Handling recruitment agencies

Written by: Slava Kremerman | Published:

At one time or another, all headteachers will have to deal with the recruitment agencies in order to fill a short-term or long-term vacancy. Slava Kremerman offers some tips

It’s 7am, you walk into the office and discover the message that one of your staff can’t come in for the next two weeks due to a back injury. What does this mean? Arranging supply.

You immediately dread the process that is coming your way: contacting the recruitment agency, waiting for a response because the agency “might have someone available”, hoping that they can get to your school on time, and finally, praying that they have the skills the agency promised.

And that’s before you deal with the often high and unjustified fees that quickly follow. However, if you follow a few tips you can get the upper hand back in dealing with your agency.

The first is to always ask how much commission the agency is charging per day. It is much harder to charge egregious fees when schools are aware of them.

Agencies typically work towards a mark-up of between £50 and £100 per day on top of the teacher’s salary. They are incentivised by commission so will try to get away with as much as you will let them.

Be careful not to focus too much on the overall rate when negotiating with the agency. As recruiters are motivated by their commissions, they will often agree to lower headline rates but then send you their worst candidates to preserve their margin. Insist that what the teacher gets paid is part of any discussion of the overall rates.

When hiring support staff, it is important to remember that the agency still works towards a mark-up of £50 to £100 per day, meaning support staff are often on minimum wage or slightly above. To counteract this, insist on transparency with what support staff are paid as well. It’s amazing how much the quality of support staff tends to improve when they are paid £80-plus per-day instead of £55.

When negotiating rates, don’t assume you have to give anything up in order to get a lower rate. You can often get a significant decrease in rate by simply asking and mentioning you have spoken to other agencies and understand the market.

One common pitfall when renegotiating rates is agreeing to particularly onerous non-financial terms, such as giving an agency exclusivity or the promise of more business. Although they seem rather innocuous, these terms are often far more punitive to a school than they first realise and can easily be pushed back against.

If you are filling a permanent role, insist on a significant “rebate” period. Agencies are unrelenting in their prioritisation of commissions over relationships. As such, after they place someone with you, within a matter of a few weeks to a few months, they will reach back out to the teacher and see if they are interested in a new role.

This is of course incredibly frustrating for a school but incredibly lucrative for an agency that gets to place that teacher elsewhere and is also now aware of an opening at your school.

Typically you should insist on a rebate period of at least three to six months where you get a percentage of your placement fee refunded to you depending on how many months the teacher has worked at your school.

If you are filling a role for long-term cover, don’t just take the agency’s word that a strong candidate prefers to do supply cover. Often a candidate and a school will both prefer a permanent or fixed-term contract, but the agency won’t make as much this way so will try to push both sides into a supply cover situation. If you find this to be the case, challenge your agency. If you find they still refuse without an extortionate “buy-out” fee, then “serve them notice” that you intend to hire a candidate.

Under government agency working rules, by serving three months’ written notice that you intend to hire a candidate, you will be able to completely avoid any buy-out fees after you have taken out the candidate through the agency for three months.

If you know up-front that you prefer to hire teachers after trialling them on supply cover, insist that your agency includes a contractual term allowing you to avoid “buy-out” fees after you’ve had a teacher a certain amount of time. Typically agencies will agree to waive any buy-out fees when you have had a teacher for between two terms and a school year.

If you are happy with your agencies, but like most schools are constantly harassed by agents flogging their services, there are a couple good tricks to deal with this.

The first is simply responding with a generic: “No thank you and please take me off your list.” This should save dozens of follow-up emails. For the agents that refuse to take the hint, all major email providers will have filters you can easily set-up to automatically delete emails from certain recipients. To learn how to do this, search online for “setting up mail filters”. It should take no more than a few minutes to set-up but will drastically cut down on the amount of time you spend sifting through emails.

Agencies have long understood how desperate schools can be to fill staff absences. However, with the increasing competition between agencies, now more than ever schools can fight back and get a better deal.

  • Slava Kremerman is the CEO of Zen Educate, an early-stage online alternative to education recruitment agencies that works with dozens of schools throughout Greater London. Visit www.zeneducate.com

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