Hiring teachers during a global pandemic

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Recruitment is challenging and stressful at the best of times. When you combine this with the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can seem almost impossible. The education landscape is undergoing a unique transformation that will fundamentally recalibrate the way that candidates and employers interact. For savvy jobseekers and forward-thinking employers, this new dynamic challenge also presents opportunities to implement better practices and realise better outcomes. Chetan Sood shares ways in which schools can introduce flexibility and diversify their recruitment channels to ensure they attract, engage and retain top talent.

With the deadline for teacher notice periods on the 31st of May, just a few weeks away, school leaders up and down the country are facing the challenge of recruiting much-needed staff roles during lockdown. Over the last few weeks, many schools and teachers have shared their concerns about both remote hiring and contractual flexibility and it seems that the uncertainty in the current climate is delaying many schools’ annual recruitment drives.

Reduced access to traditional recruitment channels and processes, such as in-person observations for teaching staff has encumbered many in the decision making process.

As a result, it is anticipated that the surge in activity towards the end of this academic year will create greater competition for talent and could lead to an increase in the number of unfilled vacancies in September. 

So how can you rethink your recruitment strategy to ensure you are able to secure the talent you need for September and beyond?

Experiment with your recruitment process

The inability to organise lesson observations and trial days and having to rely on video interviews is just one of the challenges schools face when hiring remotely. But let’s remember that international schools always recruit UK teachers remotely, and indeed many UK schools already recruit international teachers  in this way.

Although there is no way to replicate a real-life lesson observation, schools and candidates are collaboratively developing interesting new ways to demonstrate and assess competency and teaching style. For example, a tried and tested method is asking the candidate to set up a virtual classroom, entering the room as a teacher would and answering questions from ‘students’.

Allowing for, experimenting with, and ultimately integrating new assessment methods into the hiring process now could help expand the scope of the process once it becomes possible to conduct real-life lesson observations again. Involve candidates in the process and you can turn the challenge into a learning experience! 

Introduce flexibility 

Introducing flexibility to your employment offer and diversifying your recruitment channels could help you greatly.

Short-term contracts have a number of advantages for many candidates, and offering one won’t necessarily mean the school is at risk of being gazumped by another school offering a permanent contract. Be sure to advertise all options to your candidates before making the assumption that they won’t go for temporary contracts. Have a conversation around flexibility at the interview stage and you may find a middle ground that works for you both.

However, if you do decide to consider offering temporary positions to candidates before making them permanent, and these staff were sourced via a recruitment agency or other third party service, be sure to know the potential impact of any temp-to-perm fees or other charges upfront. If you are given terms, these are only a starting position and can generally be negotiated, so start the process early to ensure you have time to secure a good deal, rather than having to accept unfavourable terms due to time constraints.

Safeguarding concerns

In terms of background checks and safeguarding, the DBS Service are now advising that DBS Certificates can be commissioned without a physical face-to-face identity check during COVID-19 related closures. In addition, the Government’s online ID Verification service GOV.UK Verify has been making online ID checks possible for a range of Government services for a couple of years now, an indication that trust and reliability is increasing in this area.

As far as the risk of hiring is concerned, a more flexible contract could prove a key component to help mitigate the risk of a hire not working out.

Interrogate your existing recruitment methodology

In an ideal scenario, a school looking to hire might have a tiered approach to sourcing candidates – from its own network to begin with, a local network (perhaps through a Local Authority service or MAT network), a paid advertising route or a specialised outsourced provider like a recruitment agency. But what is the right way today?

The recruitment function in many organisations – both educational and non-educational – is absolutely critical, and consequently processes and channels tend to be deeply entrenched. At a watershed moment like this, it’s prudent to question such processes and to evaluate whether they are still a good fit.

The key questions to consider are ‘how can I adapt my strategy and build my school brand to attract candidates independently?’ and if using an agency, ‘how can I be sure that I am getting the best value for money?’ By answering these two questions, you can begin to formulate an ideal scenario with tiered candidate attraction channels, a reliable and efficient attraction and recruitment model, and you can start gradually lessening reliance on the advertising channels of yesteryear.

The first step is analysis – analyse your recruitment requirements and absence patterns over the last year and consider what your requirements may look like over the next year, or three years. Which department has the highest staff turnover? Where specifically are you likely to experience staffing pressures next year? What about in three years? Do you have a pipeline of talent that matches these requirements who you can keep engaged (perhaps even for the odd supply day here and there) for potential longer term openings in your school?

Second comes market engagement – contact your existing suppliers and discuss your requirements and goals with them openly, with a view to cooperatively formalising your recruitment plans over the next three years. Consider the breadth of local partnership options – teacher training providers, TSAs and Preferred Supplier Lists. Look independently at new suppliers entering the market with differentiated offerings that could slot alongside some of your existing supply chains, and engage with those providers to compare how their new approaches could address your projected requirements.

Finally, return to your staffing and recruitment strategy – start sketching out your ideal processes moving forward. Get creative and don’t think about what is or isn’t possible yet, just try to visualise the best possible process and outcome for each hire you need to make. Once you’ve asked yourself the key questions, think about how you or your agency can address them, and what the ideal process is. You may find that your existing method of recruiting and addressing staffing gaps needs to be recalibrated.

Actively engage

Contrary to what one may think, teachers are actually highly engaged and receptive to communications at present. With many staff away from school or working an altered timetable, there is often actually more time to consider new career opportunities. At Teacher Booker we work with over 9000 classroom teachers and support staff who are actively seeking their next opportunity in Greater London, and our engagement with them has increased significantly over the past month as we seek to understand how their career plans, aspirations and requirements are changing.

Viewed through the lens of opportunity, this period is a great time to build out your school brand, to actively engage with local teaching talent and develop a network of great teachers and support staff who are interested in your school, are aligned with its ethos, and who could be great candidates for both the temporary and permanent positions you’ll have over the next academic year. Right now, recruitment activity is significantly down compared to last year, so forward-thinking hirers will be aware that there is likely to be a leap in activity this month as we close in on the resignation deadline for September. Getting ahead of the inevitable crush now by cultivating a pipeline of teaching talent will set you up for success when schools reopen, and reduce the risk of having to fill staffing gaps at the last minute. 

The winners in this recruitment cycle, and indeed for long afterwards as the long-term effects of the pandemic become clearer, will be those employers who plan ahead and demonstrate flexibility in their hiring strategies and job offerings. It’s what educators in this candidate-driven market want, it’s what continuing workforce disruption will require, and putting in place the strategy, processes and infrastructure to succeed has never been simpler. 

With the debate around flexible working gaining mindshare in the edusphere (even the Government has got involved), the rise of user-friendly technology from timetabling software to talent pool platforms, and the recent proliferation of collaboration and remote working techniques, flexibility really is king.

Chetan Sood is Head of Operations at Teacher Booker

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