There's a desperation out there among those heads who feel they're fighting a losing battle in trying to attract or keep staff. But help is at hand. Stephen Hoare reports.
Apply for a management post in the London Borough of Greenwich and you're likely to be fast-tracked through to headship. This was the message given out at a recruitment seminar last year at the Holiday Inn, next door to the Dome, the area's millennium attraction. Some 67 senior staff from all over London and the South-east turned up to hear headteachers and advisers extolling the virtues of Greenwich schools. They were served canapes and glasses of sparkling mineral water and given glossy information packs to take away. Short of buck's fizz, it was the sort of high-powered hiring fair associated with City headhunters.
This is the new world of teacher recruitment, with all the gimmicks of marketing being used to help worried heads lure staff. In more than half of the country's authorities, a new breed of education consultant has been appointed: recruitment strategy managers (RSMs). Bearing money and gifts to sweet-talk prospective recruits, they are a far cry from the regimental sergeant majors with whom they share an acronym.
Victoria Showunmi was appointed as RSM in Greenwich two years ago. A former university lecturer and education consultant, she dumped stale recruitment policies and brought what she describes as a "passion for education" and a hefty dollop of lateral thinking to the task of filling vacancies. She quickly identified several important issues: teachers from minority groups were under-represented; not enough senior teachers applied for headships; and high house prices made it difficult to retain younger staff.
The Leaders in Learning seminar was an idea she dreamt up to target senior teachers. The red-carpet treatment worked wonders: one-third of the visitors went on to apply for jobs in Greenwich. What clinched the decision for many was that the posts came with a career development package - the fast-track to promotion that proved to be such an incentive.
"It was dynamite," says Ms Showunmi. "Teachers told us it was the first time they had encountered anything like it. They could see we meant business."
She has been able to track their progress by contacting the new staff on the free pre-pay mobile phones with which Greenwich has supplied new recruits.
"We have got advanced skills teachers and deputy heads, some of whom have already begun applying for headships in Greenwich schools," she says.
Appointed by LEAs but paid for by the Teacher Training Agency, RSMs were introduced in 1998 to bring fresh insight to the task of attracting staff. Their role has been to work with heads to identify recruitment problems and to provide solutions.
If high housing costs are a problem, they must devise a package to overcome them. And if the reputation of schools repels applicants, it is up to the RSM to change the way they are perceived.
Retention is also an important issue - one-third of newly qualified teachers leave the profession, as do experienced teachers. To tackle such defections, some RSMs are paying for supply cover to give staff time off for training and career development.
Retention and house prices can be linked: in expensive areas, RSMs are now negotiating with housing officials and developers to provide mortgage subsidies, affordable housing or shared ownership schemes. John White, Surrey's head of education personnel, says: "We've got some of the best schools in the country, but we've been reluctant to blow our own trumpet. We're advertising for returners on local radio and talking to the radio stations about running features on our schools."
Funding for RSMs has increased from pound;230,000 in 1998 to pound;4 million this year and pound;5m in 2002. Ninety seven of the 170 authorities in England now employ an RSM. Mary Docherty of the Teacher Training Agency says: "The feedback I'm getting is that it's working extremely well."
In Greenwich, the net result of an overseas recruitment drive, new links between teacher- training colleges, and encouragement to classroom and bi-lingual support staff to train as teachers appears to have paid off.
Victoria Showunmi says: "This year, Greenwich was one of the few London boroughs whose schools were not threatened with a four-day week."
But it is not just London where recruitment is being given an overhaul. Lancashire has an innovative model for training graduates in school. Often mature career-changers, these trainees are mentored by the headteacher and senior staff while on a 0.4 or 0.6 timetable. The county runs a common training programme for prospective secondary and primary teachers, creating opportunities for mutual support and a chance to look at the bigger picture of careers in schools.
In neighbouring Cheshire, the RSM has surveyed all teachers and devised a career package that accounts for different needs - more money and opportunities for younger teachers and flexible, family-friendly working patterns for older staff.
Another potential source are those teachers who have left the profession but might be tempted back. Apart from a "welcome-back" bonus, returners - often women who have left to raise families - can be persuaded if offered the chance of shorter hours or a shorter working week.
Back in Greenwich, Ms Showunmi is investigating paying post-graduate students from Greenwich University to work as associates in schools: 50 are signed up to be paid pound;7 per hour to help pupils with project work, assist with sports teams and listen to poor readers. The idea is to give them a taste of the real job.
The Teacher Training Agency recently announced a pound;1 million boost for recruiting teachers. Three regional experts covering the North, the Midlands and the South are to be appointed to support heads of schools with poor GCSE results. A further area specialist is to be appointed to oversee London. From September, another 19 authorities will have RSMs: Bracknell Forest, Croydon, Dudley, Harrow, Islington, Kingston upon Thames, Lewisham, Merton, Northamptonshire, Portsmouth, Reading, Richmond upon Thames, Sefton, Southampton, Sutton, Telford, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Westminster, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wirral
FIVE WAYS TO LURE AND KEEP STAFF
Where house prices are soaring, recruitment strategy managers can arrange mortgage subsidies. With some of the highest prices in London, Wandsworth is discussing a mortgage top-up of up to pound;30,000 for teachers who have worked there for more than two years. RSMs have links with local housing associations so they can negotiate for low-cost housing. Private developers are now obliged to allocate a proportion of new homes, at a reduced price, for key workers, such as nurses or teachers.
RSMs can help by paying for supply cover, enabling NQTS to be released for extra training, an induction programme or opportunities within the local education authority. Wandsworth gives new teachers six days out of school for training on subjects not covered in detail on PGCE courses, such as equal opportunities, behaviour management and special educational needs.
Overseas teachers Visas for the UK are rarely granted for more than two years, so recruitment of overseas teachers through supply agencies is widespread. Greenwich is running accompanied trips for heads to Canada, Australia and the Caribbean.
Surrey has made links with a cultural enrichment programme for teachers in North Carolina and invites them to learn about the UK by teaching over here for up to two years.
TARGET NEW TRAINEES
Local people who have links with schools are being targeted by RSMs to train as teachers. Paying for a learning support assistant to train as a teacher is a shrewd investment as the person will know the school and its children.
FREE MOBILE PHONES
All Greenwich recruits get free pre-pay phones. Victoria Showunmi, the borough's RSM, says: "It doesn't cost us much and it means we can keep in touch with them to find out whether they are happy in their new job. We also put recruits in touch with other new teachers who are living locally. If we have arranged accommodation in a tower block, it helps them feel at home if they can ring people in a similar situation. Or, if an overseas teacher is arriving by plane, we can arrange a welcoming party to meet them at the airport. Mobile phones help people break the ice."