Predicting and preparing for vacancies

Keep your school on track with a streamlined recruitment strategy that predicts where vacancies are likely to arise.
5th April 2017 at 16:45

Predicting where the gaps are likely to arise can give you a head start when it comes to recruitment. At Myton School in Warwick, headteacher Paul MacIntyre has appointed a personnel manager partly for this reason. Anticipating future needs is integral to the role. “Around 80 per cent of everything we get is spent on staffing,” he says. “You’re only as strong as your staff, so we do a lot of strategic thinking and planning.”

There are two strands to Myton’s approach:

  1. Identifying and nurturing staff for promotion to the next level; and
  2. Looking at the school’s personnel profile to pinpoint areas for development, taking future curriculum needs into account.

English, maths and science, for example, are likely to be areas where more staff will be needed over the next few years, MacIntyre says. “The leadership team analyses each subject area for its strengths and areas for development, looking at its current performance and future needs. By and large we can anticipate where we’re going to get issues coming up.”


Schools also need to consider which staff are likely to be seeking employment elsewhere.

“We had a very highly regarded member of staff who came to us as a newly qualified teacher, but after four years it was time they took another challenge,” MacIntyre says. “They said they needed to move outside and we had to accept that, even though we lost a very good teacher.

“It is about where colleagues are in their careers so we are aware of where people need support,” he adds. “It makes a significant difference if you’re able to keep ahead of the game.”

Good professional development is a key part of contingency planning, according to Philip Britton, headmaster of Bolton School.

“If a colleague is at the beginning of their career, it is possible to anticipate when they will be looking for their first move, and for more experienced staff when they will be looking for head of department and beyond into senior management,” he says.

“It might not tell you the exact month or year, but good professional development gives you a clue as to what sorts of vacancies might arise.”


Predicting needs

Curriculum changes are another factor in planning future staffing needs – schools usually have at least some warning – while it is also sometimes possible to spot trends in pupils’ option choices and prepare accordingly, adds Britton.

“One A-level set isa quarter of a teacher, so relatively modest changes in option patterns can affect what you will need in terms of staffing,” he says. “That is something you can actively manage as a school.” For example, at Bolton School, the introduction of psychology and sports science A-levels has involved recruiting additional staff in recent years, Britton explains.

Although it is not always possible to anticipate when a vacancy will occur, knowing that it is likely to happen soon provides an opportunity to think about the qualities you will want in a candidate.

“You have to wait until a person resigns their post [before beginning any recruitment] but you can start thinking about what the right sort of person for that job might be,” says Britton. “It might be what sort of expertise and what type of person profile you want for the job. A lot of that can be anticipated so you’re not caught out.”


Flexibility at the top

Contingency planning is particularly vital at senior leadership level. At the Cabot Learning Federation in the South West of England, it forms part of the risk-assessment process, says Ron Ritchie, the federa- tion chairman.

Having 12 schools in the federation provides some leeway, allowing for members of a leadership team to be seconded to another school if necessary.

“In the context of principal positions, we almost inevitably have a plan B in place,” says Ritchie. “And one of the advantages of being a multi-academy trust is that if you can’t make the right appointment in the first round you have some flexibility in your leadership capacity. We have used that on a number of occasions.”

Most notably, this came into play when the federa- tion needed to recruit a chief executive. After deciding not to appoint first time around last July, the board installed an interim chief executive while the post was re-advertised, leading to a successful appointment earlier this year.

“It is absolutely essential that the board thinks through all the scenarios,” Ritchie adds.


Pooling resources

Although membership of a multi-academy trust provides a cushion – and not just for senior posts – individual schools are looking at more creative ways of managing vacancies.

One option being explored at Myton is collaborating on appointments with other local schools. This could be particularly important for shortage subjects, MacIntyre says.

“We’re establishing links with other secondary schools to see if there is a pool of staff we can recruit between us.”

The schools could work together on recruitment even if the individual staff member ends up teaching in one school, he adds.

“There is a shortage of maths, science and English teachers and we’re looking at whether this may be a more effective approach to recruitment,” MacIntyre explains.

“Our workforce planning has to be much more flexible than it has been in the past. We have to recognise that the old certainties are diminished and take another look at how this can be done.”