Turn the recruitment crisis into an opportunity

12th February 2016 at 00:00
The cloud of the current drought in teacher supply could have an unexpected silver lining for schools: an increased focus on the professionalisation of teaching

“The power used to lie with the employer, now it lies with the graduate,” explains James Darley, executive director of graduate recruitment at Teach First.

Indeed, according to a recent study by the NAHT heads’ union, four out of five school leaders who advertised vacancies thought that recruitment was a problem. And figures from the National Foundation for Educational Research show that the proportion of teachers leaving the system increased by 24 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

In the long run, Martin Tissot, executive headteacher of the Cardinal Hume Academies Trust, argues that tighter teacher supply will push up wages, but in the meantime, heads cannot wait for the machinery of government to creak into action. So, could an increasing focus on talent management and nurturing the profession emerge as a silver lining to the recruitment crisis?

Perhaps a shortage of teachers will provide an incentive for heads to put nurturing teachers and pupils above Ofsted and the government on their list of priorities. Simon Hepburn, a school marketing expert, is already advising schools to focus job adverts on what the school can offer, rather than what they want from the teacher.

Similarly, Dame Rachel de Souza, CEO of the academy chain the Inspiration Trust, thinks that schools will be forced “to be really serious about investing in our teachers”. And according to Nadia Paczuska, head of Meadow Primary Academy in Lowestoft, such a change is long overdue.

At Paczuska’s school, which is part of the Reach2 academy chain, she already tries to take a supportive approach and explains that “we’ve all got a child inside us who wants to be told they’re great. If you can’t tell people they’re great, then make them great – and then tell them.”

For her, it’s partly about little touches. She takes pride in the fact that her husband drives to the station to pick up new staff, letting them know where the supermarket is, and how to find “the pub you won’t get knifed in”. Perhaps Paczuska’s approach will become the norm as schools battle to fill vacancies.

Another facet of nurturing staff that de Souza particularly emphasises is career progression and professional development. LKMco’s Why Teach? report, based on a survey of over 1,000 teachers and published with Pearson last autumn, showed that young professionals were particularly attracted to schools that offered opportunities for CPD and rapid promotion.

De Souza therefore promises mentoring, secondment and promotion opportunities across the Inspiration Trust in order to lure teachers from around the country. According to her, the rise of academy chains and federations makes this easier and she is now recruiting a director of education to lead this increasingly important work across the trust. Standalone schools will inevitably find it harder to offer these opportunities and the need to stay competitive may encourage them join school networks like Challenge Partners and the London Leadership Strategy.

However, getting better at competing for a limited pool of teachers will not solve the problem. Schools that need great teachers the most stand to suffer from increased competition for teachers. Schools and recruiters therefore need to get better at ‘hooking in’ teachers beyond the usual suspects. To this end, Teach First has launched a campaign that targets “Second Bouncers” – people looking for their next move after a first career.

Heads too are pursuing untapped networks. As leader of a Catholic federation of schools, Tissot draws on church and family networks; in the last few years, he has put three of his head of RE’s children through Canterbury Christ Church’s Schools Direct programme, as well as several ex-pupils. In some cases, these recruits started off as teaching assistants, gaining classroom experience before beginning formal training; in effect, acting as apprentice teachers.

Innovation in teacher recruitment and development is likely to be highly tailored to context and to particular niches over the next few years. For example, the Inspiration Trust continuously grapples with its schools’ geographical isolations but is now setting up a partnership in which trainees undertake two placements – one in London, one in Norfolk.

Meanwhile a scheme called Researchers in Schools is targeting PhD students by allowing them to combine research and teaching. By giving schools more responsibility for teacher training, the government has bred chaos on one hand, yet green shoots are starting to appear and increasingly tight supply may encourage further innovation in coming years.

Finally, if the UK can’t provide the teachers that our schools need, heads can always look overseas. Previous crises have precipitated flurries of searches outside of the UK, with school leaders hitting headlines for jetting off on recruitment trips. Indeed, over 6,000 work permits referencing “teaching” were issued to South Africans between 2001 and 2003 alone. This time, technology has the potential to lend a helping hand: Paczuska has recently been deploying her own daughter to watch teachers perform mock lessons over Skype. Her school has now secured the right to sponsor visas, too – an approach that could mitigate problems posed by tightened immigration restrictions.

There is no doubt that schools are entering a period of even tougher recruitment, which will add yet another layer to the challenge of headship. Leaders will need to look beyond their next Ofsted inspection and take responsibility for long-term recruitment and retention, and policymakers will have to take decisive action. In the meantime, only a combination of nurture, mission, talent-spotting and innovation will hold back a recruitment crisis and that could lead to some very real – and long-term – innovations in professional development and manpower management.

Loic Menzies is director of LKMco, the education and youth “think and action” tank and a former teacher @LKMco

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