Patrick Hayes is stumped by the government’s “slightly odd u-turn” on a national teaching website. It’s been tried before – and failed, he says 

From the recently published white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, the Department for Education (DfE) seems to be labouring under the somewhat confused notion that the current teacher shortage can be addressed by giving teachers another place to look for jobs.

Under the recruitment section, the department has announced plans for “a new, free national teacher vacancy website so that aspiring and current teachers can find posts quickly and easily”. This is aimed at “transforming the current system” with a view to helping schools cut costs.

The earlier platform failed on two critical fronts

We have heard hyperbole about an uncannily similar initiative before, and all-too-recently. Back in 2009, Vernon Coaker, the then-schools minister, announced the launch of the Schools’ Recruitment Service (SRS) jobs board. It was to be “a watershed in how schools recruit staff… harness[ing] innovative online technology to make it a painless, speedy and more cost efficient exercise.”

More than £350,000 was duly spent on a platform that won a design award, but failed on two critical fronts: to attract teachers, and to get schools and councils to post jobs on it. In the three years it was open before the government finally pulled the plug, fewer than 5,000 jobs were posted, amounting to about
2 per cent of the total number of teaching jobs advertised at that time.

Announcing its closure in February 2012, a DfE spokesperson said: “We no longer see it as the government’s job to run this sort of centrally run service. There might well be a continued online recruitment service for schools, but it will be provided by the private sector or through councils.”

So, what has changed in the past four years that makes a potentially very costly initiative more viable? This slightly odd u-turn has me stumped, not least because a “centrally run” approach to anything surely goes against every instinct in a Conservative-led government.

First, the SRS didn’t manage to get teachers visiting it, despite that many were queuing up to join the profession as a safe haven in the recession. Now there is a teacher shortage, far fewer are looking for jobs, so usage is likely to be even less.

Second, the DfE’s plan in 2009 was to get local authorities to sign up their schools en masse. This failed then, and is even more likely to do so today, given that last month’s white paper has also sounded the death knell for local authority oversight.

Finally, a vibrant ecosystem of jobs platforms has since emerged offering cheaper and more effective alternatives to long-established methods of advertising. This new ecosystem includes, of course, the publication you are reading alongside others such as TeachVac, a data-rich service offered by John Howson, and Talented Teacher Jobs. A spokesperson for the DfE has said that they are engaging with a range of players to
discuss their plans.

However, ultimately, the teacher shortage cannot be solved through the launch of another jobs board.

The problem is not that teachers don’t know where to look for jobs, but that there are not enough teachers. It is the underlying causes for this that need to be addressed, and an SRS 2.0 could be an unwelcome distraction from this essential task.