Tackling the skills shortage in schools head on

A school’s greatest resource is its staff; unfortunately, in the high-pressure – although rewarding – school environment it can be difficult to recruit and retain good teaching staff. Kevin Green, non-executive director at Affinity Workforce, believes there is no time to lose in tackling the teacher recruitment crisis and that an alternative vision is needed for addressing the challenge of staffing our schools

According to the latest research, 79% of multi-academy trust (MAT) leaders and 83% of teachers feel that the skills shortage in teaching will become more severe over the next three years – this in spite of the announced pay increase and the teacher workload management toolkit. Further, research published by the Education Policy Institute highlights a worsening lack of highly-skilled teachers in England.

Read together, these figures suggest that the teacher recruitment crisis is unlikely to be out of the spotlight any time soon but an alternative approach to recruitment – one which provides greater support to teachers as well as schools – could help to address the challenges ahead.

Too short-term

One of the key issues is that traditional recruitment methods have taken a transactional approach to staffing in our schools – this might involve a number of different agencies, which simply match qualified people with the increasing number of vacancies in return for a percentage of the candidate’s salary or a fixed fee; this approach is very much focused on addressing short-term needs.

This is particularly evident in the supply of cover teachers. From what I have seen in other industries, this method of recruitment does not always result in long-term benefits for employers who may find that they are being regularly staffed by a high percentage of temporary workers.

When 76% of headteachers and MAT decision-makers in our survey indicate that finding quality teaching staff is the hardest and most stressful part of their job, the solution could be a more innovative and creative model such as that which is used widely in other business sectors.

A clearer vision

Instead, let’s take a scenario whereby all supply teachers working within a large MAT arrive on their first day with a ‘toolkit’ which puts its academy’s schemes of work – its lesson plans and other resources – right at the teachers’ fingertips. This would enable supply teachers to hit the ground running and provide the consistency of teaching needed to improve outcomes for pupils

Take this a step further and envisage recruitment partners being held accountable for ensuring the suitability of its supply teachers, with selection criteria based not solely on the skills and background of the individual but also on specific feedback and performance ratings from previous assignments within the MAT.

This approach would put the onus firmly on the recruiter to not just attract one supply teacher for one job, but to maintain a pool of supply teachers that can be called on by the trust to fill the gaps, at any given moment. A working, evolving talent pool of suitably qualified and experienced supply teachers, familiar with the trust, would develop – with the agency bearing its share of the responsibility to ensure greater value for money and, ultimately, improved education outcomes.

MATs and academies would benefit from a temporary workforce that has a clearer understanding of their needs, approach and values and, crucially, headteachers would no longer have to find time to deal with multiple agencies, make numerous ‘phone calls and have endless conversations to find the supply teachers they need, with costs mounting as they go.

Sharing the benefits

Taking this approach would help ease the burden of managing the compliance and safeguarding requirements associated with the hiring of supply teachers and would establish the opportunity for substantial savings to be made through economies of scale – money that could be redirected back in to the classroom.

With a selection of high calibre teachers who are ‘ring-fenced’ for the trust and its individual academies, MAT leaders would benefit from a consistent supply of high quality, compliant teachers with the right talent, skills and approach needed to deliver high quality outcomes for pupils. Teachers would have more flexibility in how and where they choose to work within the MAT, enabling them to bring examples of best practice from other schools into the classroom to benefit many more pupils.

New opportunities

While this is a fresh approach to tackling the skills shortage in education, managed service recruitment has proven to be a highly successful way of attracting, engaging and managing temporary workers within many other sectors. It could provide a great opportunity to transform recruitment in our schools and encourage agencies to rise to the challenge.

Our schools will be much better equipped to support their pupils and enable them to reach their potential when they have access to a reliable, focused and high-quality source of teachers to call upon.

Kevin Green, former chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, and a non-executive director at specialist recruiters Affinity Workforce, is looking at new ways of working to address the skills shortage in education. Access the full report containing schools’ and MATs’ views on recruitment here.

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