Teacher transfer window: Why can’t we fill our vacancies 365-days-a-year?

The idiosyncratic “teacher transfer windows” model is failing schools and teachers. Notice periods for teachers should come into line with those of the private sector, says Frank Norris.

The football transfer window, an agreed period of time when players can transfer from one club to another, has closed for another four months. These two artificial periods of activity, in the summer and in January, feed the nation’s obsession with speculation around the beautiful game. Manchester United spent a reported £89m buying back a player whom they sold only four years ago, for £1.8m – decisions that were forced upon them by the abrupt nature of the window. The team which bought Paul Pogba four years ago made a very healthy £87.2m profit; in every transfer window there are both winners and losers.

Schools have similar transfer windows – namely the ends of February, May and October. These are the dates defined in the Burgundy Book, when teachers are obliged to inform their current school that they intend on leaving by the end of the term. If a teacher finds a new position in late May, no other teacher already in a post will be able to join their old school as a replacement until the following January, unless special agreement is reached. It rarely is.

I cannot understand why teaching would not benefit from an agreed period of notice

This seems to me to be a similarly contrived situation: it’s wholly unnecessary and often causes more problems for the education system than it solves. Like many football managers, headteachers often get a little anxious in the lead-up to resignation dates, because they know that their chances of securing a teacher already in post elsewhere are negligible. Conversations between headteachers and teachers going for interview during the run-up to the deadline are sometimes a little fraught as they ask them to consider the impact on their current school.

It has been known for teachers to have up to three or four interviews crammed into the last few days prior to the resignation date, with one school offering the post to a candidate who keeps them waiting to discover whether they have been successful in another interview the following day. And even more disgraceful is the tactic whereby a teacher secures a secretive deal on the understanding they do not inform their school of their resignation until the resignation date has been reached.

In 2015 FIFPro, the worldwide football players’ union, said that the current transfer window is “failing football and its players”. Is it fair to say the same of teaching?

In business, unlike teaching, employees are generally free to inform their managers that they wish to terminate their contract providing they give an agreed period of notice. This can be as long as six months but is often one or three. I cannot understand why teaching would not benefit from taking this approach. It would ensure that a steady flow of posts were available, and would prevent the sudden rush to meet the various deadlines. At a time when teacher recruitment is an issue anyway, I just don’t understand why we maintain hurdles that make the selection and appointment of new staff so difficult.

Surely we should encourage teachers to provide a reasonable period of notice and allow schools to fill those vacancies as quickly as possible.


Frank Norris is Director of the Co-operative Academies Trust

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