Roy Blatchford: ‘Does recruitment need to be like this?’

Saxton Bampfylde
Odgers Berndtson
Perrett Laver
Heidrick & Struggles
Korn Ferry

What do these names have in common? Legal firms from the novels of Charles Dickens? A cluster of Cotswold villages? Authors of chemistry textbooks?

They are the names of successful headhunting firms, specialising in education and the recruitment of senior leaders for leading state, independent and international schools. As you might guess, their businesses thrive. And it doesn’t come cheap to secure a top Principal.

Away from the headhunting arena, secondary headteacher colleagues estimate that their schools can spend in excess of £70k per annum on recruiting teachers. Primary leaders suggest the annual figure, in many areas of high teacher turn-over, is £30k plus.

The Times Education Supplement has enjoyed a near monopoly over many decades. One local authority recently estimated that 93% of adverts for teaching posts in its schools featured in the TES. National and local newspapers across the country have shared in the flow of advertising revenue. Almost none of this financial bonanza has found its way back into classrooms.

Nor have most of the profits of the many teaching agencies which now operate across the country. Typically, a school might pay to an agency 25% of a first year of salary. In common with the NHS, the national education service risks being bled dry by agents’ fees which divert increasingly scant resources away from the classroom.
Devotees of ‘Winnie The Pooh’ will know of Edward Bear’s predicament:

    Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels perhaps there isn’t.

The teaching profession has been supine for too long. Profligate spending on recruitment has to end. The school system must challenge the status quo, albeit belatedly. Current budget tightening should surely lead us to find different solutions. I have a few, not mutually exclusive suggestions.

1. Agents

Working with a group of deputy heads a couple of years ago discussing professional steps to headship, one entrepreneurial deputy told us that he and a colleague had set up a recruitment agency, with most of the profits channelled back into a partnership of schools. He also predicted that, over time and in common with professional football, every teacher would have an agent – and that schools would be paying those agents when teachers transferred between schools. Perhaps. Could school partnerships and MATs establish agencies and teacher-agents whose profits are reinvested in the school system?

2. Social media

Disruptive technologies disrupt. There is a strong argument that the ‘digital native’ generation of teachers and school leaders can lead the way in ensuring that various forms of social media provide the ‘go to’ sources for on-line recruitment, cutting out the middle men. This would need co-ordinating, safeguards and due diligence. Perhaps Facebook guru and self-professing altruist Mark Zuckerberg, with his recent global community manifesto, might be tapped up to sponsor. Seriously, there may well be an interested social entrepreneur who could run with the idea.

3. Professional Associations

Whilst professional association and union leaders over the years have talked in my presence about cost-saving initiatives on recruitment, they have to date been sluggish on this agenda. Perhaps new leadership at ASCL, combining forces with NAHT, could stake out a real intent to provide free on-line adverts for all primary, special and secondary leadership positions across England. Their website infrastructures already exist. And in parallel, the newly merged NUT/ATL could do the same for all teaching positions. What a long overdue gift the savings would be to members wrestling with tightening budgets.

4. Department for Education

Whilst once local authorities did much to support teacher recruitment, those days are gone. Might the DfE step in? Is it impossible to imagine a centrally funded and run on-line service, given every teacher in the land is registered by the Department to teach? There might indeed be added value in government being able to identify more readily where geographically, and in what subjects, teacher shortages are emerging. Or where in the country there are difficulties in securing strong middle or senior leaders. Decentralisation has been the mantra for several decades now, but this might just be one area of the school system where a central lead would be welcomed.

5. Charitable foundations

Look carefully in their small print and you’ll find that Oxford University Press (OUP) is a charity, making handsome profits from schools. Might the Masters and Scholars of the Ancient University step forward and carry, free of charge to schools, primary teaching vacancies on OUP’s well established website, currently frequented by thousands of teachers? Could the respected Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) or Education Development Trust (formerly CfBT) devote some of their resources to subsidise on-line recruitment of school leaders? Other educational publishers or charitable foundations may be willing and equipped to take on such an initiative.

Across the kingdom, schools individually, in primary-secondary clusters, in MATs, in all kinds of partnership and alliances are engaged in a wide range of ‘grow your own’ strategies to bring on the next generation of teachers and leaders. That’s as it should be. But there are few schools this interview season which are not having to pay over precious funds to a profit-making company in order to be fully staffed for September.

Resources are precious and becoming ever more so. We need to do things differently. There must be an adventurer or two out there who can make this happen. It would be financially transformational for schools.

Roy Blatchford CBE is Founding Director of the National Education Trust. He is author of ‘The Restless School’ and co-author with Rebecca Clark of ‘Self-Improving Schools: the Journey to Excellence‘.