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  • Writer's pictureCreate: Schools

Safety Valve Interviews – Guidance for Applicants

The next phase of the Safety Valve Wave is due to begin soon, as invites for interview are scheduled to be staggered in Spring 2024. Create: Schools offer a mock interview service in which the DfE interview is replicated; applicants who participate receive an in-depth analysis of each response and constructive criticism into how their interview can be strengthened, including a bank of questions to anticipate. When surveyed, 100% of applicants answered that they would recommend this service to another group/organisation.

This blog will highlight the most common pieces of feedback advisors give to applicants on how to improve.  Although each one will be specific to the application and Local Authority, similar elements appear during each interview.

To read a previous blog expressing vital guidance for a mainstream interview, click here.


Common Points of Improvement

1.     Local Context

Outlining the trust’s connection to the locality is crucial and is often downplayed. Regardless of whether the trust is based in the area it is applying for, an understanding of the local context is needed to enhance the strength of the responses. Trusts often fail to include their understanding of the local area, the need that is presented, and the Local Authority’s SEND Strategy. It is important to provide detail on what actions have already been taken to understand the area and cohort, and how this relates to solving the need. Where possible, include information on the connections to the Local Authority and the actions that will be implemented to develop a relationship. Trusts should always be familiar with the local community in which they are embedding. It is advised to achieve full comprehension of the statistics that derive from the Local Authority’s cohorts, SEND strategy and community.    

2.     Be Specific

Often, applicants do not strengthen their statements with supporting evidence. It is common to hear broad, generalised sentences such as “Ofsted approves of our curriculum” or “Staff surveys show our teachers feel looked after”. While these statements might be true, it is beneficial to provide specific evidence that will strengthen the point. For example, use direct quotes from Ofsted, add testimonials and include exact percentages from surveys. Adding hard data and emphasising these statements with specific examples will provide colour to the answers, highlighting what these experiences are and why they are important.

3.     Be Mindful

With the specifics in mind, structuring an answer is a balancing act. It is important not to become so obsessed with the detail that answers stray from the question asked. Nominating an individual to act as a Chair is a great way to ensure a successful team dynamic and high levels of communication. However, this role should be used effectively. The Chair must be mindful of the group’s answers, this will ensure members are not becoming lost in their answers and are keeping responses to a suitable length. This will avoid one person speaking for longer than necessary and ensure responses are succinct. It is common for proposers to include details that are not framed within the scope of the question. Colleagues should consider their contribution and if it is relevant to the question posed, this will prevent others from needing to refocus the response.

4.     Turn Risks into Strengths

Although it can be daunting to be asked about a skills gap, a risk, or somewhere the application may appear to be lacking, this is an opportunity to display strength. When asked about any potential gaps in experience, knowledge or skill, responses should include an awareness of the gap, the plans that have (or will) be put in place to mitigate, and what this will mean for the trust’s position. This is a vital opportunity to display competence and confidence as answers transform the question into something positive.

5.     Team Contributions

The strongest interviews involve discussions with all members. Applicants could identify which sections they will be answering during introductions. Utilising key phrases and deploying a shared language that is consistent with the application will allow for a clear structure. During mocks, it is often the case that members of the group answering from a finance or governance perspective speak the least. To promote team cohesion and to display the connection of all parts of the trust, providing support to colleagues’ answers from a governance or financial standpoint will instil confidence that at all levels, the trust understands the application and the shared mission.


Further Safety Valve Support

At Create: Schools, we offer mock interview support free of charge and tailored to the contents of your application. We have high level experience within the team to support applicants through the interview stage and are familiar with the DfE question structure to assist preparation.

If you are interested in contacting us regarding setting up a mock interview, following an invitation from the DfE, please get in touch with one of our advisors.


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