Is 2022 the year we can fix the headache of supply teacher recruitment?


Ollie Parsons looks at what’s changed in the school recruitment landscape, and what the future holds.

For almost two years, schools have faced unprecedented challenges – not only with the mass move to online teaching, but also the continuously fluctuating staff levels. With many schools successfully opting to employ more support staff directly or create a pool of local teachers, schools’ reliance on using supply and recruitment agencies has drastically reduced. Is it time to learn from our experiences and change the face of school recruitment?

Having worked as a Recruitment Consultant in a traditional supply agency throughout the pandemic, I know this past 20 months has been like no other. I was supporting head teachers who were juggling the mass move to online teaching whilst desperately trying to meet their constantly fluctuating staffing needs. Technological solutions suddenly became the answer to many headteachers’ challenges, proving that our education system that was a little bit set in its ways, can adapt, learn, and change on demand.

One surprising area was the move away from a reliance on supply and recruitment agencies to assist with staff shortages.

Whilst agencies were still playing a vital role, the capacity to which they were being used was drastically reduced. More schools adopted a strategy of either directly employing more support staff or creating their own pool of local teachers who they employed exclusively, allowing school leaders to take control of their recruitment to suit their needs and budgets.

So, will 2022 be a year where short and long-term recruitment changes for good?

Revolution in staff recruitment

Whether recruitment needs arise from planned leave or unexpected staff shortages due to sickness, technology can help alleviate many headaches.

Looking for specialist SEND cover – be it long term, or short term, is not always straightforward, however it is possible to say goodbye to the morning panics and hello to more money in your budget.

Many schools will already have an established bank of supply teachers that they prefer to use, covering different key stages, subjects, and specialisms. Although a spreadsheet does a decent job at storing the contact details for them all, using a technological platform can save you much needed time.

You can communicate your needs with them all at a click of a  button and similarly, they too can respond with their availability with ease.

Your pool of staff doesn’t need to be contained to your contacts alone. You could reach out to other schools in your local area, local authority or within academy chains, making your pool of trusted supply teachers and staff even bigger.

But what about the admin?

In addition to providing a tool to pool together your contacts,  online platforms can also operate as an easy to access one-stop shop. Not only do they function as communicating a vacancy, but they can offer timesheet systems and approvals and payroll options too.

Balancing the budget

School budgets have been squeezed for what feels like forever and we know that the pandemic will continue to make balancing the books a headache, but there is no reason for agency spending to be part of that.

Agencies rely on their consultants to close deals and bring in revenue. It’s often a thankless job, requires long hours and can be extremely frustrating. The only way agencies can attract and retain good consultants is by paying them handsome commission. Depending on an agency’s commission structure, at some bandings recruitment consultants can earn up to 20% of their billings as commission, on top of their basic salary which is often over £40k.The education recruitment sector is worth over £1 billion and school budgets are funding these salaries.

To ensure these high salary expectations are met, agencies charge schools margins ranging from £30 – £80 a day on daily/long term supply bookings and will levy engagement fees starting from 10% of annual salary up to 25% in some cases.

As you know, it’s these huge expenses which can cripple school budgets, but which can also be excised through the successful application of technology.

Correctly built and calibrated, online booking systems remove the need for consultants who function as intermediaries and so the costs to schools can be drastically reduced as there is no longer the need to support and perpetuate the commission culture.

Making 2022 the year of recruitment success

Things never happen overnight; new systems take time to create and bed-in but 2022 can definitely be the start of making recruitment a success for schools.

• Build your own pool. Employ a team of cover supervisors on direct contract to function as your first line of contingency staffing. The money you spend on these salaries will save thousands in agency fees and the job security provided will lead to consistency. The students will know who to expect for cover and things will go a lot smoother.

• Offer progression to support staff. Use staff that are already familiar with the school. Teaching Assistants are a great place to start. After a year, consider offering them additional responsibility as a cover supervisor and offer them a career path. If you can nurture the support staff you already employ, these people could become future teachers.

• If you work with agencies, limit the number you work with. Agencies want your business so don’t be afraid to negotiate hard. Find a consultant who actually listens to you and then go from there. Establish fixed rates for supply teachers and do not deviate from them. Remember, unless you sign a contract with an agency for their services, you can always negotiate down rates.

• Treat supply staff well! Remember, supply teachers are providing an invaluable service. Make sure they receive a warm welcome and brief them on exactly what they will be doing/what you expect of them. They are there to help you and while not all supply teachers are the same, you want to ensure that supply staff are happy – they do speak amongst themselves and stories of mismanagement, poor organisation or being treated dismissively will spread!

Schools have embraced a wide range of new technological solutions to help ensure they remain functional, an unwillingness to change has not been an option and recruitment has been no exception, but I believe now is the ideal time for schools to continue to drive forward this much needed change. That’s not to say that there isn’t a role for traditional agencies, there absolutely is. But the development and use of recruitment technology gives you options like never before. It’s time to put the control back in our hands and reap the many benefits that come with it.

Ollie Parsons
Author: Ollie Parsons

Ollie Parsons
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Ollie Parsons, a former Recruitment Consultant and now Education Recruitment Specialist for Teacher Booker.
T: @teacherbooker
F: @teacherbooker


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