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Interviewing locum teachers

Make sure your interviewing techniques are up to scatch when recruiting supply teachers

Published on 14th August 2017

Many schools have a tried and tested interviewing process, however, it never does any harm to revisit your policy and check it is working for you. This is particularly true when interviewing supply teachers. Often schools put a lot of time and effort into recruiting permanent members of staff but it is just as crucial to get the right locum teachers in place.

It is also a good idea to go back to the drawing board on your recruitment process if you are starting at a new school to look at how things are currently done – and what you can bring to the table.

In terms of locums, you may have different interview processes for supply teachers doing odd days cover than for staff who are covering a longer-term projects. You may also tailor your interviews slightly differently when it comes to recruiting new graduates.

The whole process should be tailored around your schools’ needs.


Firstly when you are looking for a supply teacher to work in your school, list your priorities as to what is the most important factors. A typical list might be as follows, but will vary from school to school:

  • Reliability
  • The ability to engage with pupils and motivate them
  • A passion for teaching/the subject matter
  • Social skills to get on with other staff
  • A ‘can do’ attitude and enthusiasm

When looking to hire locum staff, you may want evidence of experience, other schools are happy to take on new graduates as supply teachers knowing they are usually very enthusiastic and keen to make an impression.

You should reflect on your whole school and identify where there may be areas of weakness for example, if your SEND provision needs a boost, you could look for locums with expertise in that field that you can draw on even if you are not recruiting to a SEN position.

Many head-teachers go to recruitment agencies for locum teachers. Naturally there is a cost attached but it does save head-teachers valuable time, and, if you brief your consultant well, they will select only the candidates that match your criteria for the interview process meaning you are not spending hours with a totally unsuitable candidate who ‘looked good on paper’.

There are tips here for working well with a recruitment consultant.

Once you have potential teachers in front of you, be clear about what you are looking for, what skills the applicant should possess and what you are happy to compromise on.

Often head-teachers will go for a three-pronged process for selecting suitable teachers:

  • Traditional interview
  • Panel of pupils
  • Teaching a class

Traditional interview

You may want to start your interview process with a traditional style of interview to get a feel of the person and if they are suitable. This could be the first stage of your interview process to settle on a short list of candidates.

Plan your questions in advance, starting off with some open ended ‘easy’ questions to put your candidate at ease before honing in on the particulars that you are looking for. Questions could include:

  • What are your strengths as a teacher/teaching assistant?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What is your strategy for behaviour management in the classroom?
  • What would an outstanding lesson look like: describe what I would see and hear?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?

While interviewing, look for evidence of effective communication skills, classroom management skills, behaviour strategies, understanding of the subject and enthusiasm. Also think how this person would fit into your existing staff structure, particularly if the successful candidate will be working on a longer-term project or a regular at the school. You don’t want someone to come in – however capable – and ruffling feathers among your team.

Panel of young people

You could incorporate this as a stand-alone second stage of the interview process or group it together with the first or third stage. However, putting your candidate in front of a panel of young people gets a completely different perspective. It is naturally wise to select your group of young people carefully and have a member of staff work with them beforehand to come up with their list of questions but it is likely they will ask a host of different questions to the ones that adults come up with. Plus it gives you an ideal opportunity to sit back and observe how the candidate interacts with pupils and their reaction too.

Ask for pupils’ feedback at the end of the session (after the candidate has left).

Classroom teaching

Nothing gives you a better idea as to how well the interviewee will fit into your school than to observe them doing the job. Many people admit they do not interview well in the traditional q and a style but put them in front of a class of pupils and they come to life.

Ask them to plan and prepare a task or lesson and ensure the brief is clear if you want to look for particular capabilities. Inform the interviewee:

  • Who they will be teaching
  • How long the lesson is
  • What the focus of the lesson should be
  • Any specific elements you want incorporating into the lesson.

Do ask them in advance if they need anything in particular ie equipment. Also, inform the class what is happening and why so they are aware of what is going on.

Observing a lesson will enable you to see how the candidate interacts with pupils, engages them, inspires and motivates them, deals with any behaviour problems and keeps on task. Again, ask for feedback from the pupils in the class afterwards.

These are suggestions as to how you can run your recruitment selection process. If you work with a recruitment agency, your consultant can advise you further on how you can run your locum teacher recruitment process smoothly and effectively.


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