How to reduce unconscious bias in your recruitment process

Take steps to make sure that you're carrying out fair and equal practices at the advertising, CV shortlisting and interview stages of your recruitment process.

Last reviewed on 19 December 2023
School types: All · School phases: All
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  1. Reducing unconscious bias will bring long-term benefits to your school
  2. Look at data from your previous recruitment rounds
  3. Advertising roles
  4. Shortlisting candidates
  5. Carrying out online checks of shortlisted candidates
  6. Interviewing candidates

Reducing unconscious bias will bring long-term benefits to your school

It may take a long time to implement the steps in this article and embed them into your recruitment process. However, the benefits are well worth it to help make sure your school is inclusive, diverse and welcoming. Reducing unconscious bias will:

  • Help you create a more inclusive team
  • Give pupils more diverse role models to look up to in your school
  • Allow you to find the best candidate for each role

It might not be possible for you to adopt all the steps below, but pick the ones that are most suitable and feasible for your school's context – even adopting some of them will help you reduce unconscious bias. 

Look at data from your previous recruitment rounds

Don't just look at a single round of recruitment. Instead, base any judgements you make by looking at multiple recruitment rounds and whether there are any recurring patterns that appear worrisome. 

Find out how to start gathering HR data to improve inclusivity in your school. 

You can then focus on the most important areas of the process.

For example, if a wide demographic variety of candidates get shortlisted but only a narrow demographic group tend to be hired, start by looking at the interview stage.

Find out how to tackle unconscious bias at each stage of recruitment below.

Advertising roles

Post job adverts in a diverse range of places

If you find that applicants applying to work at your school mostly come from 1 demographic, think about where you're advertising roles. Are your vacancies only reaching certain groups of people? 

To make this more diverse, you could: 

  • Look for local social media groups and hashtags in which you could advertise roles, especially those focused on non-white demographics
  • Advertise in print and online newspapers for various communities, like The Voice (a national Black weekly newspaper) – but note that this might be more expensive than advertising locally
  • Ask parents at your school to pass on your job adverts if your school community is diverse – they might know people interested in applying 

Please note that the inclusion of commercial products in this article doesn't constitute an endorsement from The Key. 

Make your school website welcoming

Candidates are likely to visit your website at some point during their application. Consider how you can show that your school celebrates diversity and aims to be as inclusive as possible.

For example, upload your anti-racism action plan (if you have one) to your website. 

Highlight your commitment to diversity

Make sure that you include your school's commitments to diversity and equality in your job adverts. 

You can't make your practices fair by simply saying you are committed to equality, but you can reassure and attract candidates by highlighting the existing values and work that you do to counter discrimination.

This might be by:

  • Stating that you are an equal opportunities employer and you are committed to diversity in your hiring practices
  • Including your school's values which include diversity, fairness and equality
  • Sharing a link to your equal opportunities policy
  • Signposting the DBS sensitive applications route, which provides a confidential checking service for transgender applicants

Make sure to mention that you will make reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities. Making reasonable adjustments is a legal requirement under the Equality Act 2010, but you can go the extra mile to reassure candidates that you'll support them by including this information at the start of the recruitment process.

Shortlisting candidates

You may find that a wide variety of people apply for your positions, but only a narrow demographic group make it past the CV stage.

If this is the case, consider adopting the approaches in this section. These may take a long time to develop and require extra resources, but they're recommended practice in other industries. 

Anonymise CVs 

Appoint a staff member to do this – to ensure fairness, this person shouldn't be involved in the shortlisting process or be part of an interview panel.

For each application you receive, the staff member should:

  1. Make a copy of it and redact any identifying information (name, photo, place of birth, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc.)
  2. Keep the original copy so applicants' details don't get lost at the end of the process
  3. Label both copies (e.g. 'Candidate A')
  4. Send the anonymised version to whoever is shortlisting candidates

It should take about 10 to 20 minutes to anonymise each application, depending on its length, so make sure you're allowing plenty of time for this. If you get lots of applications for a role, you may want to appoint more than 1 person to anonymise CVs.

Use a scoring grid to ensure objectivity 

Introduce a scoring grid to make your shortlisting process as fair and objective as possible. Download our shortlisting grid to help you do this.

Your scoring system should be clear and straightforward, and you should only shortlist candidates based on: 

  • Criteria taken from the person specification 
  • Skills and experience outlined in the application that are relevant to the job in question 

By doing this, you'll be able to show: 

  • Decisions were based on relevant criteria and evidence
  • You’ve considered each candidate fairly
  • That a candidate wasn't shortlisted because they didn't meet a shortlisting requirement

Carrying out online checks of shortlisted candidates

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) recommends that schools "should consider" carrying out an online search of shortlisted candidates as part of your due diligence (see paragraph 221).

This can increase the chance of unconscious bias interfering with the hiring process, because you may learn additional personal information that's not relevant to the job or hiring process.

To reduce this risk, you should have someone who is not part of the interview panel conduct the search. They should only pass on any relevant information to decision-makers – for example, information that suggests the candidate:

  • Is unqualified for the role
  • Poses a potential safeguarding risk
  • Risks damaging the reputation of your school/trust

Read more about carrying out an online search of shortlisted candidates for more support on how to fairly do this.

Interviewing candidates

Ask the interview panel to read up on unconscious bias beforehand

You could ask everyone on each interview panel to spend 30 minutes reading up on unconscious bias.

If the panel understands concepts like the 'halo effect' (e.g. where an interviewer unconsciously allows an applicant's positive qualities to underplay any negative qualities), and you have a short reminder session before interviews, they'll be more equipped to identify and check their unconscious biases.

Ask staff to attend unconscious bias training 

If you want to go further than the last step, you could arrange for at least 1 person on the interview panel to receive unconscious bias training. That person will then be more likely to spot instances of anyone appearing to go by 'gut feeling' to make hiring decisions.

Prioritise the training for the person who makes the final decision on recruitment, and/or the person who leads on anti-racism in your school. They can then share their expertise with other decision-makers in recruitment.

How to arrange the training

Contact your local authority to see if they can support you with this, or put you in contact with a training provider. If your school has a union representative, they might be able to organise training in your school. Ask your union rep to reach out to the union to see if training is available.

Make sure your interview process is evidence-based

Just like with shortlisting candidates, you should make sure your interview decisions are based on evidence – it's easier to slip into choosing candidates based on their ethnicity (or how similar they are to you) if you don't have a process that measures skills objectively.

If you aren't already, use a person specification to set competency-based questions that you can measure each candidate's answers against.

Once the interview is over, discuss with the other panellists what you've picked up on. In this way, you'll more likely be able to challenge your own, and anyone else's, potential biases towards a candidate based on the evidence in front of you.

For more tips on how to do this, take a look at our guidance on holding interviews. You can also use our interview questions for senior leaders, middle leaders, support staff and teachers to save time.

Avoid asking personal or health-based questions

Job interviews should be focused on finding the candidate most suitable and qualified for the job. Questions that ask candidates' personal lives may reveal irrelevant information that can lead to unconscious bias.

It may also be illegal to ask about a candidate's health or disability. You can only ask about this if you are:

  • Making sure they can carry out a task that's essential to the role (for example, if a caretaker is able to climb a ladder or use necessary equipment)
  • Finding out if a candidate can take part in an interview or what reasonable adjustments they need during the recruitment process
  • Actively looking to recruit more staff members with disabilities (for example, a teacher with a hearing impairment for deaf/hard of hearing pupils)

This is set out in government guidance on disability rights.

Make reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities

You have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support candidates with disabilities during the selection process under the Equality Act 2010

There's no formal definition of 'reasonable', and this will depend on your school and what you're capable of providing, according to Acas.

This might look like:

  • Providing a large screen for a candidate who is visually impaired to complete an interview task
  • Making sure that the building you hold interviews in is wheelchair-accessible, or allowing a candidate with a mobility impairment to interview remotely
  • Allowing for sufficient rest breaks between interview tasks for pregnant candidates

Always ask a candidate what adjustments they need, rather than assuming.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has more information and examples of reasonable adjustments – it's written with existing staff members in mind, but you can still use it to improve your hiring practices.


Many thanks to:

  • Ann Marie Christian, an independent safeguarding consultant, trouble shooter, author and trainer. She provides consultancy for designated safeguarding leads, heads, senior leaders and governors. She has experience in frontline and managerial child protection matters, including school improvement, casework and training
  • Gulshan Kayembe, an independent consultant who has experience of inspecting schools. As a consultant, she provides mentoring for senior leaders and has worked as an external adviser on headteachers’ performance management
  • Fitzgerald HR, who spoke to us about contacting unions to find out what inclusivity training they can offer
  • Show Racism the Red Card, who spoke to us about contacting your local authority to find out about unconscious bias training available to you
  • Sufian Sadiq, director of teaching school at Chiltern Learning Trust, who spoke to us about anonymising CVs in your recruitment processes


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