How to solve our teacher recruitment crisis

By John Bishop, Managing Director, Evolve

The desperate shortage of teaching staff is a real challenge facing schools that is spiralling out of control. It is the deepest crisis that I have experienced during my 20 years of solving challenges within our education system.

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Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw recently said that four out of ten teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their career and according to a poll by YouGov and the NUT more than half of teachers in England (53%) are thinking of quitting in the next two years whilst 11,000 abandon a career in teaching whilst they are still training. Add in a prediction from the ATL teaching union of pupil numbers rising by eight per cent over the next five years and a demographic dip in graduates and things are likely to get even worse.

Can anything be done to address this supply crunch?

I believe that there are solutions that could be considered. That is why I am sharing some of the strategies that we have learned whilst recruiting, training and retaining Evolve Health Mentors, many of whom have gone on to become teachers themselves.

Break the cycle by attracting the right people

Traditional models of recruiting PGCE graduates may not be the most fruitful source of fresh young talent.Thousands of trainees enter the profession with minimal experience and insight into some of the challenges that they are about to face. And they don’t go the distance as a result.

Why not look for people as well as the readymade article? Rather than advertise a teaching vacancy in competition with other schools, could you try to recruit people with the skills and personality that your school is looking for? The necessary training and qualifications can follow. It will require a greater investment in time in the short term but I would argue that these recruits will have greater staying power, possibly delivering a return on the investment in a short number of years. I am sure that your teachers and parents all know people who are good with children and have the potential to become an outstanding teacher given the right training support.

The Trailblazer Apprenticeship developments are worth watching in this regard whereby alternative routes into teaching are being looked at that could create additional opportunities for schools and potential new teachers wishing to enter the profession.

At Evolve we don’t try and find Health Mentors specifically. Instead, we look for people: People with the right attitude, ethos and outlook who could be positive role models with the ability and desire to change children’s lives for the better.

Try before you buy

Innovative and resourceful head teachers are already using non-traditional means of recruitment. Some schools have gone so far as to offer housing solutions as part of the remuneration offer to encourage applications from further afield.

Many school leaders who are having to use such incentives are aware of the benefits of trying before they buy. There is nothing worse than appointing a new teacher only to find that they have thrown the towel in before they get to the end of their first year. This is often the case with NQTs who did not have any real school experience before starting their teacher training.

The opportunity to try before you buy for both sides makes economic and common sense. Many successful teachers were appointed by schools following a previous encounter whether it be a period of supply cover or a trainee teacher placement. If this model could be replicated using a structured format of extended work experience, both schools and teachers would have the opportunity to decide if a permanent position is the best way forward. This can be especially useful prior to candidates embarking upon teacher training to experience the role, warts and all, before committing to the next stage.

At Evolve, we employ talented and committed people and train them to become Health Mentors. They are taught how to develop rapport with pupils, deal with challenging behaviour, improve health and wellbeing and inspire pupils to achieve. Health Mentors are a pool of people with the core skills and suitable personalities who could all progress to qualify as teachers and many of them do. We are providing them with an apprenticeship which gives them a real insight into the profession before they commit. This model could be replicated by local partners to provide a regular stream of dedicated, committed and effective trainee teachers.

Have a mission

With schools all competing for the same limited resource pool, what will make a potential new teacher respond to one of your job adverts?

An engaging school website is a good starting point that effectively sells your school’s ethos, mission and teaching philosophy. Does your school have a strong brand identity that differentiates it from your neighbours?

Having a clearly articulated mission and roadmap will help to ensure that any future workforce fully understand the journey that you are on and accept the contribution that they are expected to make along the way. Too many schools take for granted the fact that they have managed to recruit teachers successfully in the past and never wonder why a school around the corner seems to always attract the best talent.

Admittedly, aligning your mission with the ambitions and motivations of future staff members may not attract new teachers to the profession. What it will do is help you to retain your staff for longer and possibly keep more teachers within the profession.

As a small social enterprise, we cannot attract the best talent with our remuneration and benefits package alone. However, by selling our mission we are recruiting exceptional young people from diverse backgrounds who are all equally committed to transforming a generation.

Halt the exodus

In terms of leaving the profession, many teachers cite stress and heavy workloads among their reasons for doing so. The teaching workforce as a whole is overstretched and we should be actively trying to address this by making the role as enjoyable and rewarding as possible, starting with NQTs at the start of their careers.

There are high expectations placed on recruits from their very first day in the classroom and many are unprepared for the often complex needs of pupils in their class. Combined with the planning and assessment burdens, this can overwhelm young professionals who are inducted much more gradually in most other professions.

Battle-hardened veteran teachers are not shielded from the sheer volume of work required and still have the half term countdown timer on as soon as they return to work after the previous recuperation break. We should be actively searching for ways to make the teaching role more enjoyable and rewarding if we are to stem the tide of teachers leaving the profession.

Evolve Health Mentors complement primary school staffing by providing focused support to disengaged and vulnerable children. This has a positive impact on the behaviour of all pupils, according to an independent study of the impact of Evolve by Leeds Beckett University, and also contributes to the emotional wellbeing of teachers by reducing their stress levels and workload. In particular, deploying a Health Mentor to support NQTs could help to ease them in gently and make their first independent experiences of teaching positive ones.

Say no to supply!

The average school spends £100,000 a year on supply teaching, according to Taxpayers’ Alliance figures, to plug the gaps when vacancies are not filled or teachers take sick leave. This is nothing more than a very expensive sticking plaster.

A fraction of this budget would be better spent on tackling the stress and wellbeing challenges responsible for high levels of absenteeism head on. Schools should continue to ring-fence funds to provide upstream support for teachers who are facing acute challenges such as extreme levels of classroom disruption or pupils with significant learning difficulties. If any additional justification is needed for this investment, it will almost certainly lead to long-term savings in supply agency spend and the management cost associated with recurring recruitment focus.

For example, Health Mentors are hired by many schools to provide direct support for pupils which improves their physical health and emotional wellbeing. However, we are finding that more and more schools are using different budgets to pay for this support which directly impacts on teachers’ wellbeing, attendance and supply agency bills.

To find out more about how Evolve can help improve children’s and teachers’ lives drop them a line using hello@evolvesi.com or 0845 519 8446.