The government is under mounting pressure to reveal detailed plans for its new teacher vacancy website and explain how exactly it will help schools save money.
Ministers promised to create a “single jobs portal for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find the best teachers” in their 2016 education white paper and in last year’s Conservative Party election manifesto.
However, although a pilot website is expected to launch this spring, school leaders remain in the dark about exactly what form it will take, and crucially whether schools will still have to pay to advertise vacancies.
Schools are being cut and cut and cut but we are still expected to spend all this money on advertising. Why won’t the DfE give any more information on what they will produce?
A spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed only that the roll-out would begin sometime this spring, but would not comment on what form it would take or when exactly the pilot will begin.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of ASCL, said he had not yet seen a model of how the website will work but believes it would involve schools advertising vacancies on their own websites, which would then be collected by the DfE and all displayed on the one central website.
He is worried that plans are “unduly complex” and warned the current teacher recruitment and retention crisis means it is likely schools will continue to pay “astronomical” figures to recruitment agencies and commercial advertisers in their desperation to hire new staff.
“The fundamental issue is that we haven’t got enough teachers,” he said. “This might go some way in terms of recruitment but the fundamental issues behind the crisis still need to be addressed.”
ASCL wants the government to regulate the high costs of recruitment agencies as a rising number of head teachers said they have been forced to pay for agency supply teachers to fill vacancies.
Seventy-four per cent of the heads it surveyed said they had spent between one and five per cent of their budget on agency supply teachers over the past year. Seventeen per cent spent between six and 10 per cent, and nine per cent of respondents spent more than 10 per cent.
According to ASCL, six to 10 per cent of the budget of an average-size secondary on minimum funding in 2018-19 equates to between £261,000 and £435,000.
A report on teacher supply by the parliamentary public accounts committee in January also told the government to set out its plans for the roll-out of the website, including the “scope, timetable and budget”, and report back by June 2018 on the results of the pilot.
The £984,000 contract for running the pilot was awarded to digital specialists DXW in February, but there has been no report on their progress to date.
“Schools are being cut and cut and cut but we are still expected to spend all this money on advertising,” said Leigh Adams, a head from Basingstoke. “Why won’t the DfE give any more information on what they will produce? This is a centralised service the government should support.”
Adams has set up a petition calling for the government to “provide a website allowing schools to advertise staff vacancies for free” which has attracted almost 6,500 signatures at the time of going to print.
“The NEU was led to believe that the DfE was planning a vacancy website which would cut advertising costs for schools. If it doesn’t do that, its proposal will only do half the job,” said the NEU’s lead on pay, Andrew Morris.
“Other services such as TeachVac already bring together job adverts in one place, so it will not be doing anything particularly new, either.”
Much more in hope than expectation – the Schools Week view
It sounds like a simple idea: a website where school vacancies can be advertised for free, saving millions for schools.
But in the DfE’s world, nothing is ever simple. Ahead of the imminent launch of the pilot – which will be any day now, so we’re told – no one seems able to explain exactly what this crucial, long-awaited service will do.
Will it host vacancies for free, or will it just collect existing adverts? Will schools still be expected to pay large fees to agencies, in a desperate attempt to beat the competition during a recruitment and retention crisis?
And, if it is no longer aiming to directly host the vacancies, why is the government spending time and public money creating something that already exists? School leaders are crying out for some innovative thinking from the government, but it’s still unclear if they will get it.
At Schools Week, we acknowledge that our own publishers offer a recruitment advertising service through an online jobs board and print advertising. There has been a lot of discussion about how we can provide a cost-effective offer to schools while of course covering costs of producing the newspaper.
In the coming weeks, we will be announcing a new, much cheaper way to advertise recruitment vacancies. This won’t solve the situation, but we hope it will help. Alongside our own efforts, we fully support the government’s commitment to provide a website on which school vacancies can be advertised for free.
This week’s story brings into sharp focus how much the trust between schools, unions and the government has deteriorated. The veil of secrecy surrounding even the most simple of ideas is beginning to take its toll on the sector, which has learned always to expect and be prepared for the next disappointment.
This is the department’s chance to create a service that will make an immediate and substantial difference to schools across the country, and to help them attract new talent and protect their budgets at a time when achieving those goals has never been more important.
This is the department’s chance to keep its promise, and demonstrate that it won’t let the unnecessary financial burden of recruitment agencies and commercial advertisers rest so heavily on the shoulders of our schools.
Let’s hope they take it.