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Selection centre advice


In this article, we will tell you what can you expect if you're asked to attend a selection centre, and give you advice on how best to deal with some of the common challenges.





Plan your route to the school carefully – be aware of traffic hiccups and parking issues. Be early. Bring your timetable, map, format for day, ofsted report, SIP, personnel list and any other details the school have given you. Bring water and snacks as you may not get a chance to eat anything. Wear something smart and comfortable. Bring a paper and pen with you in an unobtrusive handbag or brief case.

Familiarise yourself with the school day, lay out, toilets, your base for the day and where you are expected to be. Try to get around the school and observe and talk to people in breaks, to build your impression of the schools strengths, ethos, attitude for learning and areas for development. Be seen around and engage with people but not to the extent that you are not mentally prepared for the next interview task.


  • Try not to immediately scan the competition and make a judgement on the top candidates

  • Try not to lose your nerve when you realise there is an internal candidate – internal candidates have a lot more to lose and you are not aware of the politics. The panel are aware of the internal candidates strengths but also their areas for development. You have an opportunity to showcase only your strengths

  • Try not to lose your nerve when you realise there is a current head in the running – the panel could be looking for lots of experience or someone they perceive as “hungrier”


You should have a clear sense of the proposition you are offering:

  • Your strengths and examples of evidence with impact to illustrate and showcase them

  • Your vision for their school

  • The strengths and challenges of the school and how you will meet them

  • Clarity on your educational vision

Breathe, try to relax and enjoy the experience – the governors want you to do well; they want to meet their new headteacher and make the appointment.

If your vision and capabilities do not meet theirs, do not take the outcome personally. Ask for thorough feedback and learn form the experience.

Leading an assembly

This may be a more common exercise in a primary school or a faith school. Essentially the governors are looking for a clear message, uplifting and purposeful, building a rapport with the students, a sense of presence, authority and engagement. Keep it simple, safe and clear. It's better too short than too long and remember to smile.

Lesson observation

You may have met this task in gaining your deputy role. The priorities are similar:

  • Accurately assessing the level of the lesson

  • Give clear actions for improvement which will include some ideas or suggestions or possible solutions

You might be asked to deliver feedback to the teacher in question and be observed in delivering feedback. You will be in familiar territory here, but you’ll need to build rapport with the teacher quickly and constructively. Questions are a good place to start:

  • What went well?

  • Could do better?

  • How would you describe the levels of learning that took place?

Be constructive, honest and positive

You may be asked to feedback to the panel on the lesson observation. Give them the headlines of the strengths and areas for development and an overall grade for the lesson. Use Ofsted criteria and scoring for that assessment and the schools lesson observation format. The panel do not necessarily need to hear the details of the content of the lesson. They will be looking for ideas, an action plan, solutions and suggestions on broader implications or trends across the school, e.g. sharing good practice across the school.


In these situations you are asked to take on the role of headteacher as part of a role play, sometimes with members of the panel. Scenarios usually focus on events such as meeting an angry parent or dealing with a difficult staffing matter.

There are no half measures here. You have no choice but to throw yourself into it, even if you hate role plays. They will be assessing your communication skills:

  • Tone, body language, how you deal with antagonism or give difficult messages. They are often intended to see how candidates perform under pressure

  • Be calm, and respond as naturally as you can in an artificial situation

Group discussions

Many candidates feel they let themselves down in this exercise. Candidates are often given a 30-40 minute task to discuss and produce an action plan and feedback for 10mins. Governors will be observing throughout. Its worth establishing the roles/tasks/priorities at the beginning of the exercise, e.g. will everyone take notes or someone specifically? Who will feedback and in which format? What are the key prioriities for the task?

Do not be unnerved by your fellow candidates. This is a competitive task so you must engage with it. You will all be under pressure to perform and impress the panel. Do not try to second guess which kind of responses the governors are wanting to hear. Avoid the extremes of responses – saying too little or saying too much.

Governors are often looking for facilitation qualities:

  • Who brings the best out of their team players?

  • Who builds on what others are saying and develops ideas further?

  • Who can assimilate information quickly and keep the discussion moving in the right direction?

  • Who keeps an eye on time and the boundaries of the task?

  • Who dominates, talks over others, or introduces red herrings?

  • Who sits quietly, not getting their voice heard, getting more and more frustrated?

Engage with the task, don’t be hampered by the observers or obvious strategies for domination by other colleagues, keep positive, creative and constructive.

Panel interviews

You may be asked to undertake a series of panel interviews with a range of governors and LA/Diocesan advisors. Often the chair of a variety of governing body committees will lead an approx 30 minute session with around 5 questions on:

  • Personnel / HR / people management

  • Resource management

  • Curriculum

  • T&L

  • Faith

Your preparation needs to be thorough to ensure you have a number of examples of evidence up your sleeve. Work through each example with the structure of context, rational and action impact. If you use the same examples from your supporting statement, mini panel interviews and then full governing body panel interview on Day 2, the panel will confer and will assume that you do not have the breadth of experience they are looking for.

By the same token do not assume that you cannot use examples that you have already given in your supporting statement or a previous interview, as the panel may not remember your statement or you may be rightly justified in using the same example twice to illustrate differing skills.

These interviews are intended to assess your operational and strategic competence, breadth, experience and impact. Use every opportunity to the full.

Do not expect the panel to prompt you or follow up with further questions. You have one opportunity to nail it.

Think of a range of examples when preparing for your selection centre to illustrate differing leadership skills encompassed in the National Standards – which skills would you want to be convinced of if you were a governor on the panel?

When answering questions

Always try to provide an example of evidence that illustrates certain leadership skills. Walk through your answer in four stages:

  • Context – give your listeners a sense of place, time and background

  • Vision – what did you want to achieve in this initiative? What were your objectives? What was your rationale behind the way you approached this issue?

  • Action – what did you do? Don’t be shy about referring to I lead, I researched, I presented, I monitored…

  • Impact – what were the outcomes? How did you measure your success? What was the impact on a number of areas – results, confidence, ethos, parents, etc

  • Always think – have I been clear about my role? Have I illustrated the process clearly? Have I brought this answer to life? Are my listeners clear about how I’ve handled this and what my priorities are? What more can I say about the impact?

Illustrating what you have achieved in the past is the best method of convincing your listeners that you will achieve again in the future. If you stick to a detached, theoretical response around your ideas, it does not clarify whether you can actually deliver on those ideas, or indicate how you work – how you motivate others, hold them accountable, work through a change process, monitor, review and reflect on the impact you have made.

It’s impossible to respond in a cohesive, comprehensive, measured way that touches on all the necessary points, off the cuff. Considering your key achievements, key skills, essential leadership skills, your vision for school improvement and the community, prior to the process and structuring your evidence for each will greatly improve your delivery at interview.

Good luck

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