There are huge changes afoot within the UK’s education landscape – the introduction of performance related pay for teachers being just one of the major debating points over recent months. Whatever the changes to structures, conditions or curriculums, highly motivated and skilled teachers will always be at the heart of any education system.
As part of this schools must have access to suitably skilled and effectively vetted supply teachers. This is why we need to ensure that mechanisms are in place to promote flexible staffing models that meet all the latest safeguarding criteria but also ensure that no days are wasted in terms of the education provided to children in our schools.
Being able to bring in a fully qualified teacher, often at short notice, to cover for short or long term absences is a huge benefit. There are a number of factors which will increase the importance of flexible staffing arrangements.
Why supply teaching matters We are already seeing a real emerging challenge in terms of teacher shortages in certain areas and disciplines. There are some fears that changes to pay and conditions as well as increasing bureaucracy could create more of an exodus. Although the focus must clearly remain on retaining people within the profession, having access to fully qualified supply teachers can provide the right level of cover whilst hiring procedures for new substantive staff take their course.
The feedback from members of the REC Education sector group is that an increasing number of people are actively looking to work as supply teachers rather than in substantive roles, partly due to the amount of administrative work. This is preferable to losing people from the profession altogether and is another example of why having a vibrant supply teacher sector is so important.
On the broad resourcing challenges that lie ahead, the changes to pay and conditions could result in schools potentially allocating more money to certain high demand roles (maths, science, languages etc.) and less to roles that are easier to fill. Some have argued that we might see something like a football transfer market start to develop, driven by the shortage in certain disciplines. Will we also see the emergence of flexible ‘cadre’ of supply teacher in some of these shortage areas? Possibly, it is certainly something that REC Education will continue to monitor.
We are likely to see more fluidity in the teaching profession. In addition, analysis of the current teaching workforce demographics shows a significant number in the 30 to 35 year‑old bracket, many of whom are likely to be on maternity/paternity leave at some point over the coming years.
This will only increase the need to bring in suitably skilled teachers at short notice, on a flexible basis. This further supports the argument that supply teacher agencies will have an increasingly important role to play over the coming years.
Keeping apace with developments The case for using fully qualified supply teachers, rather than using teacher assistants or cover supervisors as stop-gaps, is a strong one. The question then is how best to source and manage this flexible resource and to remain up to speed with all relevant external developments.
As with any recruitment into schools, it is vital to focus on some of the basics such as effective vetting and reference checking. One challenge here is to ensure that all schools are up to speed with and best practice and regulatory development such as the Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS). A poll at the last REC Education meeting saw just under 50 per cent of specialist recruiters saying that they thought schools had limited awareness of the new DBS schemes, with a further 50 per cent saying that schools had virtually no knowledge at all. The need to raise awareness amongst schools and candidates is something the REC has been taking forward for a number of months. Recent confirmation from DBS that they will be implementing specific measures to raise awareness is good news but more needs to be done.
The lack of awareness raises more fundamental questions about where schools can go to get the necessary updates and support. Speaking at a recent REC meeting Professor John Howson, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Department of Education highlighted the fact that ‘fragmentation of the education landscape has created a huge void’ in terms of support structures and information sources for schools. With links to Local Authorities now mostly eroded, where can schools go to get advice and a clear steer on regulatory changes and market developments? One conclusion was that specialist recruiters and professional bodies can play a role in filing this void.
The aforementioned changes to pay and conditions is a further illustration of why schools need to develop some form of support and guidance network to take stock of external developments and put in place the necessary measures. For example, Stewart MCcoy, Managing Director of Randstad Education and Chair of REC Education underlined the fact that these “pay changes will have an immediate impact on how equal treatment requirements under the Agency Workers Regulations are met”. This is a complex area requiring both legal and practical HR support. The implementation of performance related pay will also create a huge change within schools and will radically impact on the skills needed by schools governors and heads. Again, schools will need practical support on developing new assessment procedures and criteria, which is another area where specialist recruiters can play a supporting role.
Recognisable kitemarks Any big change – such as performance related pay – creates implementation challenges and time implications for schools. One priority must be to ensure that the inevitable focus on setting up new performance related pay systems doesn’t deviate attention away from other priority areas such as the safeguarding agenda. We must never lose sight of the need to make sure that anybody who comes into schools has not only got the right skills, but is also properly vetted.
For the REC, it is about taking stock of the changing landscape and coming up with practical solutions that make things easier for schools – in particular through specific initiatives such as REC Audited Education. Schools are increasingly squeezed for time and resources so need recognisable kitemarks, which give reassurance that the right checks have taken place and that suppliers are meeting the highest standards. This is the core aim of the REC Audited Education initiative which was launched last year to build on the legacy of the REC/DfE Quality Mark scheme.
The Quality Mark scheme was managed by the REC on behalf of the Department of Education since its launch in 2002 and became a highly regarded badge of best practice within supply teaching. When government funding for the scheme was cut last year, the Education Minister encouraged the industry to ‘pick up the baton’ and develop a replacement scheme to ensure continuity and ongoing quality assurance for schools and parents.
The new audit covers both teaching and non-teaching staff and goes way beyond just compliance, requiring agencies to demonstrate that they operate best practice in areas such as customer service, staff development, diversity and client management. To ensure our standard continues to meet the needs of the education sector, the scheme is underpinned by a steering group, chaired by Professor John Howson and made up of key representative bodies including the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Voice (the union for education professionals), the National Association of School Business Management, the Independent Academies Association Assured Services, the British Council and the National Governor’s Association.
The REC Audited Education tool is building real momentum and external recognition. The feedback from members who have been through the audit has been extremely positive and we continue to actively promote the initiative to schools and LAs. As part of the awareness-raising drive, the REC spoke at last week’s Westminster Education Forum event that brought together 200 representatives from schools, academies, local authorities and teaching unions. Our key message to schools is make sure you’re using an REC member and make sure you’re using suppliers with the REC Audited Education stamp.
What’s next? An immediate priority is to pre-empt what curriculum changes will mean for teacher demand. Staffing needs within schools will evolve as the new curriculum puts the onus on key areas such as technology (including coding skills), science and languages. Schools and specialist agencies will need to plan ahead to ensure that there is a strong pipeline of qualified teachers to work in both supply and substantive roles within our schools.
Speaking at the last REC Education general meeting Ty Goddard, Director and Founder of the Education Foundation – the UK’s only specialist education think tank – argued that “the classroom would change beyond recognition over the coming years” but that “The pillars of any successful education system are great leaders and great teachers”. A priority for the REC is to continue promoting the added value that our members can provide to schools by supplying great supply teachers and by providing guidance and support to school leaders on specific challenges such as implementing new regulations and performance related pay. There is a huge opportunity for our sector to work in genuine partnership with schools in these and other areas.