Mission for a special agency: managing recruitment

Schools are having to turn to recruitment agencies to fill spaces. However, outsourcing recruitment can be a costly option. As the talent-pool of teachers seems to be drying up, and fewer fish are snapping, Tim Martin looks at the advantages of using a recruitment agency to find quality candidates

It almost need not be said that the teacher recruitment crisis is one of the most concerning issues facing school business management presently. At a recent leadership conference Stephen Morales, CEO at NASBM, even went so far as to say that its importance is on a par with the National Funding Formula (NFF). The very public teacher recruitment campaign devised by the Department for Education (DfE) – with the slogan ‘Your future their future’ – also suggests that the issue is one the government is well aware of.

During a seminar on the subject at EdExec LIVE, the presenter asked delegates if their schools had experienced problems with recruitment in the past 12 months. Only one SBM said she hadn’t, reasoning that her school was involved in a local authority scheme that allowed them to pick from a pool of candidates, thus providing greater reliability than the case might be elsewhere. However, the general feeling in the room was that sourcing competent, experienced and confident teachers continues to prove problematic.

 Rise in support staff teaching duties

According to an Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey of almost 1,000 school support staff, more than three quarters of those surveyed (78%) indicated that ‘when acting as cover supervisors’ they carried out the same duties as supply teachers, an increase of 14% from last year

Providing a fresh approach

This kind of feeling fits well with evidence from Twitter and the £15k quote for sourcing a SLT member mentioned on the social media site – yes really! Outsourcing recruitment can have its pitfalls but, in an age when re-advertising vacancies is commonplace, a meaningful relationship with a recruitment agency can make the difference between continuing to pay inflated costs for temporary cover and employing the best person for the job. What makes agency recruitment strategies more effective than those of schools and how do they justify their fees? To begin with, an agency is often able to provide a fresh approach or new idea to their client or give them the freedom to work from a blank canvas – the type of inspiration usually required to create an imaginative recruitment strategy.

Agencies are in the perfect position to lead such change starting with a formal review of a school’s shortcomings and making appropriate suggestions. “A recruitment health-check can act as an evaluation into processes and technology used by schools. They can also reap large rewards by switching to online, mobile-friendly applications,” says Katie Newell, content specialist at Eteach. She also says that recruitment agencies are skilled at being able to show schools how they can streamline these processes. “School business managers can maximise their advertising reach by offering a quick ‘initial interest’ form and then inviting full applications, for example. A lengthy process results in preferred candidates accepting roles elsewhere, time and again.”

Rather than focusing on processes involving external candidates, however, James Amadori, marketing manager at Randstad, says that schools would be wise to prioritise the talent they already have. “Reskilling or upskilling retiring employees can often be key to filling roles and headteachers also need to consider investing in emerging talented candidates,” he says. “Processes should be in place to earmark talent they cannot afford to lose and they should develop a plan for them that holds up against the needs of their school. Recruitment experts can help develop such a plan.”

 The rural recruitment crisis

In December 2016 the DfE were forced to end their national teaching service initiative designed to place experienced teachers in rural and underperforming schools. Figures released from

freedom of information requests revealed that only 24 teachers had accepted jobs from the service; 116 applications were received, 54 of which met eligibility criteria.

Planning ahead

While planning is one key area where schools can seek to benefit from using an agency it’s worth investigating the resources they can offer. These usually form part of an agency’s unique selling point and separate them from competitors, as Karen points out. “Teacher-specific job boards, the ability to speak directly to a specialist – as and when necessary – as well as support for hard-to-fill and time-restricted roles are all things that schools should have access to from their agency. Our school recruiter technology allows online applications, talent pooling, school career site development and results analysis.” This kind of approach means that both short-term and long-term planning can be developed more effectively as specialists can quickly engage candidates and school business managers can track in real-time when applications have been submitted.

So planning and resources are sorted – what does first-hand evidence tell us about the other advantages of recruitment agencies? In the case of The Maelor School, a rural, co-educational comprehensive for 11-18-year-olds situated in the small Welsh village of Penley, recruitment agencies are used to save time and vet candidates. “The advantages and value are that the right agency will fulfil the HR role of selection, checking candidates – DBS, qualifications, etc. – and ensuring the candidate is suitable for the school on paper,” says Andy Heron, business manager at The Maelor. “Our strategy has always been to advertise nationally through TES for any teaching staff but for support staff we target local outlets with advertising.”

Added value benefits

Moving from a rural perspective to an inner-city approach Lindsey Shaw, headteacher, at Belmont Primary School Harrow, London, says one key strength of agencies is anytime access to a vast network of agency contacts. “We can speak to candidates who may be looking to return to teaching and can review databases of people who may be looking to re-locate to London.” On what basis, then, does she review the performance of her school’s agency? “We look at the added value that we receive and address aspects like shortlisting, designing adverts, carrying out interviews, preparing interview tasks and following up with candidates,” she says. “The deciding factor, of course, is the ability of a recruiter to supply us with a pipeline of talented and dedicated candidates that we can quickly place in our school, with minimum impact on our own resources.”

Considering the extent to which national teacher recruitment trends have fallen in recent years school business managers need to be resilient in their attempts to manage the problem. Used effectively, recruitment agencies serve to inject a fresh impetus into proceedings and are on hand to take care of the more time-consuming tasks involved in the recruitment process. Their perspective on planning, and ability to offer practical resources – as well as evaluating existing school strategies – means that they are in prime position to ease SBM stress levels and source the best person for the job.

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