How will Covid-19 affect FE recruitment and retention?

The current crisis has separated the great leaders from the poor ones - and many teachers will be thinking of jumping ship as a result

Jonny Kay

Covid-19: How will recruitment and retention in FE be affected?

A month or so ago, teachers were going about their usual business of supporting students and planning and marking with minimal fuss, and maximum effort. For a range of reasons, some teachers will have been contemplating leaving roles and looking for other opportunities. Others (content in their setting) will have been steadily searching out training and CPD opportunities for the coming months. And there will have been some who were satisfied with day-to-day teaching and had not yet thought further ahead.

With life in education now unrecognisable, students working from home and exams cancelled (with data and league tables for 2019-20 suspended), the educational world is now a very different place.

With the challenges above, there has been a race to find clarity and much discussion about what comes next. But what about those who looked for new opportunities? What about teacher retention and recruitment? Has this experience now changed beyond recognition?


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The ripple affect of leadership in times of crisis 

With schools adapting to shifting government responses, it's inevitable that some leaders will have adapted more successfully than others. From being tasked with creating hours and hours of online content for students too young to access it, to being threatened with breach of contract for not agreeing to support at other schools within a trust, some responses have hardly been inspired.

Conversely, many leaders have been phenomenally supportive and flexible (while still supporting students): supporting home-working, creating rotas for working on-site and buying in resources to save workload among other actions.

The reaction and impact on staff has been no less wide ranging.

There are those who contemplated leaving their setting who have been suitably inspired by their leaders, and are now considering staying. There are those who were previously content, but have now lost faith in the leadership. And there are those who contemplated neither who have been pushed one way or the other.

For those now contemplating leaving their current role, the broader question remains about what teacher recruitment will even look like after education returns to any form of normality. Though the UK lockdown is to be reviewed on a regular basis, there are those that feel schools will not open again before September. How will this impact any potential interviewing process?

Long held up as an overly long and highly pressurised process, the teacher interview (sometimes running from 9am – 3pm) will be missing one of its key components – the lesson observation. How leaders assess and evaluate a candidate will have to change markedly.

Teacher training and NQTs 

With the government forced to step in to avoid another financial crash in the majority of sectors, teachers now classified as key workers and facilitating other key workers (as their children continue to attend), surely this recognition will be rewarded with a rise in salary? If this is to happen, there will be a rise in the number of teacher training applications as the role becomes more attractive to graduates (and potentially attracts former teachers back to the profession).

The worry here is that this is offset with those who decide to leave the profession entirely as a result of decisions made by leaders in response to government guidance.

With institutions like the Open University (and myriad private training providers) having spent decades attempting to perfect distance learning, teachers across the world were asked to do this within days of the initial government statement on closing schools.

However, many leaders had pre-empted this and asked staff to work collaboratively to create a range of high quality, easily accessible resources. But we have all read the Twitter horror stories of staff being asked to create weeks and weeks of resources at the drop of a hat. There is also the suspicion among some that those who have made a success of distance learning will be asked to continue with it once we return to something approaching normality (creating a spiral in workload for a minority).

There is also the matter of new NQTs, who will have missed roughly a third of their training. Though with the right mentoring and coaching these gaps can be quickly filled, they will have endured a difficult and stressful few months waiting to start the 2020-21 academic year.

With many unknowns and uncertainties, it is important to focus on the possible positives: teaching may finally streamline its recruitment process; we may finally start to move to more digital classrooms (moving to a more comfortable environment for students); collaboration is at an all-time high and teachers, leaders, students and parents/carers are supporting each other like never before.

Whatever happens next, we must continue to support each other and make sure that we support every student.

Jonny Kay is head of English and maths at a college in the North East

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