HEAD TEACHERS: What to do when new teachers don’t turn up for work.

There is an event that many in the education sector will be facing right now that’s quite possibly the most disruptive and reputationally perilous issue of the academic year – new staff transience. It may sound innocuous, a staff member not turning up on their first day or letting you down shortly thereafter, but against a backdrop of an already strained system the knock-on effect can be dangerously unpredictable.

As a professional in this field I have seen this repeated time and again with alarming frequency so I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject to help those already dealing with the aftermath of the September starters who never started, and those sensibly looking to protect their schools from the impact of such an event in the future.

An already strained system

Teaching has always been a profession that attracted those led by vocational motivations. However, with teacher shortages (as highlighted in the latest Department for Education report which says things are at their worst since 2013), funding cuts, increasing pupil numbers and less support, the profession is strained to breaking point. A spokesperson from teachers’ union NEU recently highlighted this by saying: “We are losing teachers too quickly, undoubtedly because the government is burning them out…”

The fact that there is a teacher shortage is not news to anyone in the sector, nor are the strains on the system, but new teachers failing to turn up can well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in some schools, so it’s not something that should be taken lightly.

New teacher transience

We seem to have sleepwalked ourselves into a dangerous norm. Schools offer new hires their positions in May/June, then wait the summer through for them to start. Most of the time they turn up, sometimes they don’t, but the reality is that good teachers are currently in great demand, so even if they do turn up they may well take a few weeks to see how they like things before taking up another offer and leaving you in the lurch. It’s not fair or ethical (in my eyes), but it does happen, and as I mentioned above, it’s happening with increasing frequency.

Dangerously unpredictable ramifications

This reality puts you in a difficult position. You’d imagine that replacing these lost staff might be simple, but with such shortages, and your search now being at the wrong time of year, there may be substantial delays before a replacement is found. You’ll become painfully aware of the gap in your staffroom and any of the following may result – other teachers will have to pick up the slack and work even longer hours than they already do just to keep things going, parents become unhappy due to their children not having stability in the classroom, teaching quality and teacher morale may start to slip and you could lose other staff, people talk and future pupils’ parents could decide against sending their children to the school, and what about the next Ofsted assessment?

How to protect your school

The solution comes in two parts: a robust new approach to recruitment and a rapid response strategy for dealing with the unpredictable element of staff leaving.

·     A new approach to recruitment

If you want to find great teachers who love working at your school and will do so for years to come, then it’s all about finding a deeper and more meaningful match. Too many recruiters attempt to fit CVs to job specs, and predictably this results in a greater risk of misaligned expectations and aspirations because not enough of the right questions have been asked.

Recruitment today needs to be carried out at a deeper level. What is said ‘on paper’ and even at interview is often practised and tweaked to perfection, so what you really need to get to is the story underneath. The difference between finding ‘someone’ and finding ‘the best someone for your school’ is the ability to pull back the veil and get to this story, the one that reveals who they are and how they interact with others, what they want from their profession, their career and their employer. So, it’s time to ditch those who simply match paperwork – because trust me, when it comes to square pegs and round holes there’s never going to be a happy ending – and seek out those who prioritise a more holistic approach, matching new teachers to your specific school environment.

Disaster recovery strategy

It makes sense to have a strategy in place for the possibility of losing a staff member. The quicker you can replace them with someone passionate about teaching, the quicker panic stations can be reduced from DEFCON 1. There is much that you can do to achieve this, but chief among them is having a reliable recruitment partner who already understands your school well enough to find just the right person – whether supply, temp to perm, fixed contract, or permanent members of the faculty.

Who am I to comment?

I’m the MD of a city-based recruitment firm which has for the last six years specialised in a few niche sectors, one of them being education. I have been in the profession for long enough to see trends come and go, but my preference for the traditional approach, where we look at the person not their paperwork, and the school not their job specification, has helped us to build a reputation in this field. So, if any of the above resonates with you, feel free to get in touch – I’m always happy to see if we can be of assistance.

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