These are challenging times for the education sector, with recent predictions of teacher shortages and education recruitment provider Eteach reporting that more than 50,000 teaching professionals visited their site on New Year’s Day 2016 to search for their next role – 16,000 had searched on Christmas Day. However, independent schools across England and Wales are finding solutions, with proactive training schemes providing new recruits with opportunities for continuing development and simple-but-effective innovations ensuring that teachers feel valued.
The shortage of good qualified teachers is one of the most important problems facing education today, according to Chris King, HMC chair and Leicester Grammar School headmaster. “Put simply, too many are leaving whilst not enough are joining,” he says. “A recent NAHT poll showed two out of three schools struggling to recruit senior teachers and rising pupil numbers means future supply, at least in the state sector, is unlikely to meet demand. Whilst the independent sector is not immune to these problems, especially in physics, maths and languages, our schools are well placed.
“We can offer trainees the chance to teach as a specialist, gain access to a wide range of school activities and achieve higher salaries. To help build on these strengths and grow the pool of available recruits, HMC has launched HMC Teacher Training (HMCTT). Over 1,500 graduates and career-changers registered their interest in 2014-15, and early in this school year it has already attracted around 2,500.”
The 24/7 nature of boarding communities results in a closer working relationship between staff and pupils, according to Robin Fletcher, national director of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA). “Boarding schools offer a unique teaching experience for staff,” he says. “Those working in the boarding house may be provided with accommodation and in return staff have the opportunity to develop their skills, lead extracurricular sessions and expand their role within the school beyond their normal classroom duties. There are many CPD opportunities for staff working in boarding, adding an extra dimension to CVs, such as the BSA’s professional development programme, accredited by Roehampton University.”
At Oakham School – and all schools – the biggest challenge is to recruit the very best teachers. Oakham headmaster Nigel Lashbrook says: “There are four main challenges we face – all of which are exacerbated by the well-documented ‘crisis’ in teacher numbers. Firstly, the escalating cost of recruiting teachers; secondly, maintaining the right balance of teaching staff; thirdly, ensuring we recruit teachers who are the right ‘fit’ for Oakham; and finally, offering enough professional development opportunities to retain and engage our teachers.”
Nigel summarises the current teacher recruitment climate: “On a positive note, it is now easier to recruit really good teachers; a result of the improvements in teacher training, as well as there being more avenues from which to recruit teachers (schemes such as HMC’s new teacher training programme). So whilst the pool may be decreasing, the quality of candidates has improved. Nationally, there are a number of key subject areas that have traditionally been harder to recruit and attract teachers for. Whilst we luckily haven’t had problems finding excellent science teachers, we’ve certainly found maths to be a problematic subject area to recruit experienced or new teaching staff for. As with all good schools, we simply have to ‘roll again’. This repeated search obviously incurs a very high cost, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure we engage the very best teachers for our students.”
Certain areas will ‘feel the pinch’ going forward, according to Nigel: “Drama, music, art and DT are all subjects that, under new governmental measures of school performance, could begin to decline in the maintained sector. As such, there will be fewer training opportunities for NQTs. This means all schools could struggle to recruit teachers into these areas down the line. We are already thinking about the future impact this will have on our recruitment into these key areas of our curriculum, including how we attract and train good graduates directly.”
Over the last 15 years, St Catherine’s, Bramley, near Guildford has been developing its own teachers with impressive results, as headmistress Alice Phillips explains. “It began in two scenarios in about 2001-2,” she says. “First, a business studies graduate with a strong national lacrosse record joined our PE dept as an assistant coach and then wanted to train for PE teaching while working. We found eQualitas as our training partner and started our relationship. Very shortly afterwards we appointed a graduate English teacher who wanted to train with us, and then we advertised a physics post and had no applicants, so put adverts in major university departments and recruited another strong graduate and trained him. A more senior colleague wanted to pursue her interest in teacher training, took on the mentoring, and bit by bit the scheme grew.”
A successful first term leads to a longer offer. “Training and development starts with a first term of simply teaching, being mentored in that by the head of department or another experienced subject specialist who receives training by eQualitas and the member of staff in charge of the ITT scheme,” Alice Phillips continues. “If all is going well – which invariably it is because we interview pretty rigorously, including watching a lesson of some kind from which one can get a strong sense of natural affinity with teaching – we offer a year’s training experience from January to December and, more rarely, over two years for a part-time colleague.”
So far 35 teachers have passed through the system, which has itself been developed. Alice says: “During this time we have become better and more self-confident in offering training and organising timetables and other school placements, largely through the extensive contacts of the director of staff who oversees the whole scheme and works closely with the ITT and the NQT mentors. It is a bit of a team effort and the whole staff buys into the idea of being a training school. Consequently, conversations about education and best practice are the norm in our common room.”
The school’s ITT trainees are delighted with their development. One says: “Thrown in at the deep end I was forced to learn quickly. Constant support and superb coaching from my subject-based trainer and a wide range of opportunities to attend courses and experience many areas of school life made my training fulfilling and comprehensive.”
Llandovery College warden Guy Ayling’s approach to teacher intake exemplifies the sector’s openness. “Typically, independent school heads believe in widening and deepening the pool of recruitment,” he says. “I have been contacted by someone I taught history A level – a guy who went into business, found it wasn’t ticking his boxes and learned he wanted to come into teaching, so I suggested putting him through a Buckingham University PGCE course. We have scooped up a very capable chap, bringing a refreshingly businesslike approach and high expectations with him.”
Guy’s vision and innovation has brought positive results. “I’ve tried to clarify our mission – if you speak to most of the staff and parents they know what we’re trying to do. We had a 110 percent turnover of staff in four years before getting that down to 20 percent. This year I have only one staff member looking for another job – this time last year that figure was 10. Two years ago I introduced pupils’ commendations, whereby they can nominate a staff member going ‘over and above’ by staging the school production, offering extra revision classes or taking children on trips etc.
Initiatives like this contribute to our tremendously loyal, committed, buoyant common room.”
By thinking outside of the box and being proactive and open, independent schools are continuing to attract the teachers offering the best possible education to the citizens of tomorrow. Challenges lie ahead, but such schools are more than ready to overcome them.
HMC W: www.hmc.org.uk
BSA W: www.boarding.org.uk
Oakham School W: www.oakham.rutland.sch.uk
St Catherine’s, Bramley W: www.stcatherines.info
Llandovery College W: www.llandoverycollege.com