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recruitment in schools and academies during COVID-19

12 May 2020

Please note: the information contained in this legal update is correct as of the original date of publication

The current emergency means that we need to do things differently and this includes how we recruit new staff to our schools and academies. April and May are one of the busiest times for school recruitment and we need to continue if we are to fill essential posts for September 2020.

In this guide we set out some resources that we hope you will find helpful in supporting you through the process at a time when there is so much uncertainty.

We cover the following information which will be updated as required and in response to what is happening in terms of Covid-19:

  1. Guidance on selection processes via video and telephone

  2. Guidance for candidates on the same (you can email this to your candidates in advance of the interview)

  3. Guidance on safer recruitment and selection methods, including DBS currently

  4. Making an offer of employment

  5. Introducing temporary measures for probation

Please refer to our Employers Toolkit for further information on the use of probation clauses.

Set up

Conducting interviews remotely is not new for schools; this is something schools do regularly when interviewing overseas candidates. But the very scale and thought of doing it for every candidate perhaps seems quite daunting; some may question its validity in the selection process.

However, we think most people are getting used to holding meetings and speaking to family via electronic means, so we are certainly all getting used to it.

With the Government’s requirement that we all follow social distancing measures, it is now not possible to conduct face-to-face interviews. This does not mean, however, that you cannot carry out a thorough interview remotely, either by telephone or video call. Holding an interview is still an essential element to ensure safer recruitment and should be as robust and structured as it would be if you were conducting it face to face; for example, you should still have someone on the panel who has been suitably safer-recruitment trained. You should still explore suitability in terms of working with children. Therefore, online interviews can be just as valid as face-to-face ones.

However, if you are conducting a video interview, there are a few important things to consider ahead of the interviews:

  • Ensure you have appropriate technology in place and that those staff conducting the interviews are fully conversant with how it works. Test your technology: audio and camera settings and internet connection (have a trial run first).
  • Ensure you send the interview details to the applicant including any link and/or pin 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 so that all those participants have time 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 to 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 the applicant to ensure they can hear and understand you. Try to not to be put off by the internet dropping in and out.

The process

The purpose of selection is to assess the skills, experience and general background of a candidate in order to decide on whether that person is 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.

For teachers, the assessment process could look like:

  • A timed presentation (say 10 minutes) on a set topic to either be submitted or recorded in advance of the interview or that can be presented during the online interview. This may include a Q&A. This will assess the applicant’s presentation and communication skills. Another option is to ask the candidate to submit a recording in advance of the interview of them delivering an extract of a lesson.

  • OR

  • Asking them in advance to answer and submit a case study, for example based on behaviour management, sent to the applicant ahead of the interview, to assess their strategies of dealing with poor behaviour as an alternative to teaching a class in real-time.

  • OR

  • A lesson plan submitted ahead of the interview plus a Q&A during the online interview.

  • AND

  • An online panel interview.

For Teaching Assistants, the assessment process could include:

  • A case study sent to the candidate and to be returned ahead of the interview to assess their communication and behaviour management skills.

  • OR

  • A case study with a range of responses presented to the applicant during the interview for them to choose their most likely and least likely response and an explanation why.

  • AND

  • An online panel interview.

For support staff, the assessment process could include:

  • An in-tray exercise, sent to the candidate and to be returned ahead of the interview to assess their organisational, prioritisation and problem-solving skills.

  • AND

  • An online panel interview.

For Headteachers, the assessment process could include:

  • 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.

  • AND/OR

  • A case study, for example a data and/or finance task, submitted in advance of the interview plus a Q&A.

  • AND/OR

  • An online panel interview.

Consideration should be given at the earliest opportunity if there is a post where a practical exercise is necessary to assess the applicant’s suitability for the post and you are unable to assess these skills any other way, for example a catering post. We recommend you include 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 offer is therefore subject to satisfactory completion of the practical assessment together with pre-employment checks.

We appreciate that it may seem daunting conducting an interview online. However, we hope that through providing this guidance the process will run as smoothly as possible and you will be able to perform to your best ability on the day of the interview.

To help you prepare, we provide the following advice:

Timing:

Arriving early is just as important as it is for an in-person interview. It may take you a while to log on to the video software and you will want to resolve any technical issues before the interview starts so there are no unnecessary delays. You should have received information about the technology we will be using and how to log on in advance of the interview; make yourself familiar with this prior to the morning of the interview.

Test your technology:

When preparing for a video interview, it is important to:

  1. Check that your speakers and microphone work and make sure your voice can be heard loud and clear.

  2. Check that the camera lighting is not too dark or too light.

  3. Check your internet connection. A slow Wi-Fi connection may affect audio and visual performance, so it may be that you should ask other people in your house to avoid using the internet during the online interview. Perhaps sit as close as you can to the router to improve the signal.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with software being used for the interview. Set up in advance the software that will be used and test this with someone prior to the interview, or watch tutorial videos.

Communication:

Be prepared that there may be a delay when you speak, or where the internet drops in and out, or the microphone may not pick up your voice well. Make sure you speak slowly and clearly to help the interviewer understand what you are saying. Also listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying and wait a few seconds before answering their question. Write down things if you need to help you remember. Don’t be put off if an interviewer asks you to repeat something, it may be that they couldn’t hear what you said due to the signal.

Setting:

Try to find a secluded room with good lighting, no background noise and a plain backdrop. You want the interviewers to be focused on you and not the decor behind you.

Preparation is key:

Prepare just as you would for any other interview. Research the employer, ensure you understand the role you have applied for and how your skills and qualifications match the job description and person specification and consider how you will answer their questions, as well as preparing your own questions for the interviewer.

What to wear?

Ensure you dress professionally to make the best impression; it is still an interview, after all.

You still have a duty to follow safer recruitment processes in these unprecedented times, including, as appropriate, relevant sections in Part 3 of KCSIE.

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; and
  • 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 167 to 172 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.

As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary changes have been made:

  • checks can now be carried out over video calls
  • job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals
  • employers should use the Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents

The Government has issued the following guidance on how to conduct a right to work check during the temporary COVID-19 measures:

  • Ask the worker to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents via email or using a mobile app
  • Arrange a video call with the worker – ask them to hold up the original documents to the camera and check them against the digital copy of the documents
  • Record the date you made the check and mark it as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
  • If the worker has a current Biometric Residence Permit or Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call - the applicant must give you permission to view their details

The Government will let us know in advance when these temporary adjusted measures will end.

In addition, you will be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who:

  • started working for you during these measures
  • required a follow-up right to work check during these measures

You should mark this check: “the individual’s contract commenced on [insert date]. The prescribed right to work check was undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19.”

The retrospective check must be carried out within 8 weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending. Both checks should be kept for your records.

If the check you have undertaken during the adjusted period was done in line with the normal prescribed manner, you do not need to undertake a retrospective check.

We would advise including in the conditional offer letter that the individual will be required to provide the original DBS and right to work documents on their first day physically on site at the school to be checked. In the event that the checks are not satisfactory or this information is not provided on the day, the offer may be withdrawn. This means that the offer will stay conditional until the first day of employment, which could be an issue with an individual resigning from another post.

If, however, you have already issued a conditional offer letter without stating this, you may want to consider sending the individual a separate letter.

If the individual has accepted the offer and a start date has been agreed, there will be a binding agreement and you would only be able to change the start date with the individual’s agreement to vary the contract, otherwise you would be in breach of contract.

If the offer has not yet become binding, you can withdraw the first offer and make a new offer with a different start date.

It is important to maintain engagement with individuals whose start date has been deferred. We would encourage you to keep in touch with these individuals, for example a bi-weekly check-in over the phone, to reassure them that they have still got the job and answer any questions they have.

You may have individuals starting with you during the school closure period. This will impact on what work they can do and them being on the school site. This will mean that you will have less opportunity to assess their suitability for the work.

New support staff and teachers (where you operate a probationary period for teachers), will be subject to a probationary period. This is usually six months with the ability to extend for up to a further three months.

Probationary periods provide a useful framework to allow employers to determine suitability for a role during the first few months of employment. Most employers who have probationary periods operate a structured approach where conduct, capability (performance) and attendance are assessed over a short period of time (during which notice periods are shorter) with a view to either confirming in role or sometimes terminating employment during or at the end of probation where they are not deemed suitable.

The 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.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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