Ollie Parsons, a former education recruitment professional now helping teachers and schools connect on Teacher Booker, explores how schools are changing their recruitment solutions as a result of the lockdown.

The last 18 months have seen schools face unprecedented challenges. SLT have had to move rapidly to change the way in which education is provided. The en masse move to online teaching has seen schools embrace a wide range of new technological solutions to ensure that their schools have remained functional, even when managed from one’s kitchen or spare office. These trials have shown the crucial role that schools play in our society and have also proved that our education system can adapt, learn and change. 

One surprising area in which the sector has changed is the forced move away from a reliance on supply and recruitment agencies to be able to assist when staff shortages arise. While agencies have still played some role in supporting schools, the capacity to which they have done so has drastically reduced. 

Having worked as a recruitment consultant in a traditional supply agency throughout the pandemic, I can say from personal experience that this was a year like no other. For day to day provision, schools still had to meet their staffing needs but also be in compliance with social distancing rules. The way schools have tackled the many challenges they’ve faced have varied but almost all adopted a strategy of either directly employing more support staff, such as cover supervisors, or creating a pool of local teachers who they employed exclusively to meet any staff shortfalls. 

The result has been that some schools have saved up to 70% on staffing, begging the question as to why so much money has historically been spent on supply staff when the evidence is clear that schools have the capacity to solve both short and long term staffing issues without depending entirely on agencies to do so. 

Problems with these strategies

The solutions that schools have adopted over the lockdown have worked but are not without issues:

  • Cover Supervisors and using TAs to cover classes – While these staff play a vital role in their schools, employing support staff in this manner is not necessarily a long term solution for class cover that will ensure optimal outcomes for pupils. 
  • Supply Pool – At the moment in order to do this schools typically still outsource maintenance of the pool (for example compliance of the candidates) and management (for example resourcing and job fulfilment) to a supply agency, this will entail the school paying a daily margin of around £50 – £60 per day booked. 

This second model, of outsourcing supply teacher management to agencies, developed out of the local authority supply pool system and was largely abandoned in the 80s and 90s. With the advent of agencies schools have seen their supply spend climb drastically, to the point that prominent union members have called out for the development of a fair and transparent system to allow schools to engage supply staff directly and pay them a decent wage. 

Adopting a technology based supply teaching service

Over the last 20 – 30 years, the supply market has been dominated by agencies but it is clear that this is no longer a sustainable model, nor is it the only way for schools to find great teachers and support staff. Scotland has always maintained a Local Authority led supply pool system that is technology based and does not rely on agencies to fill temporary vacancies. 

The effort required to transition England back to such a system is far less than one might think. With the use of Teacher Booker’s software a fully vetted talent pool could be established for a school or MAT within a matter of days. Many schools have an established bank of supply teachers that they prefer to use, and with the implementation of technology based supply service schools would be able to reach them at any time, on their own terms and pay them a fair wage whilst keeping the flexibility of off-payroll working arrangements.

Teacher Booker is currently working with local authorities in Scotland, who are in the process of updating their current systems and are adopting Teacher Booker’s software to manage their temporary staffing needs as of September this year.  This will enable Scottish Councils to be in direct contact with the teachers they employ. 

Due to the lockdown schools in England have already had to adopt a raft of new technological solutions to ensure the continued provision of education for their pupils. There is no reason why education recruitment should not also benefit from this change in perspective.

Now is the ideal time for schools to move on from the agency supply model to a technology based supply service. We know that the pandemic will continue to squeeze school budgets moving forward but there is no reason why agency spend need come back to haunt us.

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