Recruitment and retention

Recruitment: Leaders can’t make do and mend this crisis

Recruitment and retention are no longer a distant problem affecting some, but a clear and present crisis for all schools, write Dan Cowling and Alex Russell

Recruitment and retention are no longer a distant problem affecting some, but a clear and present crisis for all schools, write Dan Cowling and Alex Russell

25 Nov 2022, 5:00

Since before Covid, the media has been reporting gloomy predictions of a recruitment crisis in education. In 2019, teacher training targets were missed for the seventh year running and the government’s response was to publish the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy. As we approach 2023, it is clear that it has failed and the predicted crisis is upon us.

A survey undertaken by the National Governance Association (NGA) in September found that just over half (53 per cent) of schools and trusts were struggling to recruit teaching staff ⁠— an increase from 29 per cent in 2021. The proportion of schools struggling to recruit support staff had more than doubled from 22 per cent last year to 53 per cent this year. And all-through schools (81 per cent), alternative provision (73 per cent) and special schools (70 per cent) were the most likely to struggle with teacher recruitment.

What these statistics don’t show is the impact of the recruitment challenges at a human level. The expectations of children, parents, carers, governors, trustees, local authorities, dioceses, regional commissioners and Ofsted remain undimmed. They don’t want to hear excuses. Rightly so, but how can school leaders meet these expectations without the staff to deliver them? And what impact is it having on them to keep trying?

Recruitment, retention and shortages are the subject of most of our conversations ⁠— and these are growing more alarming all the time. Typically, reaching the October half-term is a moment of relief because the resignation date has passed and we can be confident of our staffing position for January.

But this year has been different. At Oak Wood School, we appointed two good teachers before half-term only to find that one new appointment would no longer be taking up their post due to the lack of affordable accommodation and the second had received an improved offer from their current school. Meanwhile, an existing staff member attending interviews for April 2023 starts announced that they would be leaving at the end of term because their new school would like them to start in January. To top it off, an ECT also resigned, citing travel costs and time.

We are no longer sleep-walking into a crisis; we are in it

Four teachers down for January and the school has little or no prospects of recruiting before then. An English advert (with TLR) has been on the website since September with no applications.

This is not an isolated case. At a recent headteachers’ conference, every colleague had recruitment woes to share, regardless of their reputation or Ofsted grading.

But what options are available against the backdrop of the financial challenges facing schools? According to the NGA’s survey, only 30 per cent of respondents report being financially sustainable in the medium to long term, and last week’s surprise cash injection is unlikely to change that substantially.

Rewarding existing staff is straightforward but often unaffordable. The overseas staff pool has reduced to a trickle since Brexit and Covid. Recruitment agencies offer schools candidates, but their excessive fees are an unwelcome sting in the tail and many don’t have the experience we need.

And the situation is only going to get worse. The forecast decrease in the school-age population will take a long time to work its way through classrooms. Add in union warnings that 40 per cent of staff plan to leave within the next two to five years and the unfilled teacher training places, and we are no longer sleep-walking into a crisis; we are in it.

Schools might consider offering flexible working across sites. But this is clearly more straightforward for multi-academy trusts and established partnerships. Embracing technology to deliver lessons to more than one class at a time might help, as might retraining staff to teach in shortage subjects. But both are likely to affect quality (not to mention wellbeing) at least in the short term.

The fact is that teaching is no longer an attractive or well-rewarded enough proposition for young professionals. And the stress and anxiety of ‘make do and mend’ is starting to cost us good leaders too. It’s time for government action to meet everyone’s expectations.

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One comment

  1. Miriam Manderson

    This resonated with me so much. At a recent PTFA, I found myself defending the case that we were without 2 maths teachers who had not even begun fully in September so we were unable to replace them immediately with good-quality teachers until at least after the half term. Explaining the advertising and recruitment process seemed to go on deaf ears although a couple of parents finally backed and showed small empathy for the school. You are right. We are all experiencing a crisis. Like other countries, teaching needs to be recognised with the esteem it deserves so that we are never in this position. Thanks for writing it.