Expert Panel: Recruitment & retention

Our expert panelists Joanne Syckelmoore, Chantal Dos Santos, Rhys Howells and Dean Renphrey from Eteach discuss the difficulty schools are experiencing when recruiting teachers and other vacancies, as well as advice on how schools can attract and retain an excellent and diverse school workforce.

A recent ASCL survey has found that 95 per cent of state-sector school and college leaders have been experiencing difficulty in recruiting teachers, with 43 per cent saying it is ‘severe’. So what are the main problems for schools when it comes to recruiting teachers and other school vacancies? We asked our expert panelists.
According to Joanne Syckelmoore, head of recruitment at Eteach, you have to be able to “sell” a school and its unique selling points (USPs). She says: “Not understanding your school’s USPs and communicating these effectively into the candidate marketplace can lead to problems with recruitment. Why your school and not your neighbour? The candidate attraction and appointment process are very much a dance between both parties and if a school forgets that they need to ‘sell’ themselves to the candidate as equally (if not more in this market) as the candidate needs to ‘sell’ themselves to the school, they will find themselves rejected in favour of a school who understands this better.”
Flexible working and the search for a good work/life balance is another important factor, especially now after the pandemic. Joanne said: “Candidates are looking to recover from their professional experience of Covid and as such will prioritise schools who can offer a work life balance that sits with this personal driver.”
The ‘bad press’ that teaching can get is another factor that can hinder recruitment, according to Chantal Dos Santos, careers manager at Eteach. She said: “Teaching is not a ‘glamourous’ career when looking at other opportunities. People aren’t necessarily choosing to go into teaching after school as the media and blog articles surrounding teaching are generally about the exhaustive workload and that it is a thankless job. Also, most information around teaching is how to survive it – which isn’t attractive at all. With all the safeguarding updates, parental influence and hype around examinations and teacher performance, it is not selling itself to the younger generations.”

Touching again on the point of flexible working, Chantal said: “Schools cannot be as flexible as other employers as teaching is a hands-on profession and other sectors will offer them the opportunity to work from home or hybrid options. Pastoral care needs teachers to know their students. Incidents happen as and when and need a core group of staff to be able to deal with it and offer support.”
And of course, salary is another issue. “Teachers who have degrees in major subjects could possibly earn a lot more if they choose to go into another field other than teaching,” observed Chantal.
Rhys Howells, managing director of Eteach highlights that the outdated method of recruiting could be putting off good candidates. He said: “Antiquated application/recruitment methods and lack of understanding of their target audience’s needs and wants could be off-putting for potential applicants.
“What’s more, rapidly evolving societal changes are driving more teachers out of the classroom and into other industries to find better work life balance and pay.”
Rhys also points out that there can be a lack of support structures for the least experienced members of the teaching industry – ECTs. “This is leading to high turnover within years 1 and 2 and we are therefore not capable of catching up to previously missed teacher training targets,” Rhys observed.
Dean Renphrey, marketing director at Eteach, agrees that the challenges around flexibility surround the teaching profession. He said: “There are definite challenges around work/life balance and the structure of our education system that make teaching a less attractive career option for some people.
“Career progression and flexibility (for example, for professionals with young families) have previously highlighted education as an attractive career option. Workloads and perception around growing rigidity in the sector appears to have shifted this dynamic significantly.
“What’s more, it is important to attract candidates and make the process as easy as possible. It is essential that applying for a job in education is as simple and candidate oriented as it is in other sectors.”

Retaining good teachers

Our expert panelists have touched on some of the problems that schools can experience when it comes to recruiting good teachers and other staff. So how can schools attract and retain high quality teachers?
Joanne says that it is very important to be clear on a school’s unique selling points. “Be effective in communicating these and the benefits of working at their school,” she says.
It is also important to act quickly. Joanne explains: “Traditional recruitment practices in education don’t align with today’s workforce or societal pace. The faster they move on a candidate’s application and build rapport with that individual, the more likely they are to effectively fill their vacancies.
Joanne continues: “Use advocates effectively in a recruitment campaign. Video testimonials from current staff and parents are a persuasive tool to bring the school to life for a prospective candidate.
“You can also look at talent pool applications from previous role adverts – these are people who were motivated enough at another point in time to complete an application and the school may have missed out on them to another school. Time evolves and if approached they could be open to another move should the right opportunity be placed in front of them.”
Joanne adds that you can retain staff through sustaining well-being initiatives, actively identifying career progression desires and presenting appropriate opportunities, as well as putting effective tools in place to support the administrative burden that teaching staff face.
Chantal believes that the workload and salaries of teachers do not match up. Therefore there needs to be more attractive packages and employee perks such as medical, moving/transfer fees to ensure more candidates apply for specific jobs – especially the hard to fill roles.
On the point of flexible working, Chantal says: “Offering flexible working would be beneficial if parameters are set – a lot of teachers who team teach or work part time or have flexible hours are still putting in the same amount of work as full time as a lot of their timetables are generally just condensed into a part time schedule – yet not being paid a full-time salary.”
To keep good teachers in post, Chantal says that career development is key – especially if the school has succession plans in place and to offer appropriate courses if staff have been promoted in house. “Additionally, offering management/leadership training to all staff wishing to progress within their careers and allowing the time for this to happen, taking the specific workloads into account,” adds Chantal.
Rhys believes it’s important to work on your school’s ‘brand’. He explains: “Focus on defining your school’s employer brand as well as communicating it to prospective teaching candidates using dedicated career sites. Work in collaboration with online destinations that have high exposure and market these messages in new ways, such as through blogs, vlogs, and so on.
“It’s also advisable to identify an individual within your existing organisation who is accountable for staff career progression and development. Today’s workers desire full visibility on how they can advance and are not satisfied with vague notions that promotions might be on the horizon somewhere.”
Rhys also points out that expanding your recruitment channels can be beneficial. He says: “Reduce your reliance on one single recruitment channel and embrace a multi-channel recruitment approach that ensures you’re not vulnerable to one letting you down. Review your contracts yearly and look for return on investment and source effectiveness.”
Dean agrees that schools must be clear on their ‘brand’. He says: “Have a clear understanding of what your employer brand is and where your school strives to be. Communicate this with potential staff, clearly.”
Dean also believes in employee advocacy. “Highlight your successes around retention, career development, flexibility and work life balance. Find staff that embody these successes – if you’re a potential teacher looking for a new role, a sincere take on the reality of working in a school is very powerful,” explains Dean.
Dean also advocates a proactive approach to recruitment. “Go to the candidates. Make sure you are being proactive – utilising a range of channels to communicate with potential staff, building a talent pool and increasing your visibility.”

Addressing inequalities in the workforce

According to the union NASUWT, inequalities in the education workforce are exacerbating the recruitment and retention crisis. The union has raised that black and ethnic minority teachers are leaving the profession due to “pay-erosion”, stifled career progression and discrimination at work. Backing this, NFER research has revealed that the most significant ethnic disparities in teacher career progression occur during early career stages.
So why is it important to have a diverse workforce and how can the situation be improved? “Diversity in the workforce brings fresh, new perspectives into the workplace and is particularly vital within education as children will benefit from being exposed to a variety of people,” says Rhys. “You can demonstrate that your schools D&I policies are working through subtle signs such as pictures on your career site or even the inclusion of pronouns in email signatures when communicating with prospective candidates.
“Schools should also assess whether their Diversity and Inclusion Policies are up to date and how you can improve. Review what the corporate world are doing and adopt any practices you feel could help to embrace better D&I at your school.
“You could also work with recruitment agencies to specifically attract individuals from backgrounds you have identified as lacking, as their proactive approach to attraction can help build that diverse workforce for you,” adds Rhys.
Dean advises that schools review any barriers in their hiring process and working structure. He says: “Consider how might any process decisions be excluding people unknowingly. And online application processes often include high quality accessibility functionality to meet the latest guidelines. What’s more, flexible working patterns open up your vacancies to a wider pool of qualified professionals.”
Chantal believes that indirect discrimination is prevalent and an extensive problem in schools. She says: “Missing promotions due to gender or circumstances (pregnancy and maternity) still play quite a big role. Many women leave their careers as teachers as they cannot afford childcare and/or do the hours expected of a teacher and still have a family. It is then also difficult to get back into schools at the same seniority as you were before due to having gaps in your career due to childcare.”
Joanne says that diversity through the student/pupil body will be effectively supported through a diverse workforce within the school. “Schools who ‘speak’ about their diversity and the benefits it brings to their students daily are more likely to attract a diverse workforce,” she says.
Joanne also advises schools to consider ‘tangible skills’ for positions that don’t require direct qualifications. “Understand that someone with the desire to work in the role who holds personal experiences which will equip them to be effective and pose the possibility of being a more valuable team member than someone who has merely done the job before.”

Recruitment and the pandemic

The pandemic shook how education is delivered. For the first time, teachers were having to deliver remote lessons through technology, as well as teach key worker children in class. Indeed some teachers were delivering remote lessons from their own home, with some having to teach their own children at the same time.
So what has the pandemic taught us about teacher recruitment and retainment, and the increased use of technology to deliver education?
Chantal believes that the situation opened a world to teachers where they experienced work/life balance working from home. “A lot of teachers realised the amount of family time that is sacrificed due to the teaching profession – as well as being able to do more recreational activities and hobbies in and amongst a typical school day,” she said.
The pandemic also allowed schools to utilise different tools. “Homework/assignments and marking was streamlined due to the online assessment tools available on Teams,” said Chantal.
“Parents evenings and parent meetings going online was an excellent transition as it allowed for timeframes to be stuck to and more parents were able to attend and be a part of their child’s academic and pastoral journey due to holding them online and not necessarily being there in person. Yet in the same breath it also made teachers more accessible so the demand for meetings and being available increased,” Chantal added.
Rhys believes that the pandemic has shown that individuals now place far greater value on their health and wellbeing than before, which will play a far greater part in recruitment and retention of staff.
The pandemic has also shown that a balance is possible. He says: “Blended careers are a new concept and schools should look to adopt this mindset to possibly reduce teacher burnout and exhaustion, that occasionally leads to resignations. Blended careers can utilise technology to not only deliver education but also enable our staff to experience a new form of work/life balance.”
The use of technology during the pandemic can help with the future of education, and of recruiting good quality teachers, and especially those that fill a particular skills gap. Dean says: “Skills gaps in the wider workforce are likely to be reflected by skills gaps when recruiting teachers, particularly where curriculum is required to keep pace with changing technology. Proactive recruitment techniques and flexible/blended careers are likely to become the new normal.
“Different delivery models and a new approach to staffing could well be something that we see greater discussion of over the next few years. With staff retention a key benefit.
“Technology will no doubt be a key factor in delivery, potentially allowing greater access to subject expertise and a range of new personalised learning tools. However, there is an element of balance here as schools provide the foundations of so many soft and transferable skills.”

Expert panelists

Joanne Syckelmoore, head of recruitment, Eteach

Joanne is head of recruitment at Eteach and has been working in education recruitment for over 19 years. She has specialist knowledge in placing all levels of staff in education and has a desire to implement long-term solutions for schools across the UK to recruit and retain high quality candidates.

Chantal Dos Santos, careers manager, Eteach

Chantal is careers manager at Eteach, previously being a teacher for 17 years. She is constantly looking at how to attract graduates to get into teaching and support them throughout their 2-year induction period, guiding ECTs to improve retention in the education sector.

Rhys Howells, managing director, Eteach

Rhys is managing director of Eteach; committed to driving transformation in global education through disruption and innovation, taking a blended approach to talent management. With a proven track record in the staffing and recruiting industry, Rhys firmly believes Eteach’s suite of products and services will create better outcomes for education.

Dean Renphrey, marketing director, Eteach

Dean is marketing director at Eteach, with 12 years’ experience in the further education and training sector. He specialises in branding, communication and business growth. He is passionate about lifelong learning and supporting career development, with a particular focus on how technology can create new opportunities for the future workforce.