Desperate heads gamble on early recruitment

8th January 2016 at 00:00
Stiff competition for teachers means schools fast-tracking appointments for September

Schools have begun to advertise for teaching jobs 10 months in advance as the rush to get ahead in the recruitment race intensifies, TES can reveal.

There was a surge in the number of headteachers pushing out adverts for September before the Christmas break to ensure that they fill vacancies, new figures show.

As the recruitment crisis bites, headteachers are being forced to guess the number of staff they think they will need and advertise before they have received teacher resignation notices or even know their budgets.

The increasingly desperate behaviour is revealed in statistics from TES Global, this magazine’s parent company. They show that, since 2013, the proportion of secondary teaching posts advertised between September and December, but starting in the following academic year, has increased by two thirds (see graphic, right).

Headteachers are willing to risk taking on more staff than they may eventually need, to ensure that they are not left struggling to find teachers, according to Sian Carr, principal at the Skinners’ Kent Academy in Tunbridge Wells.

“Some heads do over-recruit [before Christmas] as they are hoping it will work out. Heads take that gamble around now to make sure they are covered,” Ms Carr, who is also vice president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told TES.


‘It’s like a big chess game’

Professor John Howson, a leading teacher recruitment expert, has also noticed a rise in the number of adverts that are being posted before Christmas for jobs starting the following September.

“It seems to be more noticeable this year because there is more talk about the teacher supply crisis and schools are thinking more about recruitment patterns,” he said. Ms Carr advertised for a head of modern foreign languages – a vacancy she knew she needed to fill – during the festive break to give her more time to find the right person.

“You have to go early now,” she said. “You have to get a sense of the market and how you can play it. It’s like a big chess game, or a jigsaw where you have to get all the pieces in the right place.”

The busiest period for recruitment used to be from March to May, once school budgets were known. But planning for the 2016-17 academic year has shifted further forward to December and January.

“It’s not an exact science, as up until 31 May you don’t know. But you have to plan ahead to get ahead of the game,” Ms Carr added.

It is understood that some headteachers may also be advertising earlier in an effort to attract the best trainee teachers or overseas teachers.

Others are seeking teachers in English, maths and science as they know they have a good chance of needing new staff in those subjects next academic year.

Professor Howson’s company TeachVac tracked approximately 1,000 main-scale secondary teacher job adverts in December 2015, the majority of which were for September.

A quarter were for Stem subjects, with 150 for science and 100 for maths. Another 150 were for English teachers and 50 for geography. The most common regions were London, the South East and the East of England.

“From my 25 years of experience studying the market, I know that around 1,000 adverts in December is much higher than normal,” Professor Howson said.

Rachel Cross, headteacher at St Mary’s Church of England Primary in Slough, said that she was advertising in early January – months earlier than normal – to put her school “at an advantage” and to try and recruit without resorting to agencies.

“We are preparing for expansion, but also we don’t know who will leave,” she said. “In other Slough schools there are already adverts out for next September. Normally these adverts would come out in the spring half-term.”

A Department for Education spokeman said that the number and quality of teachers was “at an all-time high.” But the department was working to reduce teacher workload.


‘Humans can’t cope with the job in its current form’

More teachers are considering leaving the profession this school year than ever before, the TES community forums suggest.

Since September, nearly a hundred separate threads have been started on the TES website by teachers saying they are planning to resign. And many have attracted multiple responses.

Theo Griff, a TES forum host for a decade, says she has never known so many users looking to leave teaching. “I have never seen anything this bad,” she says. “It’s workload. It’s excessive demands made by headteachers. It’s the pressure put on teachers because of a fear of Ofsted.”

In response to the surge of teachers contemplating quitting, she created a post about alternative careers that has been read more than 13,000 times.

“We really are entering educational death row,” says one teacher, who resigned at Christmas to set up his own business in online tutoring. “Human bodies cannot sustain the impact of this job in its current form.”

The majority of users on the forums said that they had handed in their notice, or were planning to, in December. But some teachers are even contemplating leaving at Easter, which is far less common because of the proximity to exams.

Contributor pepsi14, who is looking to leave at the end of this term, wrote: “I’ve not been coping at all, and though I tried to keep everything bottled up and just get through…this half-term has been awful.”

Another teacher planning to leave in April said: “I have lost my passion to teach because of the endless observations, work scrutinies, and the feeling that I am not doing enough. I know that I was a good teacher but I am exhausted and it has affected my health.”

A large number of posts in the autumn term concern excessive workload and its impact on health. “I don’t think I can do this any more,” said one teacher. “My heart pounds when I log on to my email for fear of what I will find. I dread going to work and I’ve cried on my way home more times than I can remember.”

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