Appointing a new teacher seems to have suddenly become a gymnastic feat of acrobatic balance worthy of a circus performer. It used to be tricky but recruitment has become so much more complex and time consuming. Why? Simple maths: more students plus fewer teachers.
A recent report from the Education Policy Institute states that between 2016 and 2026, the overall number of pupils is expected to grow by 11 per cent, “with much faster growth in secondary schools (20 per cent) than in primary schools (4 per cent)”.
To prevent class sizes from rising, the reports says, the total number of teachers would also need to grow by a similar amount, “with new entrants exceeding exits rather than equalling them as they do at present”.
As any headteacher will tell you, the number of new entrants is not increasing, and now the numbers leaving are no longer being replaced by new teachers: last year, 42,830 teachers left the classroom and only 42,430 entered or rejoined teaching.
What are schools doing in this hostile recruitment environment? They are getting desperate.
Schools are adding slick videos to their websites to promote working there. Twitter feeds buzz with “Come work for me” tweets from headteachers. Emails arrive in inboxes from recruitment agencies inviting teachers to open-day fairs. Promises abound of bonus payments if someone can recommend a friend for the job. Multiple adverts appear on numerous job sites, all requiring separate follow-up calls.
All of these are balls in the air, no doubt with some time-pressed teacher standing underneath trying to ensure that none is dropped.
‘Recruitment has changed so much’
School leaders say that even all of this extra effort is not improving matters.
“Recruitment has changed so much,” says one assistant headteacher, who wished to remain anonymous. “When I was first head of department, I remember shortlisting from over 20 applications down to six; today I could advertise and not even get a single application.”
Hannah Wilson, headteacher at Aureus School in Oxford, adds that she has found being a new school without exam classes has caused problems for recruitment.
“Science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subjects are the hardest for us to recruit, as we are in a Stem region, so it is a competitive market. We are a key stage 3-only school, so we find this is a blocker for those who want exam groups.”
Even schools in what should be attractive locations are suffering with the shortage. One headteacher, in a leafy suburb just outside the M25, says that recruitment is still a challenge.
Other schools are finding the recruitment crisis tricky because they’re looking for teachers with specialist skills.
Gary Smith, headteacher at Market Field School, has had difficulties when trying to recruit teachers with a specialism in special educational needs and disability (SEND).
“[Our] biggest problem is recruiting people with the right training because the level [of experience and knowledge of SEND] we need is not normally covered in teacher training, so we therefore tend to recruit from within.”
It makes sense that schools have tried to adapt their strategies and expand their reach by using a multi-strand recruitment strategy. But it does not seem to be working and those strands have drawbacks.
Recruitment days can appear to reduce the number of balls in the air: six posts to fill but just one school tour, one question and answer session, one chat with the headteacher. However, do teachers want to attend these fairs?
“We tried doing recruitment fairs, but they don’t work,” says one assistant headteacher in the East of England. “The fairs don’t get the footfall. There was just nobody there.”
Incentivising staff to refer people they know for positions is also on the rise. And yet, a head of department in a new free school in west London tells of how, although the incentive is there, no one has put anybody forward yet: “We would get £350 if we recommend someone, but no one has done it. It feels too risky in case the appointment doesn’t pan out.”
From the prospective candidate’s view, it isn’t great either. One teacher in the South of England spoke of the drawbacks of the “recommend a friend” system.
“I put forward a friend for a post, and then when she turned up for interview it was an absolute shambles. The school obviously thought she was a shoo-in for the job, so didn’t bother to do a real tour, and then left her in the staffroom and forgot to collect her to do her interview lesson. I felt embarrassed and she, unsurprisingly, declined the job when it was offered to her. It really soured relationships between myself and my head of department. I would never recommend anyone again.”
Even once you think the balls have all been caught, other difficulties can occur, after the interview has taken place.
An assistant headteacher in the north-east, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Recruitment is horrendous, and the biggest barrier is cost…a day of interviewing rounds of candidates that are unsuitable can feel soul destroying. We’ve had situations where two interviewees refused the post offered, or we ended up appointing an unqualified teacher on a temporary contract as the other option was no one stood in front of the class.”
Keep on juggling
So what is the solution? Overwhelmingly, teachers who have spoken to Tes reported that knowing their local recruitment area, and training up their own staff, was their most successful strategy.
A simpler way to recruit, with fewer balls to juggle, is also a top priority.
However, while student numbers grow and the number of qualified teachers actively seeking posts dwindles, recruitment is always going to be something of a juggling act.
Grainne Hallahan has been teaching English in Essex for 10 years. She is part of the #TeamEnglish Twitter group and tweets from @heymrshallahan
Tes has a range of recruitment options to make finding the right member of staff much more straightforward. Visit our Recruitment Products page for details.