Episode 6: Top tips for effective recruitment and retention in schools

UNCOMPLICATED — a podcast for school leaders, managers and teachers. 

Currently, there is fierce competition to hire in the education sector; nationwide teacher shortages are putting considerable pressure on recruitment teams in schools to attract and retain talent.   

In this episode, Tom and Matt explore what activities can help schools and trusts reduce the number of open vacancies and keep staff for the long term. 

Tom Kershaw
Education Market Specialist at IRIS Software Group
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Matt Brown
HR & Compliance Sales Manager at Every By IRIS
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Tom Kershaw 00:00 

Hi everyone, and welcome to Uncomplicated podcast for education professionals, mat leaders, school staff, teachers, and anyone who’s interested in what’s going on in the world of education technology. I’m Tom Kershaw, Education Market Specialist at IRIS and today I’ll be picking the brains of Matt Brown, Sales Manager Every.  

Hi Matt.  

Matt Brown 00:23 

Hi Tom. 

Tom Kershaw 00:24 

So, I’m really quite excited about this Matt. So, you know, I’ve got a background in teaching, I was a teacher for 11 years and led a very large sixth form. So, any opportunity to chat about things going on in the education sector, I relish. But unfortunately, it’s not a great outlook at the moment. So, you know, there’s plenty of competition to hire in the teaching sector and there’s quite a nationwide teacher shortage at the moment. You know, we hear alarming stats like a third of teachers leaving within five years of qualifying and, you know, the government’s pledged more support for initial teacher training and initiatives, like £30,000 starting salaries should help but you know, what’s your opinions on why schools are currently struggling so much with recruitment? 

Matt Brown 01:08 

I think personally, there’s a few different issues. I think, firstly, having robust HR system to kind of really help and support schools and trusts actually have consistency around the sort of recruitment processes, we often speak to multi-academy trusts in my team that, you know, if there’s five schools across the trust, there’s potentially five different recruitment journeys that obviously candidates go through, obviously, making sure that candidates are sort of engaged throughout the process so that obviously, you know that there’s positive word of mouth, you know, should be successful or not successful for the role so that it doesn’t damage any of the schools or multi-academy trust, reputations, etc. And then also, I think, the other thing that’s kind of impacting schools that we speak with is sort of the cost of recruitment. You know, there’s numerous education, specific recruitment platforms, but they are sort of, from what our customers tell us becoming increasingly more expensive and obviously, the impact on that that has on budgets, etc., is obviously further straining schools and trying to sort of attract talent and, you know, have successful recruitment experiences.  

Tom Kershaw 002:12 

It’s interesting what you say about multi-academy trusts there, because I suppose, with the direction of travel towards a fully trust-led system, there’s only going to be more challenges there to try to make that recruitment process more consistent across trust. But I suppose it’s a function of where we are in that journey at the moment that it differs between schools, because as you say, having an HR system that could cover that recruitment across the trust is surely a better way forward. But I’m also interested about what you say there, in terms of education-specific recruitment companies, and the costs that are involved there, you know, what can schools do to explore other avenues there? 

Matt Brown 02:48 

So some of the schools and trust that we speak to, they’re looking more at the government websites, to kind of make sure that the posting vacancies on there, as well as sort of local authority maintained websites making sure that it’s still posting vacancies in education-specific platforms, but ones that are a little bit more cost-effective than some of the other sort of larger education-specific platforms and companies because, like, say, obviously, an increasing demand and therefore the increasing costs on recruiting through those companies.  

Tom Kershaw 03:19 

Okay, and I think before we go on to talk about, you know, professional development, ensuring that teachers stay, what would be your top tips for schools preparing for that period? 

Matt Brown 03:33 

I think for me, like we said earlier, with multi-academy trusts, you know, if they’re a newly formed trust, they might have sort of numerous different recruitment strategies across the numerous academies in the trust, making sure that they are aligning best practice making sure that they’ve got robust trust-wide centric processes in place, making sure that, you know, the trust central team have full visibility of all the candidates, so that if a candidate phones up for, you know, sort of an update of where they are in the process, etc., they can kind of give that sort of information, you know, quickly and efficiently; to making sure that candidates are feeling sort of that their application is valued, and making sure that they are consistently, you know, given all the updates, so they know exactly where they are, where they stand, you know, because like I say, it’s a very competitive market at the moment. And if, you know, we’re not getting back to candidates quickly and promptly, you know, they can be snapped up by other schools and academies. So obviously, I think speed and efficiencies is definitely key as well as good communication across the schools and trust that we speak to certainly. 

Tom Kershaw 04:37 

And I know, traditionally, it’s been individual schools who have been carrying out their own recruitment. What’s your opinions on a multi-academy trust recruiting for the trust rather than say the school because there seems to be pros and cons to that? 

Matt Brown 04:51 

Yeah, I think again, speaking to sort of a multi-academy trust about this, just need to be diplomatic but they were saying that if the trust actually does the recruitment process centrally, then they can kind of make sure that they put in the right candidates into the right schools rather than sort of schools because of the sheer demand, they obviously want to fight for their own school and obviously, if you can manage those processes centrally, it makes sure that we get the right talent into the right areas and making sure that, you know, I’d say you have got that consistent standards across each of the academies and I think, sometimes if you sort of deal with it in isolation across the academies, like say, it’s, the central teams don’t have visibility and aren’t aware of it so they’re not able to kind of converse with candidates directly to make sure that they’ve got that communication piece and also the fact that, you know, it might be that they’d be better suited to a sort of another school within the trust, because it’s, you know, due to their sort of better location or sort of more befitting of their experience, etc. So, I think for me, I’d probably be an advocate more for sort of centralised recruitment, but you know, like I say, there is always the benefit of individual academies, you know, they’ve obviously got a lot of experience. So, making sure that the trust central team are kind of working with those academies to share best practice and make sure they’ve got a process that works centrally, you know, for each individual academy as well. 

Tom Kershaw 06:13 

Thanks for that. I think it’s worthwhile to have your opinion on that because it’s certainly an issue that trusts are going to be facing in the coming years and I’m sure some will go down that centralization route. So, thinking about keeping talent now, because obviously retention is a key thing. We don’t want to lose those teachers that we spent ages trying to recruit. How do we ensure teachers stay? You know, what of training, development, support – what role do they play do you think in keeping teachers? 

Matt Brown 06:41 

Yeah, I think for me is kind of also absence plays a part which I’ll come on to the moment, from a training and support performance side of things, you need to make sure that we’re consistently investing in education, making sure that we’re actually giving the teachers the support that they need to kind of help with that future development. So, that they’ve got that full career progression, because I think, like you said, at the start of the podcast Tom that, you know, sort of people leaving the industry within sort of five years in some circumstances, and potentially, investment in their sort of wellbeing, as well as obviously, their development within the role is crucial and I think from again, some of the schools that I speak to, they don’t necessarily have robust sort of support tools in place, you know, it’s sort of a best endeavours approach. And I think, sort of having a robust sort of training and development system so you can kind of see how much investment you’ve actually given to each of your teachers, so you show that you’re actually really investing in their future in their career is crucial.  

Tom Kershaw 07:36 

So, yeah, if I just delve into two of the areas that you’ve mentioned there. So firstly, with the progression, what do you see certainly, as multi-academy trusts start to grow in size, what do you see as the role for hopping between schools within a multi-academy trust in the career progression for teachers? Can you see where you think that might be going? 

Matt Brown 08:00 

Yeah, I suppose I would probably approach it from sort of numerous different angles, I suppose, from an absence point of view, firstly, I think it’d be very good if sort of multi-academy trusts have like, for lack of a better term, like floating teachers that like you say, work across a hub of multiple schools, etc., because there’s some secondary schools that I speak to that they can spend up to £400,000 a year on supply teacher costs, etc., and sometimes it’s cheaper just to have sort of, you know, teachers actually that can float between the schools; so, they not completely like a sort of a supply teacher coming in, sort of, for the fresh face side of things, they’ve already got that relationship with some of the schools, some of the students, etc. So, I think that would make for a smoother transition. It’s also, you know, more cost-efficient, as well as obviously, you know, giving more consistency for the pupils across those schools and trust as well. 

Tom Kershaw 08:52 

Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting one. I mean, I think as well for early career teachers, the possibilities of setting up a programme where you can work in multiple contrasting settings within the same trust, that’s an incredible programme that you could put together for your early career teachers there and you only have that opportunity as part of a slightly larger trust. The second point, I wanted to go into what was the wellbeing and I know we recently did a podcast, not a podcast, sorry, a webinar together, that was focusing on teacher wellbeing. So, I just wonder there as well, you know, you said that sometimes there’s a what did you say an endeavor approach, rather than necessarily a strategic approach? What sort of things would you say, should be part of a good teacher wellbeing strategy, or in fact, all staff in education wellbeing strategy? 

Matt Brown 09:45 

Yeah. I mean, like you said, we did a sort of a separate webinar recently about sort of mental health, wellbeing etc., in education. And I think, you know, like you said, we’ve seen some teachers kind of leave the profession within five years for numerous reasons, but I think you know, wellbeing is obviously a very challenging job, very rewarding job, but ultimately still challenging as well. So, I think we also need to make sure that we’re acknowledging, you know, the sort of support of our people from not just from a career development point of view, but also from a wellbeing and supportive point of view that, you know, like you say, if early careers teachers, you know, are they getting the right sort of wellbeing and sort of support to help them, you know, with their career so that, obviously, we can retain talent, we can develop talent and also look at it from like, say, that absence point of view, and from a wellbeing point of view that I think there are numerous different strands that we do need to sort of think about when we are talking to sort of schools and trusts that I’m sure are issues that they’re kind of starting to think about and combat now, and some of the more larger multi-academy trusts that we speak to, they’re starting to really have processes put in place, but I just, I don’t know how that necessarily filters down to every school, you know, I think wellbeing is becoming more of a topic, but I think, you know, there’s probably still some work to do from some of the schools and trust that we speak to. 

Tom Kershaw 11:02 

Exactly. And I think it’s a cultural shift, isn’t it? And I think one of the things that we talked about on the webinar, was leadership, sort of ‘walking the walk’ and demonstrating the habits that are healthy working habits that all of the staff within the school they would want to be doing and but yeah, it certainly isn’t an easy one. You’ve talked a little bit about how schools and MATs can make their recruitment processes easier but I wonder about more from a strategic point of view. So, maybe preparing for upcoming vacancies? I mean, I wonder what you think that the MATs could do there, or maybe at the advantage of a corporate recruitment process, if you like, and, and viewing your staff as a whole across the MAT, where you think that might be going? 

Matt Brown 11:50 

Yeah, I think it’s also sort of understanding sort of your staff, like for example, you know, in our sort of HR platform, you know, if you’re aware that a teacher is due to be retiring shortly, or you know, looking at potentially, sort of career progression and looking at sort of moving to an advanced role or promotion, you know, there are numerous reasons why people leave the current roles that they’ve got. I think it’s kind of being aware of those upcoming changes, and then starting your recruitment process really proactively. So as soon as somebody kind of just gets a promotion side of things, we need to be thinking, right, okay, that person is going to be coming out of role, due to start their next role in a month, you know, rather than waiting till that role is becoming vacant, you know, how can we sort of get a bit more proactive and making sure that we’re already starting to sort of put those vacancies onto the schools website, making sure they’re on the government websites, the local authority maintained websites, etc. So, we can start proactively getting in front and recruiting people so that, you know, that potentially in best case scenario, we can actually get a bit of a handover from that sort of person that’s actually advancing to the new role and, you know, they can kind of have a smoother onboarding experience and sort of less disruption for the pupils as well. 

Tom Kershaw 13:01 

So actually, onboarding was going to be my next question and, you know, how do we ensure that smooth transition from application to employee? 

Matt Brown 13:09 

Yeah, so I mean, Every HR systems got onboardings sort of throughout the system. So, what we’ve tried to do is we try to always think about, you know, what are the sort of challenges for sort of recruitment teams, how can we kind of make those processes more streamlined and sort of easier. So, we’ve got the situation where you can recruit an applicant, and then literally at the click of a button, you can convert that applicant to an employee. And then through with, we’ve got like a module called Training and CPD where you can actually add a new starter to a course collection and then as soon as they get access to the HR system as a new employee, all their induction materials automatically added on to the sort of self-serve portal. So, they can go through, make sure they’re completing all the training, any policies and procedures you want them to be aware of and making sure ultimately, they’re feeling valued. Because what we find is, you know, from when you actually, you know, sort of offer a role, it could be a couple of weeks to anything up to a couple of months before they actually start. So, you know, kind of making sure that you’ve got that communication, making sure that they are sort of reading through the policies, making sure they’re getting the training that they need, so that as soon as they kind of start enroll, they’ve already got sort of, you know, that support, and they know that they’ve obviously got the right level of communication is key, I think. 

Tom Kershaw 14:26 

So, to be clear, because I know there might be a little bit of fear about this almost, you would advocate a position where schools and trusts should get someone whose joining them on to their HR system as soon as possible before they start so that they can get a lot of this sort of admin done? 

Matt Brown 14:43 

Absolutely. I mean, you know, for me, officially, as soon as they’ve accepted the role and they’ve kind of signed their contract, you know, in essence, they might not have officially started but they are going to be an employee and it’s about starting off that sort of communication and that sort of feeling of you know, bringing them on board and actually giving a smooth onboarding experience that, you know, working with an HR system like Every, you know we really streamline that process and make it really efficient, and obviously, making sure that your new starter feels valued and sort of becomes part of the family of that school or trust, as well. 

Tom Kershaw 15:17 

I think that’s a really key point, actually and I think from having been on the other end myself, having that security almost of knowing that the induction process is occurring, before you start, you’re not turning up cold on that first day hoping that someone’s going to meet you. 

Matt Brown 15:33 

You know, it’d be nice if you can kind of have a little bit of a head start. I know, you know, obviously, education, you get into that as a vocation, you’re obviously passionate about, you know, wanting to sort of be part of something and I think, the sooner you can start, you know, sort of getting those people involved and actually helping them become part of your school or trust and feeling that that relationships already started, I think is better because, like, you say, you don’t want to go through a recruitment process, be offered a role, and then be potentially left for sort of six to eight weeks or whatever, before you start with no sort of communication and very little communication, I think it’s all part and parcel of that sort of smooth onboarding experience and actually getting, you know, people bought into the vision of the trust and making sure that they feel the value is definitely warranted and, and sort of, say, valued by the school or trust. 

Tom Kershaw 16:26 

No, absolutely. So, I think, probably gone through most of the key points now, it might be a good time to sort of bring out maybe three key ideas. So, three takeaways, should we say, for schools or trusts wanting to improve that recruitment process. So, three nuggets, shall we say, to take away? 

Matt Brown 16:46 

Yeah, I think for me the three nuggets are making sure that you’ve got a robust onboarding process so that you’ve got consistency if you’re a multi-academy trust, making sure that you’ve got one recruitment process that’s kind of cascaded across all the academies within the trust, and making sure that your central teams got the visibility to sort of know exactly what’s happening with each applicant and a full applicant tracking system so you know exactly where everyone is in the process and what’s happening. I think the next step for me would be making sure that you’ve got that smooth onboarding experience, so if you do convert someone to an employee that like, say, you’ve got a robust way of communicating with them, making sure that you can send out any material for smooth induction, and making sure that they’ve got all the policies and procedures and they feel, you know, like I say that they’re part of, you know, the school or trust family. And I think that the other thing for me is making sure that you do have sort of robust ways of looking at sort of absence trends and performance trends so that you are being more proactive rather than reactive at spotting trends for professional development, as well as obviously wellbeing. 

Tom Kershaw 17:54 

Yeah, I think definitely the proactivity is a key one for me. That’s been brilliant, Matt and thank you very much for that, and thank you to everyone who has been listening. If you found this valuable, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast channel. We’ll be discussing far more topics in upcoming podcasts, and you can find us on all social media channels. Thank you very much.