Schools in the London Borough of Havering are currently having difficulties with teacher recruitment. There are schools with vacancies that they’ve yet to fill, which are finding that the pool of potential recruits is much smaller than it was. Some have been able to arrange temporary appointments for the 2019 autumn term, but still need to fill those posts next year.
That’s why this October, I’ll be flying out to Australia in order to establish contact with some good Australian teachers who will be suitable for those vacant posts.
The trip is being organised through a partnership with Supply Desk (supplydesk. co.uk), based on need and because the Borough lacks the resources for such an undertaking. It’s certainly a new experience for me, though when working as a deputy in Croydon 16 years ago, I recall the LA sending some leaders out to Canada for recruitment purposes, so it’s a strategy that’s been tried before.
For us, we’ve found that the traditional approach to recruitment is no longer effective. There was a time when we’d place an advert in the press which would generate applications, and then interview on the basis of those. For three years I’ve not succeeded in recruiting anybody using those traditional methods. It’s more common now for us to source staff via agencies, sometimes recruiting off the back of that, but the costs can be huge – often you’ll be paying some 28% percent of the salary as a ‘finders fee’.
An increasingly common strategy is to recruit through networking, talking to people who know people looking for new opportunities, and encouraging them to apply for jobs we might have once advertised. Social media is another avenue – one I’m not an expert in – but members of my senior team have proved to be quite adept at distributing information about posts we’re looking to fill.
However, the difficulties we have in recruiting staff remain particularly pronounced in certain areas. I recently attempted to recruit a geography teacher within Havering three times, but didn’t receive a single application. I did previously have a very different experience in Brighton and Hove, though being a city with two universities, both offering teacher training programmes, it’s a comparatively easier area to recruit for.
Schools in outer London boroughs with recruitment needs have historically had it harder. One doesn’t have to travel far to get to an inner London borough, where salaries can be £2,000 to £3,000 a year higher, due to London weighting. It was a similar situation when I was based in Croydon – it’s always been a challenge.
Resilience and passion
The plan is for me to spend eight days in Australia and visit three cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide – where I’ll be interviewing candidates at a series of university venues. Many people have told me how envious they are of me flying out there, but I’m expecting it to be exhausting – I’ll barely have time to adapt to the time difference before having to fly back again.
In preparation, I’ve spoken to colleagues and other headteachers in Havering about the vacancies they have, most of which have a January start, and what they want to see from potential candidates. As well as passing on their feedback, some have also produced profiles of their schools for me to show the candidates when I’m out there.
My role will be to conduct initial screening – specifically, identifying and then lining up people who will undertake interviews with the schools themselves via Skype. I won’t be directly recruiting as such, but rather rooting out the best possible candidates.
In terms of what I’m looking for, those candidates will need to convey the sense that they’ll be able to cope with working a very long way from home.
They’ll have to demonstrate a desire to work in the UK, of course, and speak to why they want to work in the UK. I’ll also be endeavouring to gauge their skills as teachers and their knowledge of teaching and learning, since for the most part they’ll be fairly new to the profession. They’ll have to demonstrate a degree of resilience and a clear passion for teaching (all of which I’d obviously be looking for in candidates over here too).
Within the last 10 years I’ve previously worked alongside colleagues originally from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, all of whom were very strong teachers. It helps that in Antipodean schools particularly there’s a great deal of cultural similarity with our own. They’re broadly used to similar behaviour management policies and have similar expectations for their students, meaning they tend to fit in quite well.
That said, they also bring with them in a slightly different perspective, of course. Having grown up in a very different part of the world, they’re often able to bring distinct knowledge and prior experience with them upon starting. I’ve always been very pleased with the performance of Australian colleagues I’ve worked alongside previously, though there have unfortunately been times when I’ve lost a couple, due to them having to return home following the expiry of their two-year residential and work visas.
The teachers I’ll be trying to recruit will be below the age of 30 and able to enter, live and work in the UK under those standard two-year visa rules (though any who happen to possess a British passport won’t be subject to the same terms).
We’re not looking to recruit any licenced teachers on the trip, as doing so is considerably more complicated. Licenced teachers are more experienced, but in order for them to move over here, their destination school would require a licence themselves to employ overseas teachers. By comparison, younger NQTs are able to come and work in the UK for up to two years, without those restrictions.
Benchmark for success
As of right now, my school is fortunate enough to be fully staffed. There’s therefore little incentive for me to take on this task – in some ways, I’m being quite altruistic in doing so – but I’m optimistic. I’ve had some Havering schools inform me about the posts they’re recruiting for, and therefore already have good idea of the ideal person spec.
If I can help fill 80% of Havering’s current vacancies by connecting the right schools with the right candidates, I’d consider that a success. It would help Havering increase its pool of good teachers in the Borough, because obviously all of us want every child to have the best experience with their teachers. And if we can get good teachers to make the trip from Australia to the UK for vacancies we’re unable to fill ourselves, it’ll have been worth the effort.
Stuart McLaughlin is the principal of Bower Park Academy, having previously held headships at four different schools, and chair of the Havering Learning Partnership