Staffing our schools continues to be a problem. Marie Cahalane looks at where schools can find support and considers some of the innovative measures being adopted to keep the education wheels turning
Teacher recruitment is costly and the staff salary bill typically accounts for between 75-85% of the overall school budget but attracting and retaining high-quality educators has become a challenge. A Guardian survey in 2015 found that 79% of schools were struggling to recruit or retain teachers and 88% were predicting that the situation was likely to worsen; according to a 2016 report by the National Audit Office (NAO) it’s been four years since the Department for Education’s (DfE) trainee teacher recruitment targets were met.
How do you foster and maintain interest among a workforce that is overworked and underpaid? There are a number of innovative approaches being considered by schools and supporting organisations – recruitment fairs, training centres, overseas recruitment and proactive and innovative marketing – and there is a growing focus on not just recruiting teachers but training them in order to recruit and retain them.
Finding support in the right places
According to DfE statistics released in July 2015 the number of pupils seeking places in secondary schools will increase by 20% by 2024 and primaries will see an eight per cent increase; while councils are responsible for ensuring that these places are provided schools must ensure they can facilitate such increases.
When Buckinghamshire County Council forecasted a 10% increase in primary numbers between 2015 and 2018, with an additional 20 secondary school classes needed by 2022, it took action. The council approached those on the frontline – its schools and their leaders – and asked what was required to accommodate the swelling student population. One key issue raised was teacher recruitment.
“We’re looking at a range of solutions. We know from past experience of social worker recruitment that no single initiative will solve recruitment and retention difficulties,” observes Zahir Mohammed, cabinet member for education and skills at Buckinghamshire County Council. The approach they’ve taken is a collaborative one where the council plays a supporting role, ensuring that schools have the resources required to attract and retain teachers; a number of initiatives already underway. “We’re working with schools on a design brief for new recruitment webpages, setting up new ‘schools’ talent pools’ in our e-recruitment system to better engage with candidates and supporting a ‘Return to Teaching’ programme which is being trialled at Wycombe High School,” Councillor Mohammed explains.
Finding and establishing the right support network can be a school’s trump card and the council is facilitating just this in Bucks; succession and career planning has been introduced and the council is working closely with its teaching schools and local specialist recruitment agencies in the area. Retention initiatives are also being run; for example, the council is working on a novel housing scheme. “We’re meeting with our property contacts to explore what we can do to provide and improve accommodation for teachers in Bucks,” says Councillor Mohammed and what makes projects like this so successful is the level of importance placed on collaboration between the council, schools and the community. “It’s important that we work together with schools and other key organisations,” he stresses.
The children’s voice
School-centred initial teacher training (SCITT) is a great way of home-growing teachers. Working in conjunction with a group of schools means there is a robust support network and shared resources plus the added benefit of training, recruiting and retaining hand-picked, quality teachers. SCITT schools are fully involved in recruiting people onto the course and so have a big say in the calibre of trainees selected; this means the schools involved have a pool of candidates who meet their needs to choose from when a vacancy arises.
The Keele and North Staffordshire Primary SCITT (KNSPS) works hand-in-glove with the four teaching school alliances within their partnership to deliver an integrated NQT package. They were recently applauded by education minister Nick Gibb for their work on an advertising campaign designed to attract people into teaching which included an advert created by the children. The idea was simple: there are a number of national marketing campaigns running at present and these can be supplemented by the ‘pupil voice’ – by pupils sharing their expectations of what makes a good teacher. “What we felt was really important was to represent the pupil voice because, ultimately, teaching is about is transforming children’s lives,” Diane Swift, director at KNSPS, told me.
The advert, created by students at the SCITT’s lead school, Seabridge Primary, maps the children’s ‘good teacher’ criteria against the professional standards framework for teachers. “While the children’s ingredients are quite imaginative, they’re also quite rigorous, so you can translate ‘glittery personality’ in the children’s language to ‘high expectations and motivation’ in the standards,” Diane explains.
The advert is being run as a part of a wider campaign which includes a radio advert, broadcast over Seabridge Primary School radio station which has its own sound cloud. The SCITT schools are also active on social media says Diane. “We use both Twitter and Facebook to share what’s happening on the teaching programme so people get an insight into what the it offers and we also share pupil successes.” The SCITT also runs open afternoons and evenings every five to six weeks to further encourage candidates and allow them to explore their options.
I asked Diane what the key ingredients to recruitment are and she said, “It’s using social media, using the website and advertising drop-in sessions well in advance. I would really recommend the drop-in sessions – they are a great opportunity for people to explore their options because there are so many different ways of getting into teaching. Finally, it’s about being able to support the individual in finding the programme that’s best for them.”
Thinking outside of the (money) box
Essex can be a difficult area to recruit into; in some areas proximity to London means schools can’t compete with those just two or three miles away because of the capital’s salary weighting, while others are faced with large areas of coastal deprivation. Add to this an expected shortfall in newly qualified teachers (NQTs) predicted for the end of next year, and a government-enforced cap on teacher training, and recruitment difficulties amplify.
The Essex and Thames Primary SCITT has taken action and, with Jo Palmer Tweed, executive director, at the helm, is working across a network of 120 schools to open up routes into the profession and make it more accessible. “We know, for example, that it’s particularly difficult for those with small children to get teaching. To overcome this we’ve introduced a flexible, part-time route where training extends over two-years.” There are also special educational needs (SEN) routes being advertised, a middle school route – for those unsure whether to pursue primary or secondary education – and an assessment-only route on offer to those who are already teaching but are not fully qualified, providing them with a rapid route to qualification. “We want to highlight how diverse the sector can be, and help people navigate the system, because applying for teacher training can be a minefield,” Jo explains.
Cost is another obstacle which the SCITT is trying to surmount; a ‘sponsor a teacher scheme’, where corporate sponsors are given the opportunity to help a trainee through their training, has been initiated. “We are seeing more business-school collaboration in the sector as a whole. This is a smart way for businesses to invest money locally because most trainees stay in the area,” Jo says. “The hope is that this will be a draw for people and we will be able to pick up some of those candidates who could be training as teachers, but simply can’t afford it.”
Jo and her team focus on making it easy for people to understand what they’re applying for and how they can achieve it by supporting trainees through their skills tests and financial applications, ensuring they’re not lost along the way. “We need to be getting talented young people into education; it is a fantastic career,” she says. We’d all echo that, and agree that smart, savvy and innovative recruitment schemes such as these seem set to make all the difference.
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