In our “Time to Tackle...” series, we take a look at some of the big challenges faced by school leaders.
It’s an inescapable truth that not all job vacancies are created equal. There will always be roles that take more time or effort to fill.
The number of ”missing“ teachers on training programmes has been dubbed as a recruitment crisis. One element that jumps out from these figures is a chronic shortage of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) teachers.
Figures from the Education Policy Institute suggest that teachers of maths and physics are more likely to have a shorter length of service at a school, and the three hardest subjects to recruit for are computing, physics and maths.
Yet, there are schools that are recruiting talented teachers and running well.
There are ways of finding those talented and dedicated teachers. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking in the right places and ensuring your school is one where people want to come to work.
Problems at home and abroad
Liz Cloke is head of secondary of Tenby International School in Malaysia and, despite occasionally struggling to find Stem teachers, she is pleased to be in a position where she is fully staffed for the upcoming school year.
“This year, our retention rates have been higher than they have been in previous years,” she explains.
“We do have some issues with particular subject areas,” Cloke adds. “In Malaysia, maths and science are taught to outstanding levels and we’re lucky that we’re able to recruit local teachers in those subjects.
"Despite that, we still sometimes struggle to find physics and chemistry teachers, as we want to make sure we’ve got the highest calibre.”
In international settings, being able to recruit locally can make all the difference. “We have 30 per cent expat staff, which makes it slightly different to other international schools,” says Cloke.
With a local pool of teachers with suitable experience to recruit from, this will definitely change the pressures of filling vacancies in shortage areas. Another key to solving shortage subject deficiencies is having flexible teachers.
“Working in a smaller school, sometimes it’s necessary to offer more than one subject,” Cloke says, “or at least be willing to. We’ve recruited a local teacher to teach physics and he’s going to teach some of the advanced maths. We are always looking for staff who have that extra something. They’ve got to be adaptable and they’ve got to be flexible.”
Strength in numbers
There are other places to look for support in the international sector.
“Recruitment challenges have been easier since we joined the international schools partnership,” Cloke explains. “There is more of a pool, we can also speak to and liaise with the HR in recruitment, and there is [the ability] to pick out different positions.”
Outside of these partnerships, Cloke uses social media to reach worldwide networks of teachers.
“Our HR team in Penang is on social media and I’ve got friends and former colleagues across the world who can get the word out,” she continues.
In the UK, headteachers everywhere find themselves fearing the same things as their international counterparts: vacancies in shortage areas.
Hannah Boydell, an HR administrator at Rendcomb College, knows this challenge only too well. When it comes to vacancies, she finds one element especially challenging.
“I think the hardest thing is the subject, and my heart [sank] when two members of our maths department retired at the same time,” she says.
“I’d also say [it’s difficult] if the role you’re trying to recruit is quite specific, or quite niche, for example if it isn’t a full timetable.”
Not all advertisements are the same
And yet Boydell has found that this doesn’t necessarily mean the role will be impossible to fill, it just requires a different approach.
“We will look at what the actual number of periods to teach is, and then, if the right candidate comes along and we don’t have enough teaching for them, we find them something else to do,” she says.
What is important, she continues, is that you don’t ignore the problem. Personalising the advertisement will ensure that you’re flagging up potential obstacles and making it clear how flexible you’re willing to be.
“Our adverts are all different, and I rewrite each one,” she explains. “I will use that phrase ‘for the right candidate’ to make sure they at least apply.”
LISTEN: Liz Cloke and Hannah Boydell explain how they recruit teachers in shortage areas:
Look beyond the obvious
Wherever your school is based, you can to tap into other potential sources for recruitment. “I have started to build up links with the University of Gloucestershire; they have a graduate recruitment fair and a jobs posting board,” explains Boydell.
And these links are so important: sometimes, the role you’re struggling to fill is difficult because it doesn’t necessarily require someone with teaching experience.
When Boydell was finding it difficult to fill a coaching role, she turned to the local university for help.
”I first of all picked up the phone and spoke to the students‘ union, because we had a sports coach role I was struggling to fill and they said: ‘We have this fair’.”
When timing is trouble, look in a different pool
Sometimes the timing of the vacancy can prove problematic. Teacher resignation dates are rigid, so it makes sense to target teachers who aren’t currently in post.
Although some headteachers might be a little wary about recruiting from this group, Boydell has found there are benefits, too.
“They are able to be specific about what they’re looking for,” she says.
When a teacher has had the benefit of a few years away from the classroom, it gives them perspective, she adds.
They know what they want out of a teaching role, whether that is no pastoral responsibility or specific extracurricular roles. That kind of specificity can really help when trying to recruit for a role that is difficult to fill.
Reflect on what has passed, and strategise for the future
When looking at your recruitment priorities for the upcoming year, it can help to reflect on what successes and struggles you’ve experienced in the previous one.
David Barrs, co-headteacher at the Anglo European School in Ingatestone, has struggled with multiple pressures over the past year, from agency fees to immigration concerns.
"These days, we advertise and contact agencies simultaneously,” he says. “We tend to interview as soon as we identify a possible candidate rather than wait, for fear that they might be offered another job.
“Being within easy reach of London gives us an advantage but we still struggle to attract a field in most subjects. We recently had just one applicant for a science post. She was excellent, so we considered ourselves fortunate.”
For Barrs, focusing on what makes his school different has resulted in successful recruitment. A state school that offers the IB has meant that his options are more open than in traditional British curriculum schools.
"Because we offer the IB, we do recruit teachers from abroad,” he explains. “However, the hostile environment towards people entering the UK to work is having a negative impact, which doesn’t make it any easier to recruit teachers who are already in short supply.”