Playing hard to get

9th May 2003 at 01:00
If schools are so desperate to recruit teachers, why on earth don't they try to provide more useful and relevant information to prospective applicants, asks Phil Revell

We haven't quite reached the stage where heads are organising snatch squads to pluck teachers off the streets - but it's getting close. Filling that space behind the teacher's desk is the problem facing many schools, but are they using the best methods?

A TES investigation has discovered some disturbing facts about the teacher recruitment process. Our survey suggests that more than a quarter of jobs ads fail to hit their target - and that schools are sending the wrong information out to prospective applicants.

The TES sampled ads from the January 17 edition this year. They covered the full range of teaching posts: from newly-qualified to headship. And the schools were equally diverse: from inner-city comprehensives to rural primaries.

The first step was to ask for information: 26 per cent fell at this hurdle and were rejected.

We put ourselves in the position of a busy teacher looking for a post outside their immediate area. Teachers had advised us (see panel, right) that they had little time to ring round for a job while at school. The staffroom phone is in great demand at break and lunchtime. Few teachers have access to a quiet office to make confidential calls. Many ads required a phone call, which would have been problem enough, but the schools' lines were often engaged.

In our role as an interested teacher we gave each school two calls but, if there was still no contact, we dropped the ad into our rejects pile. One primary in Leytonstone, north-east London, asked interested teachers to ring the school, but gave no number. Another for the rejects list.

We took the same action with schools wanting a stamped addressed envelope, on the grounds that a penny-pinching approach is not the best recommendation for any future employer. Our sample teachers told us they would welcome the opportunity to email their interest in a post, but fewer than half the schools gave such details in their ad, and less than 10 per cent specifically welcomed email contact.

In the week following the ads' appearance, the applicant information began to thud through the letterbox. Most schools were prompt with their follow-up: nearly all the applicant packs arrived before the week was out.

Two schools failed to respond to our request for information.

Closing dates were the next hurdle. We had decided our teacher had a set of reports to write over the weekend - a not uncommon scenario in today's job - and that we wanted at least a week from receipt of the application pack to the closing date.

Around 10 per cent of schools were rejected because they stipulated closing dates that were too tight. One wanted completed application forms returned by January 27 - nine days after the ad appeared. To achieve this an applicant would have had to have filled in the form on the day it was received. And this for a head of maths post!

Few schools are using the potential of the internet to save on the amount of material they send out to applicants. Only two of the 50 schools surveyed had job information on their websites.

What they did send to applicants was as diverse as the schools sending it.

There were some common factors - schools assume, probably correctly, that the more senior the post the more information is required. But, if filling teaching posts with the right people is crucial, it is strange that so little of the information sent out is directed at the teacher.

A third of the schools sent no breakdown of the previous year's exam or SAT results and half did not include their latest Ofsted report. Four in 10 schools sent no job description. Most sent additional information of some kind, but too often it was aimed at prospective parents. Applicants were given details about uniform policies and homilies on nits. There was the agenda of the next parents' AGM and the date of the sports day.

But no school gave detailed information about professional development opportunities for staff, staffroom facilities, car parking or the organisation of lunch and breaktime duties - the kind of things that have an impact on employees.

There were some diamonds in the dry-as-dust information packs. One Birmingham primary sent examples of its pupils' work; another announced that, having just been inspected, it would be an Ofsted-free zone for the next four years. They filled that post.

Interviews for the jobs we asked about took place either side of the February half term. In early March, The TES contacted a selection from the original sample. One school whose phone was constantly engaged in January was still cut off from the outside world. A third of those we followed up had failed to fill the post advertised - some were on their third round of advertising.

There is a genuine shortage of teachers in mamy areas, and some schools with excellent procedures are still looking for the right teacher for the post they want to fill. But perhaps it's time for schools to look at how they present themselves to applicants, and to start putting the same effort into recruiting staff as they do to recruiting pupils.

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