Fixing the madness of the teacher transfer window

Welcome to recruitment silly season! It is the time of year when everyone wanting to move schools has to do so quickly, because resigning after the end of May means there’s no further option for change in 2018, and where headteachers crumble after months-long negotiations to keep a valuable staff member in their job falls apart because they are handed a dream offer on the final day of the Easter term transfer window.

But what if there were another way?

The main problem is that schools have three resignation deadlines: the ends of October, February and May. In each case, if the teacher hands in their resignation before this time then they are able to leave by the end of the following half-term. So, at Christmas, at Easter, or over the summer holidays.

Mostly this works out for individual teachers but it’s a bit of a nightmare for school leaders, particularly if a staff member hands in their resignation at the end of May. After that, if you want to hire a teacher currently working in another school, the next time they can move is Christmas.

There’s no sensible way to reduce resignation deadlines

One winner of the system is Teach First. Its list of wannabe teachers are perfect for plugging the after-May gap, because they aren’t already in jobs elsewhere.

The same goes for PGCE students who are also fancy-free and looking for a job. That’s bully for schools covered by TeachFirst or looking for a mainscale teacher, but if you suddenly need a new head of maths, you’re in a pickle. A full 16-week autumn-term-shaped pickle.

Over the years of interviewing so many education superstars for Schools Week profiles I’ve noticed another problem. If people want to return to teaching, they can sometimes feel like they’ve missed that year’s big transfer windows, and so, while waiting to get back in, they end up doing something else.

In mulling this issue over, it became apparent that there’s no sensible way to reduce resignation deadlines. Doing so would put even more pressure on schools.

I pondered a trade-off system: could we allow teachers to resign at any time of year, but with the condition that one always works the reminder of that half-term and the two following it.

So if a teacher resigns before the May half-term, they would need to come in for the final half-term of the year – but also the first half-term of the following academic year.

This has the benefit of rolling employment windows, in which people can move in and out of the sector, and also means that, at most, a school should only ever have six weeks with a temporary teacher before someone else CAN be appointed. Whether or not a school gets enough suitable candidates is a separate problem.

All this works marvellously for teachers, but it’s less good for children. We may want to live in a world where behaviour systems are so good that every adult is treated exactly the same when they walk in the door. But, because children are humans too, they react differently to adults they know than to ones they don’t.

A teacher who has spent time with a class is better at reading their ability levels, has institutional memory of what was learned three months ago, and knows better than to sit Martyn next to Delila…

A new teacher in mid-October isn’t ideal, but neither is a supply teacher for the whole autumn term. All of which leaves me thinking that the current system may be like democracy. It’s imperfect, but it’s close as we can get to a decent solution – even if we do sometimes end up with a rough deal in the winter term. (Or, you know, Brexit).

If there are any other ideas out there for resolving the autumn-term problem, then I’d love to hear them.

Otherwise, I wish you luck in this season’s transfer window.

Laura McInerney is contributing editor of Schools Week

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One comment

  1. Kerry Inscker

    I realise this comment is coming well after this piece has been written but I have just stumbled across it. What if teachers could resign at any time with a 6 week notice period. In that case, school could advertise straight away and appoint within 3 weeks, therefore only having to wait 3 weeks for a new teacher to start. Constantly being hand-tied by half terms and terms is what causes the issues. I say thrown open recruitment, as is the case in the business sector and just work to set notice periods.
    Just a thought ….