School leaders have spent enormous time and energy over the last 6 months ensuring robust plans are in place to support the wider opening of schools in September. As we look towards the coming term, it’s clear that maintaining appropriate staffing levels will be critical to both pupil and staff safety and ongoing provision through what is likely to be a period of significant disruption.

Now is the time to take strategic leadership on recruitment — to analyse and predict your school’s likely staffing requirements for next year, and align your workforce and talent acquisition strategy accordingly. Doing so early will minimise the need to be reactive if and when staffing gaps begin to appear, or, as we predicted in our previous blog What The Coronavirus Will Mean for School Recruitment This Year, delayed resignations necessitate additional recruitment drives over the course of the year.

We speak with school and school group leaders regularly and several key goals repeatedly come up when considering recruitment and staff provision. School leaders tend to want:

  • To have a reliable supply of high quality, on-demand staff for cover and temporary placements
  • To know that all safeguarding requirements are always adhered to (both for internal and external recruitment functions)
  • To save money on external resourcing and advertising where possible
  • More quality direct applicants for their roles, so they can be more self-sufficient when hiring
  • To be able to provide flexible opportunities so current staff can achieve their desired work/life balance
  • To keep staff happy, keep candidates engaged and ultimately retain staff better

Much like the complex safety protocols leaders have so carefully planned and implemented in schools these last few months, recruitment, talent planning and workforce management can be formally strategised to ensure success and sustainability in the coming year.

For example, supply provision need not be last minute. By analysing your workforce data and previous absence patterns it is possible to predict likely requirements with accuracy — meaning that high quality cover staff can be engaged and prepped for deployment well in advance. This is where a service like Teacher Booker Talent Pools platform can play into your workforce management strategy and raise quality, keep costs low and enable flexibility for your network of staff.

How to formulate your people strategy

Like all strategic leadership and planning, the most effective way to make a positive impact is to:

  • Interrogate your current processes and identify weaknesses
  • Decide upon a set of specific improvements you want to make or key goals you want to aim for on those areas of your people strategy which most urgently need addressing
  • Research tools, suppliers and partners who may be able to support you in delivering these objectives — this could be a good time to engage an external school support or consultancy service
  • Engage your candidate base and workforce to secure their buy-in, develop your plan and establish targets collaboratively. Where possible, quantify these targets
  • Finally, employ change management techniques to ensure you are rolling out your program of improvements incrementally and are measuring success at every step.

When considering the area of recruitment and retention, in the first phase (interrogating your current processes) you might want to ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Am I deriving maximum value from my talent attraction efforts? What is the Return on Investment (RoI) from, for example, advertising vacancies via commercial jobs boards? How much are you spending on employer branding (websites, marketing), advertising and resourcing per quality candidate you hire or engage?
  • Does your recruitment and onboarding system allow for the best possible candidate experience? If candidates are dropping off after initially expressing interest in a vacancy, why might that be? Do you collect feedback from candidates and keep in touch with them regularly after they apply for a role?
  • How do you compare with other local schools on absence rates, fill rates, candidate satisfaction and employee satisfaction? Do you start recruiting only when you have a specific vacancy, or do you engage talent on a rolling basis?

Out of this analysis you will be able to identify the areas of weakness in your hiring and resourcing strategy. From here, you can define some tangible and measurable goals — quantify these if possible. A goal could be, for example, to reduce ad hoc agency supply usage by 20% (saving £X thousand per year); or to increase the average number of direct applicants for each permanent role in your school by 30%. You are now really starting to formulate your workforce management strategy and talent/resourcing plan.

It’s important to focus on those areas that are the key drivers of improvement for your school in particular. What aspects of your workforce management function enable the objectives your overall school improvement plan to be met — for example, would increasing employment flexibility enable you to meet more of your goals or would this hinder your reaching them? No two schools are the same, and priorities may differ between schools — for example, a growing MAT might prioritise introducing flexibility and scalability to its employment offering over, say, making financial savings at the individual school level when such savings could equally be realised through a separate procurement or cost negotiation exercise at the MAT level.

Identifying solutions to help you reach your goals

Once you’ve established the order of your priorities (cost, flexibility, quality, consistency of provision etc) you can begin considering your practical options to ensure your workforce management function, talent plan and resourcing strategy address the needs of your school.

For example, on the supply side, you might decide to retain an outsourced model for supply to support cost savings but not increase internal liabilities. In that case, establishing a formal PSL (Preferred Supplier List) of supply agencies and recruitment service providers could be an option. A PSL can help you standardise rates and establish safeguarding requirements whilst retaining access to a number of suppliers, but can carry the risk of introducing extra managerial overhead — in which case you may want to look at a MSP (Managed Service Provider) model so any overhead doesn’t land on the internal team.

A Talent Pool model, whereby the school or school group runs its own staffing service, is a good option to ensure complete transparency on pay and conditions for both the school and candidates and to make savings and ensure compliance at scale. However, it too can carry the risk of increasing operational complexity if not supported by adequate technology systems and efficient processes. Teacher Booker Talent Pools is an example of a technology platform and support service that can enable this approach, as demonstrated by our partnership with Harris Federation.

Some schools and groups are opting for a hybrid model (PSL and Talent Pool, or MSP and Talent Pool) to get the best of all worlds — for example using a Talent Pool for long term supply and recruitment (ensuring maximum cost savings and minimal management for maternity covers and so on), and using a PSL/MSP for ad hoc supply requirements where the management overhead of deploying a teacher into a school just for a day means that the higher cost of using an external agency might be justified. Teacher Booker can assist with any configuration of these models.

Once you’ve identified the areas where you want to improve your employment offering and have established a shortlist of potential solutions it’s time to communicate your plans to your existing and prospective workforce. Clear and early communication is key here — the changes you are introducing are intended to be for the end benefit of the candidates and staff in your school so establishing their buy-in and support at this stage is crucial. Communication to candidates might be via your website, and to staff via internal memos and updates for example.

In the next blog in this series (How to Lead Your School Through Uncertainty this School Year), we’ll take a look at some of the innovative arrangements and strategic leadership steps that schools and school groups are taking now to prepare for the next school year.

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