This is the second in a two-part mini-series centred around breaking into pastoral care roles. The focus of this post is on the application process and the interview day(s)/questions/tasks. To see the previous post click here.
It’s tough to write about the application process largely due to the fact most schools use different proforma and application methods. They all do follow similar conventions though in expecting you to respond to a person specification and write a cover letter, with perhaps some sort of prompt or direction for your letter. If they do offer this it will likely focus on your experience/vision for pastoral care, which is something I encouraged you to reflect on in the previous post in this series. It’s important for you to do your research into the school prior to any application and, again, key questions to ask of the school were a feature of the previous post. Put the feelers out to anybody in your network to find out more about the school – Twitter is great for this and I can’t overstate how many contacts I have made which have helped to gather information about roles/schools.
You should be able to pull all of this together, with your skills and experience, and articulate why you are a suitable candidate for the role. The best letters will have a focus throughout on why you are not just a suitable candidate for the role but what you have learned about the school and why it is right for you. The longer I have worked in schools the more importance I have placed on finding the right environment for me – aligning your vision and values with the culture of the school are of significant importance in ensuring you can make a sustainable impact and enjoy what you do.
I’d encourage you to ask somebody who knows you well personally to read your letter alongside somebody who knows you in a more professional capacity. Your letter and supporting evidence should capture ‘you’ and feel both honest and representative of who you are. Make sure you back up any statements you make with evidence of how you achieved them, what was the impact? How did you go about introducing it? What was key? How did your leadership affect it? Facts and figures will help here – if you can point to a % rise or a # drop etc. If you are trying to evidence something more abstract – how do you know it was successful? How did you measure and monitor it? You want to show the person reading that you are both reflective and strategic.
The Interview Day
You’ve made it to the interview stage – congratulations! In all likelihood a pastoral interview will be a 1-day affair if you are a successful candidate. Most schools, depending on the number of applicants, will conduct a further cut at lunchtime before moving to formal interviews. The tasks and interviews in the morning are there to demonstrate your suitability for the role, get a feel for you as a person/professional and see if you can back up what you wrote in your application. I’ve outlined below the tasks I’ve come up against as an interviewee and overseen as an interviewer:
You should hopefully have been on a tour of the school prior to your application. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a repeat or an opportunity to relax. The tour is as much of an interview activity as the other parts of the day. I believe the tour is a good opportunity for you to really ask questions about the school and, most importantly, delve into what the kids think. It’s tempting to blurt out any question you can think of to try and get the kids on side and espousing how personable you were during the tour when they are asked to feedback but I’d recommend being more pragmatic. I always found it beneficial to get them thinking by asking them to take you to the place they are most proud of in the school, point out areas that students have had a hand in developing or areas they feel need to be improved.
Tours become more problematic when there are multiple candidates being toured around. I’ve seen as many as 6 candidates to 2 students and that environment is one where people tend to start climbing over each other for some interaction with the students. It’s not great and all I would recommend is that you ask some pointed questions but don’t feel pressure to compete. Whenever I am involved in recruitment I like to see, wherever possible, tours being conducted 1 candidate to 2 students, and I’d take this opportunity to encourage other recruiters to do the same.
There is also the option of a tour conducted by staff rather than by students. Most of the same advice applies – just remember that staff opinions of you may hold a bit more sway during feedback!
The Data Task:
A data task features often in pastoral interviews because you need to be comfortable presenting and interrogating data, whether that be linked to behaviour/achievement/attendance or student performance. Tasks will very often focus on these areas – I’ve had everything from a single page of data to reams of paper to draw conclusions from. If you’ve done your research beforehand there will probably be things you are already aware of that you can look out for immediately – perhaps exclusions are high, attendance too low or rewards well outweighed by sanctions. Your job will be to identify these and, in most cases, come up with some sort of action plan to address your biggest concerns. If you can identify groups from this data that will put you in good stead – attendance might be an issue in the school, for example, but if this is negatively impacted mostly by boys then your response should factor this in.
Generally, an In-Tray of some kind will feature during the process – a list of scenarios occurring in school, with some safeguarding issues thrown in, that you must prioritise and often justify why. As long as you identify the safeguarding issues, and place them at the top, the justifications after will be largely down to opinion. What order would you prioritise the following scenarios?
It’s the middle of the school day:
- A call has just come in to reception that students in your year group were throwing stones into traffic after school yesterday.
- A student is waiting outside of your office in tears.
- You’ve received a duty call to attend a science classroom on the other side of the school. You haven’t got any further information.
- You have a deadline of this afternoon to submit your governors report to the Head of Key Stage.
- A teacher has emailed to inform you that a student has just disclosed that she has been self harming.
- You are delivering an assembly in the morning and you haven’t started planning it yet.
You are given a topic and asked to write a letter to a parent, or sometimes another stakeholder, regarding an issue you have been presented with. This could be anything from an academic issue in a lesson or subject to a student being bullied. Ensure your letter is clear and concise and addresses the points raised. Don’t make any promises other than to investigate and to get back to the person – I always like to state a date for when I will respond and add that I will make contact, even if there is no resolution, so that the parent can be kept up to date. As part of this task you may also be asked to follow-up with an action plan of what you would do next after writing the letter.
The Group Discussion or ‘Goldfish Bowl’:
If there’s a task on an interview day I hate more than any other it’s the ‘Goldfish Bowl’. A simulated group discussion on a topic, or range of topics, in which you are supposed to discuss and keep the conversation going and on task. You may be assigned a role if the interviewers particularly hate you.
My advice for this task is to be yourself and contribute where you feel you can. If there is one thing that this task does achieve it’s that it shows an observer who you wouldn’t want on your team. The person clambering to interject at every opportunity or shouting over others to have their point heard.
The Group task:
You may also face any other range of group tasks – again not my favourite thing to see in interviews at any level but sometimes present, nonetheless. These could have a focus, like the discussions previously, or you may be tasked with achieving something as a group. At an interview for a Head of House role I was part of a group in which we had to design a transition plan for Year 6 pupils coming up to the school. Again, the same advice follows – be yourself, be honest and contribute where you can.
The Role Play:
I’ve only ever experienced two role-plays – one was a telephone conversation with a ‘parent’, played by the Deputy Head, ringing in to discuss a staff member racially abusing a pupil. The other was a conversation with a ‘parent’ about the progress of their child in a mock progress meeting. If you are put into a role-play scenario acknowledge in your head that it is strange but treat it as if was a formal interview. Again this is an area where your research will benefit you – you might be able to refer to the school’s behaviour system or safeguarding policy to back up your points and shut down avenues for the role-player to go down. If you are at the point of being interviewed it’s because you have the skills and experience and have probably done this day-to-day. Don’t let the awkwardness of the situation throw you off.
Presentations can cover anything but will likely have some sort of link to the role, your own vision and values or wider school life. As with any presentation make sure that it is clear and concise, that you have timed and rehearsed it well and that you have shown it to somebody else. This will help you to anticipate any follow-up questions – which you will be able to deftly answer!
I have only ever been asked to do an assembly once for a non-teaching HOY role and it was a 10-minute slot with the topic given to me beforehand. I think delivering an assembly to a room of students and staff you don’t know is one of the hardest tasks you can be given for any role, but the same principles apply as your presentation. If you can I’d encourage you to welcome students into the hall/space but these situations may be managed for you. If the person introducing you doesn’t say who you are and why you are there I’d encourage you to do this yourself. Most kids will be on board when they hear you are there for an interview. This might be another opportunity to include some of your research – say you are given the topic of ‘the benefits of reading’ and it says on the school website that students have a tutor time session each week dedicated to reading, mention it. You will be continuing to show those observing you that you have tried to develop an understanding of the school and its context.
The Student Activity:
There are several occasions where I have had to conduct some sort of activity with students. These can be incredibly varied, but I’d also suggest they aren’t very common. In one scenario I had to deliver a talk about an object that was meaningful to me to a class, in another the students from the school council had been tasked with making a decision and my role was to facilitate this. Make sure to introduce yourself, try to use their names and bring them onboard for anything you do/discuss. The observers will be looking for how you engage and interact with the students and whether you are capable of building relationships in the short time you have with them.
The Speed Date:
You may find yourself in a room, rotating through conversations with a range of staff, designed to give multiple people the chance to question and get a feel for you – or the opposite and you will be given the chance to question them. I would recommend using this opportunity to find out about the people you may be working with rather than the school. You will have a very short amount of time to have these discussions and this focus on the staff you might be working with is a good strategy to find out whether the school is right for you. Ask them whether they receive regular CPD? Are they supported in their roles? What’s their favourite thing about working at the school? How long have they been there?
The Student Panel:
I’ve found student panels to be ever-present on pastoral interview days. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is the ‘If you were a biscuit what would you be?’ panel as often students will be asking some hard-hitting questions. You will need to be able to tailor your responses to your audience. The same advice applies here as I suggested for any task involving students – make sure you introduce yourself and try to remember their names. In a pastoral role they will want to see you show warmth and empathy but also demonstrate that you can lead and be firm. Use examples to back up your responses that will resonate with the students and that they will have understanding/experience of and try not to be as formal as you would in the final interview.
The Formal Interview:
The final part of the day, if you make it through, will be the formal interview. I’ve tried below to collate a range of interview questions relevant to pastoral care – lots of these I have been asked before in some variant. Don’t rehearse answers to the point they feel hollow – I don’t tend to look at interview questions anymore but find being able to think about the issues they present or how my answers have changed is a useful exercise. You could have a list of 1000 questions and still be asked something new in an interview – it’s more sensible, certainly from my perspective, to think about your experiences and tailor them to different questions. Think of a time when you faced a really challenging behaviour from a student – how could you use that example to back up your answer to each of the three questions below:
1. A pastoral leader must be comfortable dealing with challenging behaviour – can you give an example of when you have done this and how you resolved the situation?
2. What is the most important skill for a pastoral leader to have and why?
3. What do you believe is the purpose of pastoral care?
The strength of your answers comes from the evidence you use to back up what you have said. There is some skill in taking your experiences and moulding them around an answer, no matter what the question.
The Interview Questions:
What would be the first three things you would do, in the role, if you were successful today?
How would you use assessment to support progress and attainment in your year group?
How would you develop a shared vision/ethos within your year group?
How important is communication with parents/carers for a pastoral leader?
What does inclusion look like in a successful year group? How would you ensure that all students needs are met?
A pastoral leader must be comfortable dealing with challenging behaviour – can you give an example of when you have done this and how you resolved the situation?
How have you contributed to the development of the school community in your career so far?
How involved should a pastoral leader be in the development of teaching and learning?
Give an example of a situation where you have used rewards/praise to motivate a student.
What is the biggest issue currently facing pastoral staff in schools?
You have received a complaint from a parent that their child is being bullied – what do you do?
Can you share an occasion where an intervention or strategy you have been a part of has failed and what were your reflections?
How would you manage a diverse team of tutors at varying stages of their career?
You disagree with elements of the school’s new behaviour policy – how do you deal with this?
What are you most looking forward to about potentially taking on this role?
One of your tutors is refusing to follow the tutor time schedule you have designed. How do you deal with this?
You will be line managing an Assistant Head of Year – how would you ensure you build a strong working relationship?
Give an example of an occasion where you have built a relationship with a challenging student.
A student has reported to you that a member of staff smells of alcohol – how do you respond?
You have heard a rumour that explicit pictures of a student in your year group are being shared around the school – what are your next steps?
How would you handle a child disclosing something sensitive to you?
Year 7 – How would you ensure an effective transition process from Year 6 to Year 7?
Year 8/9 – How would you engage your year group with extra-curricular opportunities? What steps would you take to develop a positive attitude towards options choices in Year 9?
Year 10 – How would you promote positive attitudes towards homework and the expectations of GCSEs?
Year 11 – What role does a Head of Year play in supporting the Post-16 options process?
That covers the day and a wide variety of the tasks you could be asked to undertake. These will be the core components of an interview day and, if you prepare well for them, there won’t be much that could surprise you! As always contact me on twitter @connoracton if you want to discuss further.