calibre was high, so I made it clear in feedback that it wasn’t a ‘no’ but a ‘not right now’ with strong candidates.

And I made four offers – one leader, one teacher and two support staff – for September 2018. Yes, they have a year to wait, but they will be part of our team and our journey from day one.

I honestly found the whole recruitment process exhilarating and a really pleasurable experience as I met a phenomenal group of educators. I spent a lot of time considering my values and my vision. The #teachmeet component for teachers and the #leadmeet component for leaders meant that I also learnt lots.

Moreover, the candidates bonded and a team began to evolve. I cannot recommend breaking the rules and doing things differently, authentic to your leadership style, enough.

Hannah Wilson is headteacher at the Aureus School, a brand new, comprehensive 11-16 school that opened in Didcot in September 2017. It is part of the GLF MAT. You can find her at and follow her on Twitter at @TheHopefulHT.

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