So your job got zero what?

In the current climate, it’s not uncommon for a teaching job advert to receive no applications. Don’t panic, this doesn't necessarily spell disaster. We spoke to some experts about what to do next

Simon Lock

An Interview Waiting Room With No Candidates

You’ve drafted the job spec, posted the advert and now patiently await a steady stream of well-qualified applicants to inundate your inbox. But as you refresh your email for the umpteenth time today, the penny suddenly drops…you have zero candidates.

It’s a situation that an increasing number of UK leaders find themselves in. The shortage of teachers has forced schools to rely heavily on supply agencies and has left many children without a permanent teacher.

One head of English, from a school in Manchester, was recruiting for multiple roles in her department last year, and it wasn’t until the last day of the summer term that she appointed the last successful candidate.

“We needed to fill four roles,” she says. “Two of them were anticipated, as they were maternity cover which we knew about – the other two were resignations.

“We had to keep re-advertising because of the poor quality of responses we were getting and, in some cases, we were just not getting applicants at all. It was really, really difficult.”

Despite a positive Ofsted and a good reputation, the current recruitment climate meant that the number of candidates had taken a significant dip on previous years.

“In this last year we’ve noticed a huge problem,” she says, “because no one is applying. For the four positions, the most applicants we got for any one of them was, I think, three – and they weren’t all of good enough quality, so we often had to re-advertise.”

Despite initial problems and a lack of applicants, many schools have managed to overcome adversity and get teachers in. We spoke to some of them about how they’ve turned things round.  

Local knowledge 

According to Government data on teacher mobility, when changing jobs, 70 per cent of teachers remain within 25 kilometres of their existing school. If you’re struggling to fill a role then you need to utilise your local network.  

“We have strong connections with all the local universities,” says our head of English, “and that does help when it comes to recruitment because we have a good reputation in the area.

“The cost of advertising for recruitment is a huge issue for schools, so having local connections is very helpful.”

Worth a second look?

If you’ve received applications for this or previous vacancies that didn’t initially make the cut, it might be worth giving them a second look. Teachers, especially those new to the profession, may not excel at form-filling.

If you’re recruiting for an NQT, the application they submitted to you might be the first one they’ve ever completed so, according to our head of English in Manchester, it’s worth giving them a chance in person.

“Even if the application isn’t perfect, invite them in for interview," she says. “See what they’re like because, on the day, some of ours performed brilliantly. They were confident, they knew how to deliver a lesson and we knew that, with good mentoring, they would be an asset to the department.”

The right place at the right time

A common story from schools all over the UK is that sometimes an ad will work, and sometimes it won’t. It’s nothing to do with the ad itself, it’s more to do with the audience.

According to Karen Whordley, HR manager at Shenfield High School in Essex, If you’ve been unsuccessful first time round, it may be worth advertising at a different point in the year.

“We have learned that the time when we advertise definitely makes a difference,” says Whordley. “We think that we’ve timed it right this year, as a lot of the applicants are trainees who are going to qualify in the summer.”

Supply on standby

If your best attempts to lure in more candidates don’t seem to be working, it’s best to have a plan B up your sleeve. Getting in touch with supply agencies in good time will make appointing someone easier and, according to Whordley, using multiple agencies is a must.

“I have got a regular supply agency that I use for day to day,” she says, “but for long-term appointments, I have about six or seven agencies that I’ll contact to see who they’ve got on their books.

“I’ve got to keep my options open, as the teachers on the books at an agency won’t necessarily register with all of them.”

Sweeten the deal

If you decide to advertise again, take another look at the deal you’re putting on the table? There’s a good chance your ad will be competing with other similar roles, so ask yourself what you can do to make yours stand out?

This idea of offering roles that are more senior than the vacancy requires is an interesting tactic but one that a number of schools appear to be exploring.

“There’s a school local to me that is currently advertising for an assistant headteacher,” says Ben Clemson, assistant headteacher at The Burgate School, a secondary in Hampshire. “They don’t want an assistant head, they want a head of maths, but they’re giving the position the title of ‘assistant headteacher’ so that someone who’s looking to be in leadership will apply for it.”

Phone a friend

As well as incentivising new staff, offering existing teachers a reward for helping to fill a vacancy is, according to Tes recruitment director Michael Watson, a tactic that can prove successful.

“If a member of staff can recommend somebody from their network for a particular role, you could incentivise them,” says Watson. “You might provide a £500 voucher or something like that.

“I’ve heard that it’s quite successful because, as a teacher, it’s based on your credibility, isn’t it? You’re not going to recommend someone who’s not very good.”

Bring in the experts

With the local candidate pool seemingly exhausted, many schools are using more targeted recruitment services. Although there is a greater initial cost, as you’re letting a recruiter do the leg work for you, they can reach out to teachers beyond your potential audience, and the chances of finding the right candidate increase.

Lorraine Hill, director of business and finance at Treiglas Community College in Cornwall*, had been struggling to fill roles in some shortage subjects.

“Because of a shortage of high quality candidates, we faced a number of recruitment challenges,” says Lorraine. “We never used to receive enough applications and struggled to recruit for specialist subjects such as maths and science.”

Having opted to use specialist recruiters to widen her search, Lorraine has managed to fill roles previously left vacant.

“We can now reach out to a larger network and have secured outstanding maths teachers and various maternity cover posts.”

If you’re struggling to find staff for your school Tes can help. We have a number of options designed to help match great teachers with their perfect school. Check out our recruitment products for more details.

*Treiglas Community College used smartMatch to find the right teacher for their hard-to-fill roles. smartMatch for English, maths and science roles are included in an Excel Recruitment Subscription. Find out more about smartMatch.

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