Remote recruitment in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic

Safe recruitment remains a priority, even if it must happen remotely. Gill Martindale, senior HR consultant at Browne Jacobson, outlines ways of ensuring recruitment processes remain robust

Author details

Gill Martindale, senior HR consultant at Browne Jacobson LLP, specialises in supporting senior leaders in schools, academies and MATs with all employee relations issues.

The current pandemic means that we need to do things differently and this includes how we recruit new staff to our schools and academies. 

We are approaching one of the busiest times for school recruitment if we are to fill essential posts for the remainder of 2021, but need to ensure that safeguarding aspects are properly considered.

You still have a duty to follow safer recruitment processes in these unprecedented times, including, as appropriate, relevant sections in Part 3 of the Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance (KCSIE).  

Tips for video interviews

Most people are now used to holding meetings and speaking to family via electronic means, and it is becoming much more commonplace for recruitment processes. 

It is possible to carry out a thorough interview remotely, either by telephone or video call, and they can be just as valid as face-to-face ones. 

An interview is still an essential element to ensure safer recruitment and should be as robust and structured as if you were conducting it face to face. For example, you should still have someone on the panel who has been suitably trained in safer recruitment, and you should still explore suitability in terms of working with children. 

However, there are a few important things to consider ahead of conducting a video interview. 

  • Ensure you have appropriate technology in place and that staff conducting the interviews are fully conversant with how it works. Test your technology, especially audio and camera settings and internet connection (have a trial run first).
  • Ensure the interview details sent to the applicant include any link and/or passcode to access the online interview on the day. This can be sent in advance via email.
  • Build in time prior to the start of the interview for all participants to log on.
  • Provide the applicant with a guidance document (see below) so they understand the format of the interview and how it will be conducted.
  • Find a quiet space with a plain backdrop (nothing that would distract the candidate), no background noise and plenty of natural light.
  • If the applicant has disclosed details of reasonable adjustment(s) they require at this stage of the recruitment process, make sure these are put in place to ensure a fair selection and interview process.
  • At the start of the interview, check the applicant’s DBS and right-to-work documents (see guidance below), explaining the purpose of this temporary change to the process. 

Remember, throughout the interview, speak slowly and clearly to ensure the applicant can hear and understand you. Try to not to be put off if the connection drops in and out.

Suggested modifications to the recruitment process 

The purpose of selection is to assess the skills, experience and general background of a candidate in order to decide whether they are a suitable person for a job role. 

Combining several selection methods increases the validity and reliability of the decision. You should therefore continue to include various selection activities. 

Example assessment process for recruiting teachers

As well as an online panel interview, applicants could be asked for one or more of the following.

  • A timed presentation (say 10 minutes) on a set topic to assess their presentation and communication skills. It can be either be submitted or recorded in advance of the interview or presented during the online interview. It may include a Q&A section.  Another option is to ask the candidate to submit a recording in advance of the interview of them delivering an extract of a lesson.
  • Responses to a case study, for example based on behaviour management, sent to them ahead of the interview, to assess their strategies for dealing with poor behaviour. (This option is an alternative to teaching a class in real-time.)
  • A lesson plan submitted ahead of the interview plus a Q&A during the online interview. 

Example assessment process for recruiting teaching assistants

As well as an online panel interview, applicants could be asked for one or more of the following.

  • Responses to a case study sent to the applicant in advance and returned ahead of the interview to assess their communication and behaviour management skills.
  • During the interview, a discussion of a case study with a range of responses from which they can choose their most likely and least likely response and a explain why. 

Example assessment process for recruiting support staff

As well as an online panel interview, an in-tray exercise, sent to the candidate and returned ahead of the interview, could assess their organisational, prioritisation and problem-solving skills.

Example assessment process for recruiting headteachers

As well as an online panel interview, applicants could be asked for one or more of the following. 

  • A timed presentation on a set topic to either be submitted or recorded in advance of the interview plus a Q&A during the online interview. This will assess the applicant’s presentation and communication skills.
  • A case study, for example a data and/or finance task, submitted in advance of the interview plus a Q&A about it. 

Managing practical skills assessments

Some roles, for example for catering, would normally require a practical exercise to assess the applicant’s suitability for the post. 

If you are unable to assess these skills any other way, we recommend you state in the offer letter that a practical assessment will be arranged with the individual at the school as soon as it is safe to do so, and that any job offer is therefore subject to satisfactory completion of the practical assessment, together with pre-employment checks.

If face-to-face interviews are necessary, you should share the school’s control measures in advance and make it clear that candidates must follow the system of controls that you have in place. This includes any requirements for wearing face coverings where social distancing cannot be managed safely.

Temporary changes to DBS checks

In response to COVID-19, the DBS has made temporary changes to standard and enhanced DBS ID checking to minimise the need for face-to-face contact. This note from the DBS explains the temporary changes that came into effect on 24 March 2020. 

These changes enable:

  • ID documents to be viewed over the video link
  • scanned images can be used in advance of the DBS check being submitted.

However, the change should only be implemented for urgent cases where it is not possible to follow the normal identity checking guidelines. The applicant will then be required to present the original versions of these documents when they first attend their employment or volunteering role. 

Where you are utilising volunteers, you should continue to follow the checking and risk assessment process as set out in paragraphs 183 to 188 of KCSIE. Under no circumstances should a volunteer who has not been checked be left unsupervised or allowed to work in regulated activity.  

Right to work checks

Right to work checks have also been temporarily adjusted due to COVID-19 to make it easier for employers to carry them out. 

On a temporary basis, checks can now be carried out over video calls or in person. However, in both cases you must be in physical possession of the original documents.

For example, an individual may choose to send their documents to you by post to enable you to conduct the check with them via live video link. You may not rely on inspecting the document in their hands via a live video link or by checking a faxed or scanned copy of the document.

Probationary clauses

Social distancing causes problems for assessing suitability, so we advise that, when appointing new external staff currently, you consider changing your probationary clause to allow a longer period to assess suitability. 

Where a contract has already been issued, you may still want to extend the probationary period. The method by which you can extend probation will depend on whether the employee’s contract of employment allows you to extend the probationary period. 

If the contract doesn’t provide the right to extend probation, then you can still extend it but will need the individual’s agreement to do so. 

If the member of staff does not agree with your decision/recommendation, take further advice before deciding on whether to terminate their contract. 

Last Updated: 
04 Mar 2021