Recruitment & Covid: What is in store for schools?

Written by: Sir David Carter | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The stresses on the profession this year have been immense. What will the impact of this be? Will we see a flurry of resignations before the May 31 deadline? Former National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter gives his view on the recruitment picture facing schools in the months ahead

It has felt hard thus far in 2021 to look very far forward but, as schools return for the summer term in this most challenging of years, I wanted to reflect on some of the top concerns that many of my former colleagues are facing and how we might work together as a sector to tackle them and to move forward better than ever.

It has been a relentless 12 months. There is no doubt that many teachers and leaders have reached or, very sadly for some, passed breaking point.

What will be the impact of that on the next academic year? Are we going to see a flurry of resignations before the May 31 deadline? How many teachers will be looking for a sabbatical for critical recovery time? How many will be cutting their ties with the profession completely? And what will be the impact of that on our staffrooms and classrooms?

It is very hard to predict. We may see more heads taking the opportunity to step down or retire – and gaps then emerging in senior leadership as deputies step up into the newly vacant head roles.

With this restructure will come a need for more support and investment in CPD to prepare teachers in middle and senior management for new levels of responsibility.

Anecdotally, it seems there are fewer teachers planning career breaks than you might think. There has also been the influx of applicants to teacher training – something we often see at times of economic hardship.

What is clear, however, is that some teachers – rightly – will be seeking an increase in the flexibility of their roles.

At the end of 2019, many people would have raised eyebrows at the idea of teachers delivering learning remotely – of teachers working from home. And yet, here we are. One positive from everything we have endured is the opportunity to look at how what we have learnt might lend itself to new models of delivering great teaching to children.

What should or could a school day or term look like? Could teachers split days or weeks between them more flexibly? How long should a school day be? And what could that mean for teachers?

I have spoken to academy trusts who are considering reaching out to teachers who have left the profession because they no longer want the daily challenges that classroom teaching brings but are willing and excited to take up the responsibility of creating virtual lesson content over the summer. Similarly, I know others who will pivot to virtual lessons to support homework – another possible role for someone looking for less teaching hours or for someone who wants to work remotely.

And what about roles and responsibilities? Everything has flexed and changed. Are there opportunities to divide workloads differently – to create more resource and capacity without increasing head count? I have spoken to secondary schools who are considering moving to more of a lecture and seminar model for A level teaching – lecture-style classes delivered by one teacher virtually or in person to the many, while smaller groups have face-to-face sessions.

Another big challenge for heads will be considering how to reinvigorate and motivate the dedicated staff who are still with them as we emerge from this pandemic. Particularly given the task ahead of them – there will need to be a relentless focus on helping tackle learning recovery and this will need a motivated, energised staff.

Part of this will be about making sure there are both opportunities for growth and career progression that will keep them engaged but also considering new ways of working that will support this. Schools will need to work hard to avoid further burn-out among teachers in the rush to make-up for the disruption of the last year.

But we cannot be naïve. Schools will face recruitment challenges in the years to come. What will these look like? Budgets have been stretched on Covid response work – will this have an effect on whether schools can afford to recruit experienced teachers or NQTs?

If there are more NQTs in the school or trust network, how do senior leaders ensure they support them properly? Trusts with multiple schools have an advantage here – if they work to create one unified workforce, there will be more opportunities for support, learning and progression, to the benefit of every school in the network.

Whether it is finding NQTs or filling a headteacher vacancy, there is an opportunity for schools to think differently about how they recruit, especially as budgets feel more and more stretched.

Every job I ever found since I started teaching in 1983 was through a commercial provider but there was a cost to that for schools – estimated at up to £75m nationwide. Recruitment is such a big outlay, especially for trusts recruiting at scale, but we finally have a way around that.

In this context, the Teaching Vacancies job search and listings service created by the Department for Education (DfE) feels like a game-changer. It allows any state school to post a vacancy to job-seeking teachers nationwide, for free. More than 75 per cent of state schools have already signed up to the service, and thousands of job-seeking teachers visit the site each week.

There has never been a better time to make the most of the winds of change and to re-evaluate our recruitment practices. Everyone involved in school recruitment has an opportunity to refine their existing practices to recruit the best candidates and appeal to those who may be looking for a different kind of role post-pandemic, and to save money and time in the process.

The pandemic has created huge challenges in education but in this era of sweeping change we must not lose the opportunity to rethink how we can adapt for the better. Updating our recruitment structures and working practices will play a key role in this so that we can attract – and keep – the best teaching talent.

  • Sir David Carter is a former school principal and academy trust CEO who was National Schools Commissioner from 2016 to 2018.

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