This blog covers what to expect for primary and secondary school interviews, in both the state and independent sectors.

Every school is different, and there’s no typical way schools have of organising proceedings.

That said, they’ll want to learn about your strengths as a teacher, and how you’ll contribute to the department, and the wider school community. So, expect to teach at least one sample lesson and have one interview with the head teacher and one other member of staff, such as another member of the senior leadership team (SLT) or, in secondary, the head of department.

And, rest assured, you’ll be fully briefed by the school before the day. They should send you, well in advance, a clear set of instructions with information about what will happen on the day, and when and where. If anything needs clarification, ask. This will show initiative. It bodes well if your reception, parking, refreshments, and lunch are all organised with you and your convenience and comfort in mind. If, on the other hand, the school is slow to address enquiries or doesn’t make an effort to make things easier for you on what can be quite a stressful day, then you should question whether it’s the place for you. Empathy and efficiency are qualities to look for in any employer.

You should be made to feel welcome and valued on the day. Hopefully, you’ll be given a base or HQ, where there’ll be easy access to refreshments and comfort breaks. Candidates may all be based in the same room, and it’s worthwhile making an effort to get to know them a little. Teaching is a surprisingly small world, especially if you settle in one region for any length of time. A fellow interviewee today may end up being a colleague in the future, or even your head of department or head teacher. Some interviewees like to exchange contact details or connect on social media, with a view to staying in touch and passing on news about job opportunities in the future.

The day will consist of…

Trial lesson

Schools will want to see you teach. They’ll want to assess your competence in the classroom, and how you engage with your subject and pupils. Trial lessons will last 30 minutes on average.

In some instances, schools will stipulate two trial lessons, with different ages and ability levels. In secondary schools, for example, they may ask for one lesson at Key Stage 3 and then another for a public examination class, ie. GCSE/A Level. This is likely to be the case at an academic or fee-paying institution, where parents expect the very best examination guidance for their children.

The trial lesson often comes before the interview. That way the teacher is able to get it out of the way and relax. It also stimulates discussion in the interview.

In some instances – for example, if there is a large field – a candidate may teach in the morning but not be called back for an interview in the afternoon. It’s worth adding that a candidate has the right to withdraw their application at any time over the day, and this does happen on occasion.


A candidate will face one or more interviews with the key decision makers, including heads of year, heads of department, or governors.

It’s likely that the head teacher will want to interview candidates. The final decision is theirs.

Interviews tend to be panel-based, but some may be one-to-one.

Every interview is different, but the head teacher may be more interested in what candidates can contribute to the wider-school community in terms of extra-curricular and pastoral provision. A head of department will be interested in subject knowledge, teaching philosophies, and how you’ll complement the rest of the team.

Some academies favour group or conference interviews where all the candidates sit in one room to discuss pedagogical issues and role-play scenarios: What makes a great teacher? How does one deal with a parent complaining about bullying? What’s the best way to foster a love of reading?

Some schools invite pupils – say, prefects or members of the school council – to conduct interviews.

Bear in mind that on the day every conversation counts. In other words, treat every interaction as an interview. It pays to be polite and friendly with everyone, rather than just switching it on in the interview. Even if it’s just in passing, a key decision-maker may ask the opinion of Sam the caretaker or Jean who does reprographics or whoever brought you tea in the morning or the secretary who welcomed you in reception first thing. If all this seems like an effort, then teaching may not be the job for you: it’s a profession that rewards those who value relationships.

School tour and lunch

Expect a tour of the school and all the areas relevant to your role or subject. This may be on your own or with other candidates. Your tour guide may be another member of the department or even a pupil. Once again, treat every interaction as an unofficial interview. And this goes two ways: every interaction offers the opportunity to find out more about the school community.

Lunch is often with the rest of the department, or in primary a selection of teachers. Sometimes, candidates will be invited to eat lunch with members of the school council.

In addition…

Tasks to assess a candidate’s fitness for specialised roles are increasingly common. You may be asked to mark two or three coursework drafts and suggest how they might be improved. You may be asked to assess data and discuss needs for intervention. If you’re applying for a Sixth Form pastoral role, perhaps you’ll have to critique pupils’ personal statements.

The interview process for leadership positions is, as you’d expect, lengthier and more rigorous. Interviews and assessments may take place over several days.