The value of HR teams and systems

As the recruitment and retention crisis continues to plague schools across the country, Kevin Noble, the HR Lead at The Primary First Trust, shares his thoughts on how HR systems can work to alleviate some of these pressures.

As school practitioners across the country know, the recruitment and retention of teachers continues to trouble schools. A recent report from the National Foundation for Educational Research on the Teacher Labour Market revealed that teacher workload is the key driver of teachers leaving the profession, despite the Government setting up a taskforce to tackle high workload and support flexible working. For example, 53% of primary teachers said that they feel their workload is unmanageable.

Remuneration remains another key concern for school teachers, who have seen a real-terms pay cut since 2010. Compounding this, the sector has seen slower wage growth than the rest of the labour market, making teaching less competitive than other comparative careers for graduates. Naturally, this has affected the supply of teachers into schools and has caused many to leave the profession.

The ramifications of the recruitment and retention crisis extend beyond staffing issues. High turnover rates can disrupt continuity in teaching, undermine staff morale, and impede the creation of strong relationships between educators and pupils. Consequently, the quality of education can be impacted, affecting student outcomes and overall school performance. Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach, with Human Resources (HR) systems emerging as a critical component in the solution framework.

The power of HR

HR can play a pivotal role in fostering organisational culture, vision, and values. At its core, HR serves as the custodian of an organisation's most valuable asset — its people. This is true of many organisations, including, I have learnt, at a trust or school. At The Primary First Trust, we are a small HR team, but we are responsible for the wellbeing of 450 members of staff, so it is incredibly important that the work we are doing aligns with the trust’s mission and supports effective recruitment and retention.

By aligning HR strategies with the trust’s vision and values, we, as HR professionals, can cultivate a cohesive culture where our colleagues can thrive. Through strategic recruitment, HR ensures that new hires not only possess the requisite skills but also embody the trust’s ethos.

Additionally, HR spearheads initiatives such as training and development programmes that reinforce the trust’s values and empower employees to contribute meaningfully. Furthermore, HR acts as a mediator, promoting open communication channels, thereby nurturing a positive work environment reflective of the trust’s culture. Ultimately, by championing the alignment of HR practices with the trust’s vision and values, HR elevates employee engagement, retention, and overall organisational success.

Harnessing systems for effective recruitment

With the increasing number of teachers leaving the profession, and the ever-decreasing number of new teachers, the market now moves very quickly. However, we work in a heavily regulated service, meaning effective recruitment strategies are essential for attracting and retaining high-quality teaching staff. This is why streamlining the hiring process is one of the most important jobs of an HR team.

We do this by utilising systems that automate administrative tasks, such as job adverts, application screening, and candidate communication. These systems can utilise data analytics to identify trends, assess candidate suitability, and optimise recruitment channels for maximum outreach.

At The Primary First Trust, we have been implementing new systems that simplify application forms by utilising artificial intelligence to identify the key information needed. Alongside this, we support our schools by reviewing their application process to ensure the questions they ask candidates help them to recruit the right ones. The final decision rests with the headteacher, but if we can reduce the level of administration and speed up the process for them as well as ensure it provides the most useful information for them, we can reduce their workload and support the decision-making process. This not only supports the recruitment process but also aids retention as hiring employees who align with our vision, values and needs, increases the likelihood of them staying with us for longer.

Harnessing our trust network to support retention

One of our trust’s strengths is that every school maintains its individuality and the trust does not impose a central identity that flattens schools’ approaches. This means that schools create their own curriculums, use their own technology, and have their own strengths. However, alongside this, we work hard to ensure that our staff feel the benefit of having the network of the trust at their disposal. 
As part of our trust-wide support, we offer staff a wellbeing day once a year, which colleagues can take during term time to offer some flexibility in their work life. Many of our staff have children of their own and this allows them the opportunity to go to their child’s sports day or Christmas nativity play for instance. For many colleagues, this is a crucial opportunity to spend time with their family that they wouldn’t otherwise be afforded, which is a significant positive for our staff. Benefits like these are important for improving work-life balance and helping to alleviate workload pressures, both important for helping recruitment and retention.  

We also ran our first trust-wide wellbeing survey last year, which was an opportunity for colleagues to provide feedback on their work-life balance. This is a valuable tool for HR teams to address any concerns and review systems to improve the workplace. Providing staff with an opportunity to anonymously feedback helps promote a culture of continued development and ensures everyone’s voices are heard. This helps create an environment where staff feel valued and know their wellbeing is a priority.

Finally, a very important part of the work we do to harness our network is facilitate a trust-wide inset day. This is an opportunity for staff to network with colleagues from different schools and for professional development. Many networks function also across the trust throughout the year, from headteachers to subject leads to teaching assistants. This allows staff to learn from each other and share best practice; as we do not flatten the identity of each school, they all have their own strengths, allowing them to support and be inspired by one another.  

HR as a tool to support recruitment and retention

The sustainability of the school sector and education more broadly relies on the continued supply of high-quality teachers and keeping experienced teachers in the classroom. The ecosystem of the school relies on newly qualified teachers learning from those with years of experience, meaning recruitment and retention feed into each other – forming a feedback loop. Poor retention will lead to poor recruitment and vice versa.

HR teams, therefore, must work with the sector and school leaders to address this. Through implementing systems which streamline hiring processes, leveraging the resources of the trust to shape the network of staff, responding to workplace needs, and supporting professional development, HR can act as a vital tool to support schools to retain experienced members of staff and recruit new staff members who will help to ensure schools continue to provide the best possible education to their pupils.