Solutions

Solutions: What AP can teach us about recruiting the best

Talented people who can inspire the hardest-to-teach children can be found in the unlikeliest places if you prioritise the right qualities

Talented people who can inspire the hardest-to-teach children can be found in the unlikeliest places if you prioritise the right qualities

2 Jul 2024, 5:00

Recruitment isn’t a new problem for the education sector. Go right back to 2000, and we had a £7 million campaign trying to tackle the issue with the famous line ‘Those who can, teach.’ But what does that well-worn slogan mean? What makes someone able to teach successfully and, just as importantly, lead effectively? Who are these ‘right people’, and are we perhaps missing a trick or two.

As a provider of specialist and alternative provision (AP) schools, we know that traits such as empathy, fortitude and a fierce sense of humour are crucial when it comes to choosing the right people. Of course we need high quality, effective teaching – but we first must reach our students on a deep, fundamental level, with an even greater focus on relationship-building than in mainstream settings.

Our young people need leaders before teachers. They need adults who can encourage them positively in a new direction and enthuse them about their futures. Only then can the work of conventional teaching begin.

To find these special individuals who can lead and motivate some of the hardest to reach young people, we approach recruitment creatively. The right character and personality is the first thing we look for, which has led us down some unorthodox routes.

Considering the leadership qualities we were looking for, we stepped outside of education and looked towards other sectors. And what sector relies more on inspiration, leadership and that little bit of magic than sport?

Sports coaches and leaders often have exactly the sorts of skills we need. They are masters at taking groups of people and individuals who may feel down-hearted, dejected and cast aside, and rebuilding their confidence and developing them into champions.

They understand the power of camaraderie and how to instil discipline in a way that feels positive rather than punishing. Their tales of triumph over adversity on the pitch can teach valuable life lessons in the classroom. They also often have personal experience of overcoming life challenges that our students can relate to.

We recruit based on attitude above all else

Our experience of recruiting former sports professionals into teaching and leadership roles has been an amazingly positive one. Our students respond well to the tactics and methods of sport leadership, and our teachers have the resilience and energy to handle challenging behaviour without becoming worn down by it. It’s a model that is proving highly beneficial on all sides.

Ultimately, some things can be taught and some things can’t. Teachers can be trained in pedagogy, lesson planning, curriculum frameworks and more. It is much more challenging to impart that special spark of magic that enables a teacher to reach young people wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, and then lead them towards success.

At EdStart Schools, we recruit based on attitude above all else, which not only opens up the talent pool but also supports our retention. When we find the people who truly ‘get’ AP and love it as much as we do, they generally tend to stay.

We are now reaping the benefits of a growing number of former sports professionals joining our team. These include former professional footballer and manager of Oldham Athletic Micky Mellon as our director of leadership and culture, and former professional rugby league player Stuart Howarth, as our headteacher and co-proprietor in Wigan.

Our students come to us having had a difficult experience with education for many different reasons. Providing them with a place of safety, acceptance and support is as critical as any curriculum plan. It’s a special sort of person that can inspire these young students and enable them to grow into the truly brilliant people they are capable of being.

Over in mainstream, young people are facing increasing challenges such as mental health issues and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Strong, compassionate leaders are just as important to them as they are to the young people we teach.

So perhaps it’s time for education as a whole to look seriously at what those working in other sectors can offer. Those who can, teach – and some of them might be hiding in the unlikeliest of places.  

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