It will come as no surprise that recruiting teachers, in the current climate, presents some challenges.
Fortunately, schools are innovative places, and many have found ways around the issues. Here we speak to three senior leaders about their experiences of recruiting during the coronavirus lockdown.
Natalie Aveyard is deputy headteacher at The Brunts Academy, which is part of The Evolve Trust in Nottinghamshire. Her school has managed to successfully recruit staff, despite the lockdown.
“At the Trust we make it clear prior to the interview that the day will be made up of a number of tasks, but we do not specify details at that stage,” says Aveyard.
Tasks set by The Evolve Trust, depending on the role, include:
- Preparing a lesson plan in 30 minutes – with the topic being given there and then. Candidates are required to explain their plan and answer any questions.
- Critiquing a videoed lesson, sent via a link on the day.
- Analysing an article, also sent to interviewees on the day.
Coronavirus: Teacher recruitment online
Aveyard says that The Brunts Academy, where she is based, has had candidates withdraw once the schedule has been sent out as they realise that the process will still be rigorous despite lockdown.
“It is not just a 20-minute phone interview, which I know some schools have done – I think the rigour of our process has put some people off in terms of the work that it will entail. We’re fine with this, as we want the right candidates who are also comfortable with our culture and approach,” she says.
So far, so good. But what are the downsides to this otherwise rigorous process?
One of the difficulties of setting tasks remotely is that candidates can draw on other resources, which they are less likely to be able to do if the interview is taking place in person. This is something Aveyard has experienced.
“Obviously it is up to them whether ‘they call a friend’, so to speak. Only on one occasion have we had a candidate submit a lesson plan that was obviously not planned by themselves, as upon further questioning they were not able to articulate why they had chosen certain activities," she says.
"This was not in line with the values of the Trust and therefore this candidate clearly didn’t progress to the next stage."
Despite this downside, remote recruiting has been working well for Aveyard and her colleagues across The Evolve Trust.
“Being able to see a candidate and look them in the eye (albeit via a computer screen) is crucial," Aveyard says.
"We feel confident that we are overcoming the obvious challenges and that our processes are still in line with safer recruitment.
"We are testing for the necessary skills and, above everything, ensuring that the candidates are a values-match and that they have the information they need to make the right choice for them, too.”
No substitute for teaching a lesson
Tony Costello, headteacher at Savio Salesian College in Bootle, Merseyside, feels that not being able to see potential candidates teach is the primary hurdle in recruiting staff during lockdown.
“Teaching is one of the few professions where you need to see people perform, before offering them the job," he says.
As a result, he adds, many schools are turning to fixed-term contracts to give themselves a way out, should they decide they have employed the wrong person.
"Many schools are turning to one-year fixed term contracts, and although this is not ideal, candidates need to accept that this is what is being offered, or reconsider applying for positions, during the current crisis,” Costello explains.
Chris Wainman, senior deputy head at Hull Collegiate School, agrees. His school is yet to advertise teaching posts for 2020-21. However, he has experience of recruiting overseas applicants remotely.
Wainman likens the remote recruitment process to buying an expensive car online, without a test drive and without a returns policy.
“To mitigate disappointment, you would carefully read as many reviews (or references) as you could and scrutinise the specification (application) in great detail," he says.
Prior to lockdown his school would hold a "chaperoned and recorded online pupil panel and a virtual meeting with the department to get a sense of the applicants’ manner with colleagues and pupils”.
So, are there any advantages of remote recruitment over more traditional methods? Wainman thinks not.
“I suppose Greta [Thunberg] will be happy with the reduced carbon footprint. After this challenging period, more people will question the need to do things face-to-face, but not teaching. And not recruitment.”