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The changing face of education recruitment

Schools aren't doing enough to attract and retain staff, says Kirsty Timmins

Posted by Stephanie Broad | January 09, 2016 | Law, finance, HR

With over 66% of schools struggling to recruit teachers, particularly in subjects such as English and maths, and numbers of stress and depression-related absences continuing to rise, concerns surrounding the recruitment and retention of school staff are rightly growing.  

A popular career choice

Teaching as a profession remains a highly popular and rewarding career choice, and it’s no surprise given that there are many routes available to achieve qualified teacher status, including undergraduate degrees, postgraduate courses, and even on-the-job training. But, it’s also one of the industries that we hear negatively of all too often, as numerous headlines announce the latest spending cuts to hit local schools and demand outgrowing availability.

I’ve seen first hand some of the challenges facing the sector through my job as an education recruiter, with one of the biggest changes being the rise of those suffering from stress and depression, and other mental health issues.

The BBC recently surveyed members of its teaching union, and 89% of respondents stated that workplace stress was a major problem, followed by pay and curriculum reform. In addition, 83% said they had workplace stress, 67% said their job adversely impacted their mental and physical health, and almost half had seen a doctor to discuss their wellbeing.

Even more worrying is that many of these mental health issues are caused by individuals struggling to manage heavy workloads, impending exams and appraisals, and pressures of meeting increasingly tough objectives – stresses that they take home with them well after the bells have rung.  

What schools are doing about mental health

Despite evidence suggesting a correlation between staff wellbeing and student achievement, the topic of teacher wellbeing still remains low on the priority list. It’s meant that many schools – without the backing they need – have been forced to take matters into their own hands and create a better work-life balance for their teachers, whilst also ensuring minimal impact on work and practice.

Teachers are increasingly taking time off work or leaving the profession entirely because of stress, with the average length of absences being 26.9 days each year. Not only does this mean a huge impact on the individuals concerned, but from a practical perspective too, it leaves schools with the pressure of sourcing appropriate cover staff. 

However, as a result of rising mental health awareness, staff wellbeing is now becoming even more of a priority for those running the schools. Many understand that a happier teacher should provide better, more effective teaching to students, which will benefit the school as a whole.

Finding help when it’s needed

Access to wellbeing advice is vital to ensure happy and healthy staff, and such services have become much more readily available, especially on the internet where hundreds of thousands of forums are available for people to anonymously contribute to, and share their own experiences with fellow professionals.

Newly-qualified personnel need to be encouraged and nurtured more than ever before. Some often leave their posts shortly after commencing, with 40% not even lasting a year in the classroom because they are put off by feedback on the profession from their more experienced colleagues. That’s an increase of 20% compared to 2011 – a worrying statistic that could leave a shortage of fresh talent in the near future – talent which is much needed to help the profession thrive and prosper.

Activities that don’t necessarily cost schools anything can be effective for boosting staff morale across all industries, particularly in education – whether that’s independent surveys to recognise feedback and resolve any challenges before they become unmanageable, group activities, informal meetings, and even goal setting.

A strong, positive future for teaching

As teaching is such a heavily regulated industry, pressures have built up over time to an unacceptable and unmanageable level for many, and I think this needs addressing and resolving sooner rather than later so that we can continue to make teaching a fantastic – and valuable – career choice.  In addition to enhanced access to wellbeing services, the sector could also look at introducing even more flexible working, or providing statutory personal and work-related courses, such as time management, to help ease pressures.   

In any successful workplace, the whole workforce needs to feel like they are part of achieving something, and that they are valued – regardless of what position they hold. That is a vision that should be prevalent in any school – in more deprived areas and those which are in a great place financially.

As schools continue to search for the very best teachers, listen to their staff, and act on ideas, they have the ability to create a better, more-focused future for their school.

Kirsty Timmins is Director of TARA Professional Recruitment. 

www.taraprofessionalrecruitment.co.uk

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