There should be a law preventing teachers from switching jobs in the middle of the school year, says a frustrated Nick Butt
Have you ever had that sinking feeling when your pivotal member of staff, the only one who got an excellence rating from Ofsted and who has never previously shown signs of itchy feet, suddenly alerts you that your school may be about to be plunged into the nightmare I call Job War Syndrome?
"I've sent off for details of another job. Probably won't come to anything."
Have you noticed how that person's reference is taken up straight away, how they are called for an interview, and how they get the job, despite their protestations that they haven't got a hope and they're not sure they'd want it anyway?
Don't get me wrong: professional development is a good thing. Nobody should get stuck in a rut. No, the important thing is the timing of it all.
Job War Syndrome is a phenomenon that is going on in schools up and down the land. In fact, The TES promotes it. Somebody gets a job, creating a vacancy which the school has got to fill quickly or be doomed to plugging the gap with supply teachers. Adverts are rushed to the printers, job descriptions drawn up, the good bits of the Ofsted report dusted down and go-ahead governors brush up on their best estate agent jargon. "Help make a good school great!" was one notable slogan I spotted recently.
Why, oh why, are the interviews my staff go for always in the last week before half term? Because the school that is about to snatch them away from us can then happily employ them from the start of the following term, and the seamless thread of staff continuity at their place gleams brightly. I am left with half a term to find a temporary contract teacher for one term before the other ten local schools beat me to it. Only they always seem to have someone waiting to slip into the slot. The net result is that yet another supply teacher is unavailable and I have to cobble together a multiple job-share and beg the school cook to take the class on a Friday afternoon!
"You mean your teacher told you she was looking for another job?" My friend in the world of business looks at me incredulously. In business, the last person you tell is your employer. The news is clean, decisive, and final. "Oh, by the way, I'm starting at GRQ on Monday. They offered me 50K and a car upgrade. Thought you ought to know."
There is none of the agonising over how the school will ever be the same again, how that particularly difficult class will respond to being abandoned in mid-year, which day one or other supply teacher might be able to offer if they get the job. It is too late for such prevarication.
The saddest casualties of Job War Syndrome, the ones whose pitiful state moves me to the greatest compassion, are those pathetic little adverts you get in the school holidays on the half page The TES then devotes to jobs, which say things like: "Required urgently", or "Anybody considered, preferably alive." I wonder what traumatic scenes of high drama have led schools to these dire straits. I rage at the unfairness of it all.
So how do you join the ranks of the beautiful schools, the ones for whom recruitment and retention is not akin to a medical embarrassment but a celebration of professional passage? Well, if you are grant-maintained, middle-class, top of the league tables, or preferably all three, it helps. People want to work at your school with your carpeted corridors, new extension, polite pupils, and reputation for excellence. Those of us in the real world should tell it how it is and hope to attract teachers who relish a challenge and are prepared to work all the hours God gives them for precious little reward in the "zero-tolerance-of-failure" culture.
This may fill the vacancy, though not necessarily at the first attempt. You may still have to endure the termly temporary shambles leading up to it. No, the way to regulate teacher recruitment in a way that gives schools the maximum time to get it right and pupils the minimum disruption to their classes, is to insist, if necessary by introducing a new Education Act, that teachers may only take up new positions in September. At a stroke the problem is solved.
Throughout the year teachers can apply for jobs and be offered posts but they will always be advertised for the following September. Acceptance will be legally binding. There will be no gazumping. Teachers will not be allowed to retire before the end of August. Only sickness and death will stand outside the law and, in the case of sickness and death, termly temporaries will be necessary.
But even here schools will have a lot more choice as there will be fewer supply teachers committed to other schools.
OK, somebody may get a job just before the May half-term! I would insert a clause that reduces the notice period from the May half-term to the end of July. When the roundabout stops, a few schools will fly off, but so many fewer than have to endure Job War Syndrome now. So come on Mr Blunkett, if this Government is as decisive as you say it is, bring in a simple little Act and stop the drama.
* Nick Butt is headteacher ofSt Edmund's Community School, King's Lynn, Norfolk