Education recruitment agencies are dying to let you know they’re still open. All over social media you can find them telling you about the way they’re supporting candidates, finding interviews and working with their client schools. It’s business as usual despite these very unusual times.
Privately, they’re worried though because this year things are a little different.
Teachers have decided to stay in their current roles, wary of the uncertainty caused by Covid-19. As a result, NQTs may struggle to secure full-time roles. If that happens, will they start their careers on supply or look at alternatives?
Aspiring leaders have seen the toll on Headteachers caused by the government’s attempts to re-open schools. Will SLT roles become even harder to fill?
Will overseas trained teachers from Australia, Canada and New Zealand who for generations have filled gaps in London schools choose to return to the UK next year? Will they be willing to travel if we are still at risk, when their own countries response to the pandemic was more effective?
And how many teachers will think enough is enough and leave the profession for good after the divisive recent media coverage?
The education sector as a whole is yet to confront these questions. That’s a worry because it was already struggling with a recruitment and retention crisis before the spread of Coronavirus.
So who stands to gain from this state of flux?
Uncertainty almost always benefits recruitment agencies at some point. Specifically, those that are able to survive the lockdown and navigate what comes next.
There’s no doubt that agency compliance and vetting standards have improved in recent years. However, the transactional approach that commodifies talent and focuses on short-term wins remains. That needs to change.
We can’t afford to mismanage a cohort of NQTs. A third already left the profession in the last 5 years, and over 15% after their first year. If they find themselves starting their careers on supply they will need support. Who will mentor them, encourage their pursuit of relevant CPD and help map their progress against the Teacher Standards? Any agency that profits from them must play a proactive role in retaining their talent.
And we must continue attracting international teachers to the UK. The cash flow implications from school closures this term will no doubt have an impact on this investment from agencies. Rather than cutting back on international marketing, campus visits and maintaining their remote offices, agencies must recognise they are more important than ever.
For at least the next year, people won’t commit to an international move without that support. I’m speaking from experience, I moved overseas twice in my own teaching career and I’ve supported countless others to do the same.
Lastly, agencies must adapt to offer the flexibility the profession demands, to ensure that valuable experience is not lost. The modernisation of our teaching workforce should mean experienced professionals are now able to set their own value.
To achieve this, schools should actually embrace a more direct relationship with their local talent. Options now exist, thanks to technology platforms and good agencies adapting, to enable this. That message needs to spread; there are now alternative ways to manage supply.
There’s no doubt that these are exceptional circumstances, but appreciating the broader context and the ramifications of losing talent from the profession is critical. It supersedes the short-term business need of filling vacancies with contractors this September.
For at least five years agencies have operated in a seller’s market, where if they could find a qualified candidate a placement was likely. As a consequence, most recruiters are trained to do things the way they always have been. They are sales people of varying quality. That will no longer be good enough.
Right now, schools and the people who want to work in them need the support of experts who they can rely on to challenge the conventional wisdom, offer advice they can trust and deliver on their promises.
They need genuine consultants.