Recruitment: is it a “challenge” or even a “crisis”? Or have we never had it so good in terms of vacancies filled? Is it the best time ever to be a teacher, as schools minister Nick Gibb has recently said, or are ministers sleepwalking while school leaders scratch their heads to find ever more inventive ways of attracting high-calibre candidates into their schools? The gap between official statistics and the perceptions of the profession seems vast; school leaders across the country report that they are struggling to fill vacancies with suitably qualified permanent staff, right at the time when they face increasing numbers of pupils, higher accountability standards and more demands on subject specialisms.
1. Autonomy must come with support
Whatever the merits of school autonomy (and there are many) we also have a right to expect the government to supply the basics for the system to succeed: sufficient teachers and money, for a start. Recruitment problems can hold back improvement even in otherwise strong schools. The government announcement this week about a new national teaching service (NTS) is therefore welcome – if it can really help get people into these schools and support them while they are there. Trusts and federations should have a major role to play in making the NTS work, helping to provide the support and coaching the teachers will need in their postings. School leaders will also need to be willing to let talented staff join the scheme, perhaps in the hope they will return with new skills and ideas.
Larger trusts can build a “brand” as an employer
2. System leadership on recruitment
More broadly, multi-academy trusts, federations and other trusts are in a stronger position to tackle the recruitment crisis than standalone schools. Indeed, opportunities in recruitment are one of the best and most legitimate motivators for collaboration – far better than defence against accountability or cost savings.
3. Get mobile
One way of attracting talented new staff is to offer them a bigger scope for their career than one school. Making the most of the opportunities for professional development is not just about retention, it also attracts talented staff to join you in the expectation that they will, in time, receive it. Trusts therefore should make the most of their development and deployment opportunities in their recruitment literature.
4. Create an adaptable workforce
Remember that although your first duties are to the students within your trust, your responsibilities do not stop there; using your involvement in initial teaching training and Schools Direct to always secure the most promising new teachers, for example, won’t necessarily help your locality to develop. Neither will being seen to poach too many staff from surrounding schools. And in preparing young teachers it is important to strike a balance between inducting them into the values and procedures of your own trust versus preparing them to thrive in a wide variety of teaching and leadership contexts. Too much emphasis on the immediate needs of the trust risks creating “fragile” professionals who struggle to adapt, which is a good reason for a certain amount of academic and theoretical input in teacher training, to ensure our teachers are versatile and able to apply their skills in different settings. Of course, making people more employable also makes them more mobile, which has retention challenges, but this is a case of moral leadership.
5. Sell the profession
The government has recently launched a new advertising campaign for teacher recruitment but larger trusts themselves can build a “brand” as an employer and take steps to promote the profession in their local communities – it seems we may have to take on more of the functions that we have traditionally expected government to fulfil. Not that I’m suggesting you fork out on a TV ad, but if you were in charge of designing it, what messages would you have sent?