Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Vahey report

The report of the UK investigation into the Vahey affair has been released and points the finger at the school's recruitment processes. Conducted by a non-educator and someone who has never been a school principal, the report reportedly states that a major failing was in not taking references prior to interview. The effect? More procedures which will require checking of boxes and shift attention away to what really went wrong at all the schools involved.

The call to check references prior to interview is simply idiotic. Anyone who has ever done this knows it  takes from weeks to months to receive references. Some never arrive at all, and it is increasingly common for American employers to refuse to provide references at all. Instead, they issue a "certificate of employment".

With a longlist of eight or more candidates,  all of whom are almost certainly interviewing elsewhere, requiring references prior to interview is a non-starter. The norm and arguable best practice is taking references at the offer stage, prior to appointment. By all accounts, the UK school in question did indeed do this and the references were presumably good.

The report also challenged the lack of advertizing of the position. Again, a comment from at best a naif. Good schools receive a large number of unsolicited applications so do not need to advertise as they already have good candidates who have shown a desire to work with and for them. Secondly, advertizing adds time to the process and schools like to have their staff in place as quickly as possible. Thirdly, advertizing adds a huge administrative demand as applications must be reviewed, acknowledged and so on. Fourthly, advertizing where an incumbent is to be let go but does not yet know can be destructive.

Finally, and most importantly, at the top level of international or independent schools, a network or "club" exists and much is done by word of mouth. That this candidate had worked in top schools, all of whom had their own selection and screening processes, and all of whom apparently gave him good references, provides all and more than any hiring process requires.

What went wrong here, and as I have argued elsewhere, lies not in the recruitment phase but in the post-appointment supervision processes. Warning flags were ignored, admittedly easily said in hindsight. However, effective middle-management and senior-management oversight would make transgressions such as Vahey's at best very very difficult, and repeated transgressions well-nigh impossible.

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