I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about the perils of telling half-truths on UCAS/job application forms.
It’s university application time in schools and colleges. Thirty years ago face-to-face interviews were an integral element of the application process. Now, beyond aspiring Oxbridge and medics students, few applicants face interrogation in an admission tutor’s office. For those who are interviewed, however, what is written on their UCAS form may well be the source material for their inquisitors’ questions. That was certainly the case for me – a green, uneducated, aspirant student – when I met Geoff Wall in his office on a gloomy November afternoon in York over thirty years ago…
My UCAS Form claim: I enjoy reading novels written by Orwell and Kafka (I’d read Nineteen Eighty-Four and half of The Trial).
Geoff Wall’s related question: I see you enjoy Orwell and Kafka. I wonder if you could tell me about any similarities between Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Trial.
Me: (I can’t quite remember what I said in response to this first question other than it wasn’t very much. I can remember Geoff’s follow up attempt to cajole a modicum of insight from me…)
Geoff: I was thinking about invisible forces which dominate the main characters’ lives.
Me: (It inspired little response from yours truly, certainly nothing I can remember).
We moved on.
My UCAS Form claim: I regularly go to the cinema (once every three months tops, with my girlfriend to watch, uncritically, whichever film she chose).
Geoff Wall’s related question: OK. You like to go to the cinema. Thinking about what I said about the link between the two novels, can you think of any directors who have taken ideas from Orwell and Kafka and used them in their films?
Me: No, not really.
Geoff: I was thinking of Ridley Scott’s Alien?
Me: I’ve not seen that one.
We moved on.
My UCAS Form claim: Eliot is one of my favourite writers (since Mill on the Floss was a set text).
Geoff Wall’s related question: I see you like Eliot. I’ve some poetry by TS Eliot here for you to look at.
Me: I meant George Eliot.
We moved on.
My UCAS Form claim: I like Shakespeare’s tragedies (since Antony and Cleopatra was a set text).
Geoff Wall’s related question: You like Shakespeare’s tragedies?
Me: Yes. Especially Antony and Cleopatra.
Geoff: That’s a history play. I was thinking of Hamlet.
Me: Is that the one where they all die at the end? (I knew that startling knowledge nugget about Hamlet because I had taken a copy of the play with me when I’d gone to meet a German girl I’d danced with at an Eastbourne disco the week before. I thought it would look good. She told me the story of the play when I admitted I’d not read it.)
At that point we didn’t move on; instead Geoff gave up.
We talked a bit about golf and how I liked beating all the rich kids with my battered second hand clubs. I passed him copies of three of my A level essays which they’d requested and then I headed home.
And that, I thought, was that. A 540-mile round trip train journey for a seemingly fruitless ten minute interview; two weeks later an offer letter arrived…
Never make the same mistake twice… You would think I’d have learnt from such an excruciatingly humiliating experience. But no.
My first teaching job application included the seemingly throwaway line, I played cricket at university. It was, however, a deliberately crafted five-word sentence. It was not an untruth – I did, one summer afternoon, play cricket whilst an undergraduate in York.
So, having made it through to the final panel interview, John Morris, Principal at Eastbourne Sixth Form College, had one last question: Our cricket master is retiring. I see you played university cricket. Should you be appointed, would you be prepared to run the cricket team? I replied in the affirmative. Of course I did. I wanted the job.
Two telephone calls from John Morris followed. The first, that evening, offering me the post; the second, two days later, inviting me to play in the end of year staff versus student cricket match. I accepted both propositions. How could I refuse?
I went to see Gerry Gunn, my old PE teacher. I needed a copy of all the positions on the cricket field. If someone asked me to field at, say, mid-off, as a university cricketer I had to know where the hell that was. Gerry came up with just what I needed and I spent the days preceding the match learning the topography of a cricket outfield.
My sister Bev bought me some cricket whites, so at least I looked the part. Looking back, my Dunlop Green Flash trainers were probably a giveaway.
On the day they decided I should bat at number three. Having taken guard I looked up to see Giles Adams hurtling in to bowl at me. Now, Giles Adams was six foot six inches tall and opened the bowling for the Sussex U19 team. I shut my eyes and swung my bat. It took me three balls before I made contact. The ball spiralled into the air and into the hands of a fielder. Literally and metaphorically I had been caught out.
I walked back to the boundary fence. When I got to John Morris he just smiled and said, “You’re a golfer, aren’t you?”