Jane Phillips on how boards can ease the current teacher crisis.
In some areas of the country there is already a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. And sadly, those not yet affected cannot consider themselves immune.
There are too many vacancies and too few teachers so, as some schools and local education authorities take measures to attract and retain teachers, recruitment and retention difficulties will crop up elsewhere.
There are several underlying problems over which governors have no control. These have now come to a head.
The primary cause of the problem is an under-recruitment to the profession over at least eight years. This is being addressed but the effects will take some time to filter through. The problem has been exacerbated by retention difficulties. The result, at a time of full employment, is that too few teachers are joining the profession and too many are leaving.
Listening at the sharp end is Teacherline, the confidential telephone counselling, support and advice service for teachers in England and Wales. Its latest report states: "The majority of callers express feeling totally undervalued and demoralised as individuals, and as members of their profession.
"Some even express a dread about reading the newspaper or watching television in case they are 'told' yet again that they are failing the children in their schools, or that they are expected to take on board yet another new initiative. As more than one caller has said, 'It would mean so much to have the occasional, genuine, public pat on the back that recognises my hard work and dedication.' " As governors, we act as employers or quasi-employers. We have a duty of care towards our staff and it has been repeatedly demonstrated that 'good' employers are more likely to retain staff. If we can show that we value staff, if we do not add unnecessarily to the bureaucratic burden and also carry out our personnel function with diligence and professionalism, staff are less likely to want to leave. This message also needs to percolate to the senior management team.
We can look for ways in which we can improve conditions. With incrases in school budgets, we can provide more administrative and learning support assistance. Retention points can be used to persuade a teacher to stay. Other schools may attempt to poach your best teachers so you may wish to consider in advance what your response will be. In addition, those governing bodies who are supported by a pro-active LEA are in a fortunate position. LEAs can assist with "well-being" or "healthy schools" projects and employee assistance programmes, both of which are designed to improve conditions for those working in schools.
In times of plenty, our selection procedure provides an opportunity to market our school. In times of staff shortage, this becomes a necessity.
Your advert, written information, phone and personal contact with candidates all need to accentuate the positive aspects of your school and to be welcoming and inclusive. Recruitment points, a recent inspection, non-contact time and any other incentives should be specified in the advert.
The time lapse between the advert appearing and final selection must be as short as possible. This entails the preparation of all paperwork before advertising, taking up references before shortlisting and interviewing on the day following the final date for receiving applications. This timescale will minimise the potential for good candidates to fall away en route.
The Teacher Training Agency has information about alternative routes into teaching and the funding available to support these. Your LEA can also help by initiating creative recruitment strategies and by working with housing associations to provide key-worker housing. All these measures are plainly good employment practice. These are brought sharply into focus by the increasing need to attract teachers to our schools and to provide an environment in which they can be happily and productively employed.
Jane Phillips is a business psychologist, a primary school governor and she chairs the National Association of Governors and Managers
Teacherline: 08000 562561 * The Teachers Benevolent Fund: 020 7554 5215 * The teaching information line: 0845 6000 991