How to prepare for your remote wave 14 interview with the Department for Education (DfE) |

How to prepare for your remote wave 14 interview with the Department for Education (DfE)

In response to ongoing social distancing measures in place across the country, the DfE is undertaking interviews for wave 14 free school applications via remote video conference calls. Don’t let this concern you - although you will be attending the interview remotely, the format and process of the interview will not differ to an in-person interview. Senior Adviser Tim Johnson has outlined some simple steps to take in order to ensure that your virtual wave 14 interview runs as smoothly as possible.

Preparation for your interview

Prep the tech

Prior to the interview, make sure that your team is as prepared as possible. Each team member must have the appropriate technology (a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone with an in-built or attached microphone and camera), as well as a stable internet connection. The next step is making sure that all panel members have downloaded the software that will be used for the conference call; this will be specified in your invitation to interview. Take the time to learn how the software works prior to the interview, becoming familiar with the interface and completing ‘trial runs’ with team members to emulate how the video conference will work. Team members should become accustomed to their controls during video calls, in particular knowing how to turn microphones and cameras on and off. This is also a good opportunity for the panel to virtually meet prior to the interview to prepare as a group and become comfortable with the software.

During your interview

Let the chair lead

Having logged in and started the interview successfully, there are a few things to bear in mind. We strongly recommend that you elect a panel chair to field questions to the most appropriate member of your panel. This keeps answers concise and relevant to the expertise of your team, but is especially important over a video conference call where it is much easier for multiple members to inadvertently talk over one another. To avoid overlap and interruption during the interview, all team members should be aware of who the panel chair is, and that they must wait to be elected to answer a question. Similarly, it is your panel chair’s responsibility to make sure that questions are appropriately delegated across the team, not taking it upon themselves to answer every question. Panel members should take extra caution to keep their answers concise and focussed – it may be harder to pick up on cues from the chair if answers do begin to stray from the question. Check in with the chair as you answer: ‘is there anything you think I’ve missed there?’, ‘do you think that covers it?’

Have the information you need

Think carefully about any extra data you want to have at your fingertips, and in what format. Even if the interview itself is online, you may wish to have paper copies of your application and key information about your schools, trust, and need case available for reference. If this isn’t possible, consider who in the team should ‘own’ each piece of information: this can help to avoid the whole panel racing to click between tabs or scrolling through pages of information at once.

If you wish to provide additional material in your interview to show how your thinking has developed since submission, you could request to send this to your DfE contact ahead of the call, making clear what each document is and how it is relevant to your application. This should only be for documents that you think are crucial, and there is no guarantee that the DfE will take these into consideration. Many types of video conference software have the function to share your screen, though you should seek permission from your DfE interviewers ahead of your interview if you aim to do this and be familiar enough with the software to do so successfully.

Use the internet wisely

While it can be tempting to use the availability of the internet to bolster your answers, be aware that doing so could lead to distractions and potentially missing questions. Remember that the interview is not an exam, but a chance for you to demonstrate why your school is needed and why you are the best people to run it.

Have a plan B

As your own remote working arrangements have probably already shown you, things can and do go wrong. Internet connections drop, laptops freeze, people being to speak before their microphone is switched on – your assessors will be understanding of this. The important thing is not to become frustrated or flustered. Choose a panel member to be a back-up chair, and make sure that you are all familiar with the application and prep thoroughly, so that if your delegated panel member drops out, you can still provide an answer.

Top tips for your interview

You can find additional tips on preparing for your interview here, all of which remains applicable for wave 14 interviews.

While these tips aren’t exhaustive, we hope they will help you make the most of your interview to present the strongest case for your free school. NSN is here to help. If you are a member of our Development Programme, get in touch with your adviser to discuss preparation for the interview. Other groups can contact us for advice by emailing

Good luck!


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Blog topic:
Setting up a free school