It was 6.00 a.m. on a cold dark winter’s morning but thankfully no frost, snow or even rain. Yesterday had been a disaster. The interview panel made it clear that as I did not already live in Cornwall I was a foreigner. They spent little time on questions about my qualifications, experience or my attitude to various professional situations. Instead they asked about my opinion on fougos – which luckily I knew were Iron Age structures and that no one really knew what they were for. I knew that many people in that area believed they were refuges and so volunteered that as my opinion. I did not do as well on other local points of interest as I had not prepared for an examination of my Cornish knowledge. It did not help that I had decided to wear my old school tie (this was often recognised and often earned me a brownie points). Unfortunately the chair of governors’ was wearing his old school tie – this showed he had attended the school that were our greatest rivals. I did not wait to hear who was appointed but set off home as soon as my interview ended as I was sure I had no chance.

This morning I decided to wear a smart neutral tie and not risk another disaster. I had started early because this school was further south west and I had given myself five hours to be sure of having arrived by 11.00 a.m. It turned out to be an easy journey so I arrived in the village just before ten. It was a small village and the only place that sold coffee was the local pub, so I parked and went in. The barman     was welcoming and said if I would like to sit on the table near the fire he would bring my coffee over. When he brought the coffee he put it on the table along with a slice of coffee and walnut cake which he said was on the house – he added I looked hungry and the cake was left from yesterday so he would not be able to sell it. I thought things were looking up and coffee and walnut is my favourite cake.

Two locals, one in wellingtons and the other wearing a cowboy hat, came in and ordered pints and stood by the bar chatting to the landlord.

Wellingtons “ Hear they’re interviewing for a new head at the school?”

“Yes, Ben” said the landlord.

“Well Miss stuck up Francis will get it.” Said Ben.

“Yes, “said cowboy hat ,”she grew up here and plays the organ in church.”

“Me be, but the kids don’t like her and parents don’t think she’s much cop” said Ben

“True,” said the barman, “but if anyone else gets the job she’ll make their life a misery. What’s more she hasn’t taught anywhere else and has only been deputy head for a term.”

I had heard enough – this looked a bigger problem than yesterday, and I wondered if I wanted the job if I was offered it as it seemed that I would start with a potential fight on my hands. I went to the bar and paid the barman for the coffee and added a tip – to cover the cake – which I told him was delicious.

“Thank you. Have a good day sir!”

Although I arrived early at the school the other candidates had already arrived. The head introduced everyone and said to take coffee and biscuits whenever we needed. He said when each of us would be interviewed - I was fourth of five and Miss Francis was last. He said he would come for the first candidate when the committee were ready. As usual we told each other where we had come from and started chatting generally (a good way to keep your mind occupied and not dwell on what you wanted to say). After saying that she was local Miss Francis did not get involved and when the head came for the first candidate she said she would be in her classroom helping the supply teacher if that was alright. The head said he would fetch her from there.

Each candidate was in for about twenty minutes so I only had an hour to occupy myself. When I was called I was introduced to the panel. The chair of governors was the verger, the vicar was the second governor, and the lady was a churchwarden, lastly the chief education officer for Cornwall was introduced. This was a much better interview. I was asked about my best teaching moment, why I had decided to get extra qualifications in teaching reading and in teaching maths and similar professional questions. The last question was whether I played any musical instrument. I said I could play a recorder well enough to teach primary children and that I sang in a choir. The follow up to this was whether I would join the church choir. I said that if I could find a house in the village and my voice was thought good enough I would be delighted to.

When I returned to the waiting room I glanced at my watch and saw my interview had taken forty minutes. The three who preceded me suggested I must have a good chance. Three quarters of an hour later the chief education officer came in and said Miss Francis had accepted the post but he would like to have a word with me.

He told me that the result was what he had expected – unless I had revealed that I was a church organist (but if I had been he would have expected that to be in my application).  He then said what he was about to tell me was in the strictest confidence. He said that in his view any of the candidates would have been a better choice than the appointee. He also said that I must be aware that I was the strongest candidate from the length of my interview – apparently Miss Francis was only interviewed for ten minutes as the committee said they already knew all about her. Apparently he and, surprisingly, the vicar had spent nearly half an hour trying to convince the rest of the panel to appoint me. When the chair called for the vote apparently he said if they did not appoint Miss Francis she might leave and where would they find another organist.

“You left too quickly yesterday for me to have a word with you. Please keep applying for schools in Cornwall as I need heads like you. But don’t bother to apply for small schools like this. This afternoon’s school is much bigger and the sort of school you should be aiming for. See you at three.”

The sky was still grey and there was a light sleet shower. Rather than spend time looking for somewhere else to eat I decided to go back to the pub where I had coffee. The barman welcomed me back.

“I thought you were just passing through but I can see you’re in a posh suit so I guess you were a candidate for the head’s job?”

“Yes and Ben was right Miss Francis was appointed.”

“What the whole village expected. She won’t last long though parents have already started a petition in case she got the job. So, hopefully, I’ll see you again in a few months time?”

“Sorry hope to have a job before then I’m due in the next village at three o’clock.”

“Well if you were shortlisted for that can’t see why the governors didn’t grab you. Everyone knows that this school is not a patch on the one you’re going to this afternoon.”

I ordered a meal and booked a room for the night – I thought it was unlikely I would be home before midnight and I had another interview in the morning. The meal arrived quickly and was perfect. I went to the toilet and then went to pay the bill.

“Thank you Sir! I hope this will become your local when you move to Cornwall.”

The sun had come out and the sleet had stopped so I had a pleasant, short, drive to my afternoon appointment. This time I was one of six candidates, two were Cornish and the rest of us came from outside the county – one had even come from Guernsey. This time everyone (there were three men and three women) was friendly. We talked about the weather, where we came from and even about our current posts. Everyone had been a deputy head for at least two years.

Well, I had failed the two easy jobs but at least if I failed this afternoon I had the chief education officer’s promise that there was a job somewhere in Cornwall for me. However this was the job I really wanted. Apart from anything else it had a modern four bed roomed house to rent inside the school grounds. With a low rent and no travelling expenses we would be able to save a good sized deposit and be able to buy in Cornwall.

This time it was the chief education officer who introduced everyone. He pointed out that this was a county school – not a church school – and that the governing board was made up of two parents, two political appointees, and a county adviser. He said he would not be taking part but was taking notes for the committee.

“You will each have exactly thirty minutes. I will set an alarm immediately after you have been introduced to the committee. You will each be asked the same six questions by the panel. Keep your answers to the point and short or that will eat into the ten minutes that you have to tell the panel why you are the right person for the job and where you expect the school to be in two years time. Hopefully you were all told to prepare for this and have done your home work? We all nodded.”

So having the chief education officer on my side was no advantage and, I wondered how many of the others were also been unsuccessful elsewhere in Cornwall and told to apply for any Cornish school as they would be shore of a headship  somewhere in the county.

I was last on the list and each candidate came out from there interview looking exhausted. We were all too professional to ask the first candidate what the six questions were. By the time I was called the sun was setting on what had been a beautiful afternoon.

The first question I was asked was what was the best moment in my career so far. I replied that it was when a girl who moved to the school when she was nine - being unable to read or recognise letters – left my class six months later with a reading age of eleven.

“What about your worst moment?”

“When my head teacher was ill on the day the Bishop was visiting the school. I assumed the Bishop would take assembly but he said he was a visitor. It all went well till I came to closing the assembly with the Lord’s Prayer. I got as far as ‘Who art in heaven’ and could not remember the start of the next line. The Bishop intoned ‘Hallowed be thy name’ and we got to the end. I apologised to the Bishop who said ‘the trouble with familiarity is you’re on auto pilot and suddenly the engine fails. That’s why I have the bible held up in front of me when I am taking a service.’”

This at least got a little laugh.

“Which lesson do you enjoy teaching most?”

“I don’t have a favourite but I find Science difficult as it is too dependent on telling pupils rather than them finding  out.”

“You’ve answered question four as well as question three – well done.”

“What would you do if a child started becoming aggressive and abusive?”

“That depends on why the child is behaving that way so it is important to get the child out of the classroom and discuss what he/she is doing and why. During my last OFSTED inspection I was teaching Maths and had just asked the children to complete the work sheet to see that they understood what I had just taught. Suddenly a boy, sitting near the front, stood up, picked up his chair and threw it at me shouting ‘F... you and F... everyone else.’ I caught the chair and gave a red card to the girl by the door who set off to the head’s office. The boy stood there shouting obscenities but the head arrived quickly, took his hand and lead him out of the room. The lead OFSTED inspector was sitting at the back of the class. At the end of the day he asked if I had found out why the boy had behaved like that. I said that I hadn’t and was just going to ask the head. He replied that the head was in a meeting. He said actually, as you probably know, it was the boy’s birthday. His parents were separated and the Dad had gone round the night before to tell the boy he wasn’t giving him a present as he wasn’t his son. He added that I was lucky I hadn’t had everything in the room thrown at me.”

“Lastly. What would you do if one of the staff was not following a school policy?”

“Firstly I would invite the member of staff to join me for a coffee after school and discuss why she/he was acting in that way. Hopefully we could have a sensible conversation and I would be able to persuade him/her to follow the policy in future. If we could not agree then if it was a particular subject problem, and the teacher was teaching all the other subjects correctly, I would try to arrange that the teacher did not teach that subject. The same would apply to most other activities. However if we could not agree I would contact the subject advisor or the primary advisor and take their advice on the next step.”

I left the interview room having just managed to complete my pitch that I was the right person for the job and where I expected the school to be in two years time before the chief education officer’s alarm went off.

A few minutes later the chief education officer came into the room and said that the committee had a tough task as we all had performed well and he expected it would probably be two hours before he could report their decision. He said that if anyone wanted to leave, so they could get home at a reasonable time, would they please tell him that they would, or would not; accept the post and he would ring them by eight next morning.

The two from Cornwall decided to stay, the teacher from Guernsey said he would have to book a room anyway so he would stay. The other two out county candidates from outside Cornwall decided to go home and I stayed – I also gave the teacher from Guernsey the pub’s phone number and he booked a room there.

At eight thirty, after we had all drunk several cups of coffee and eaten all the sandwiches and cake that had been brought in for us, the chief education officer came into the room and asked me if I would return to the interview room.

I was offered the post and I accepted. When I returned to the waiting area the teacher from Guernsey congratulated me and asked if he could follow me to the pub.

It was a dark clear night with bright stars filling the sky. I was feeling just as bright as the stars – glad I had failed two interviews because I had passed the one I really wanted. I now realised that it was a blessing that I had not been offered either of those jobs because if I had accepted either then I would have had to withdraw from this last interview. As my mother used to say every cloud has a silver lining.

May 06, 2021 18:16

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