Heads in the north east say that teacher recruitment is one of their greatest problems. So its regional network set up a jobs board all of its own – and so far things are blossoming, says Mike Parker

It was a scene worthy of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, Animal Farm.

“Four legs good, two legs bad.” Or, at least that’s how Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools’ speech to the SCHOOLS NorthEast annual summit in Newcastle in October translated for half the audience.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s chastisement of secondary school performance in the north east was not unexpected, and his series of themes that needed to be addressed included “high quality teaching”.

And there we have an issue shared across the country.

A SCHOOLS NorthEast survey of headteachers in December found that nearly nine in ten (89 per cent) had issues recruiting staff in 2015. And some 72 per cent anticipated that finding teaching talent would become more difficult in future.

The challenge in the north east is that there are predominantly two types of teachers: those born and brought up in the region who forge their careers here, and those who come to study at the region’s excellent universities and then stay. While the water in the well of talent is good, it’s not the deepest.

Becky Allen of Education Datalab recently showed me a map of teacher movement that revealed an isolated spider’s web in the region – virtually all staff movement (96 per cent) zigzagged within schools in the north east boundary.

The heads that repeatedly identified recruitment as one of the most significant issues also expressed reservations about the ability of national jobs boards to deliver sufficient quality and quantity of candidates. They said they had to re-advertise roles, often several times, at considerable expense and without result.

And so we created a regional solution, a north east jobs boards, offering schools the chance to advertise unlimited vacancies (teaching and support staff) at a low cost. It has the potential to make a huge difference, opening a new, affordable avenue for primaries to market vacancies and saving some secondaries the more than £20,000 they currently spend every year on advertising.

We’re now pretty sanguine that the DfE wants to replicate our model nationally

Our intention is to reinvest any surplus revenue to enhance services to north east schools, while our ultimate goal is to market the region nationally and internationally as a destination of choice for teaching.

While we believe it will take three years for it to mature, the early signs are good. All four of the region’s teaching universities are on board and actively marketing the site to current students and their alumni.

In its first eight weeks, Jobs in Schools North East attracted more than 5,200 unique users who accounted for nearly 40,000 page views. Already about 15 per cent of north east schools have signed up and 270 jobs have been advertised to date. Perhaps the most fascinating statistic is that the second most popular location for traffic is from London.

The greatest feedback has come from one school that reported the number of applicants had doubled for a deputy head’s post.

I was initially surprised at hearing the Department for Education (DfE) wanted to replicate our regional model nationally, but we’re now pretty sanguine. The government’s track record on anything IT-related isn’t on a par with its introduction of Shanghai maths (how could it be?!).

I also suspect it is rather less interested in oiling the wheels of recruitment and is instead focused on the data a national board would elicit so that it can backfill lost intelligence about the workforce from local authorities to enable it to better project training requirements.

Should the DfE start hitting its teacher trainee recruitment targets and, having taken steps to rectify the omnishambles that left some of our best institutions bewildered by an approach that shut the doors while they still had 25 per cent spare capacity on PGCE courses, we might start to see more supply in the system.

All of the current teaching pressures, plus growing shortages in key subjects and recent haphazard training recruitment policies have created an Orwellian climate that cannot continue.

But whatever the solution, we’re united in the belief that more must be done to keep the talent we currently have and reassure people considering a career in the classroom that it is the best single decision they will make.