Calm in a crisis: why hiring from close to home isn't always bad news

With a shrinking pool of teachers for schools to choose from, being able to attract staff from further afield can make all the difference. But for schools where this isn’t an option, all is not lost. Zofia Niemtus looks at the pros and cons of hiring close to home

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There are certain factors that make a school more attractive to potential applicants. Having a track record of academic excellence helps, as does a good rating from Ofsted.

But perhaps even more important is location. London was traditionally a popular choice, although soaring housing costs are now prompting teachers to leave the capital in greater numbers than any other part of the country.

So where are these teachers going? Seaside settings, good transport links or proximity to green space all help to attract teachers from further afield.

There are some places, however, that have long struggled to attract staff – and schools in these locations are finding the process harder and harder as the teacher shortage deepens. It’s a situation that Andy Mellor, headteacher of St Nicholas C of E Primary School in Blackpool, knows only too well.

‘We don’t get inward movement’

“You hear stories about people moving from London to get a bigger house for the same money but I don’t know anybody who has made that move to Blackpool,” he says. And the situation shows no sign of improving.  

“We don’t get inward movement,” Mellor says. “In the past 10 years, where I might have been getting 70 applicants for a normal mainscale job, I’m now probably getting no more than 10 or 11.”

He explains that among a group of 70, there would usually be around 10 good applicants. Now there will be one or two at most. And that smaller field can present issues when it comes to appointing quality, inspirational staff, which the town’s schools are particularly in need of as they continue with an overhaul in response to Ofsted’s finding that half were underperforming.

It’s “very rare” to get applications outside of a 20-mile radius, Mellor continues, which also presents difficulties around diversity.

WATCH: Senior leader Ben Clemson discusses the recruitment issues faced by rural schools.


Lack of staffroom diversity

“It’s bound to cause issues because you’re constantly drawing on the same pool,” he says. “If you were to recruit in London, you’d be recruiting people as ethnically diverse as anywhere in the world, but that isn’t the case in Blackpool.”

He would like the make-up of staff in the school to be “representative of Britain”, he continues, but in an area that is 97 per cent white, there simply isn’t a diverse population to draw from. Nearby Preston and Blackburn have transport links that enable a far wider reach, but Blackpool is isolated, with around half of its catchment area underwater, cut off on one side by the River Wyre, and the sea on the other.

On the other side of the country, 300 miles away in rural Norfolk, headteacher Richard Cranmer is faced with similar challenges when trying to fill vacancies at Archbishop Sancroft High School.

The secondary academy is based in the remote market town of Harleston – which has a population of around 4,000 and caters to 400 students spread over years 7 to 11.

“Recruitment is a real issue and it’s getting worse,” he says. “Whereas in the past, we would have put an advert out and probably got half a dozen to a dozen applicants, now we sometimes get none. For subjects like maths, science and design and technology, I’m surprised if I get any.”

In the midst of a crisis

The school has had to stop offering resistant materials, he continues, because they couldn’t find anyone to teach it. But that’s not an option for all subjects.

So, what can school leaders do when faced with such shortages? There certainly isn’t an easy fix. Cranmer and Mellor cite the additional challenge of funding issues that are hitting at the same time as staff shortages. Mellor says there simply isn’t enough cash in his budget to spend on a national advertising drive to try to increase the number of applicants from further afield.

Likewise, he can’t afford to offer the additional perks some schools have used to tempt in staff, such as relocation bonuses, accommodation packages and reimbursement of travel costs.

Moulding potential

At Archbishop Sancroft High School, Cranmer instead opts to take a nurturing approach towards applicants who might not have made it through a more competitive field.

“If we get one or two, we tend to interview,” he explains. “If we find someone who we think will be good but isn’t quite the finished article, the dilemma is, do you appoint that person and provide a really supportive structure, or do you not appoint and get long-term supply? I think the former is more effective.”

Up in Blackpool, Mellor praises a similar approach; 27 of the town’s 32 primaries are now part of a Teaching School Alliance, which means they can recruit and train their own staff, who know the area and its challenges.

This has also enabled them to link up and stave off the threat of stagnation; staff who show leadership potential can now be deployed to schools across the town, developing an understanding of different settings, rather than being stuck in one that might not offer opportunities for progression.  

A strong community

Employing staff who know the area and the residents has its benefits, explains Mellor.

“They tend to stay with us,” he says. “These people are committed to Blackpool and want to stay and make a difference.”

Likewise, in Norfolk, the small town has become “the centre of the universe” for staff, Cranmer jokes.

For Mellor, a “sense of mission” is the most important quality for teachers coming to work in Blackpool. “We don’t want people coming for two or three years, finding it too hard and then going away again,” he says. “We want people to be committed to what we are trying to achieve in the town. We want people who are passionate about making a difference to kids who don’t necessarily have the best start in life. We want people to come and work in Blackpool because it’s a great place to work; there are huge challenges but it’s hugely rewarding as well.”

Zofia Niemtus is a freelance writer

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