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Teacher recruitment – How to shed a school’s ‘bad reputation’ and appoint the staff you need

Schools in deprived areas can face an uphill struggle when it comes to recruiting staff, but it’s possible to get the teachers you need by following some simple steps, writes Adam Riches…

  • Teacher recruitment – How to shed a school’s ‘bad reputation’ and appoint the staff you need

Recruiting staff in schools in deprived areas can be tough.

There’s no two ways around it – in education there are certain myths, and those myths can lead to difficulties in appointing individuals to jobs at certain schools.

Recruiting secondary school teachers

As many of us will know, the reality is that working at schools in deprived areas is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a teacher. It’s no secret that such schools have their challenges, but rest assured, all schools do.

With COVID having somewhat changed recruitment processes across the board for the time being, it’s become more difficult than ever for certain schools to meet recruitment targets. It sounds like a cliché, but you really do have to see a school functioning in order to really get a feel for it.

However, if the school you’re considering applying to is in an area with a certain reputation – or the school itself has a certain reputation of its own – prospective candidates might not get that opportunity to dispel such misconceptions.

In many ways, COVID has made it harder for schools to recruit effectively, with a number of people expressing concerns that schools in deprived areas will find it hardest of all (or rather, even harder than do at the moment).

But not all is lost. There are some simple strategies that can help ensure candidates see what they should when applying for jobs at schools in deprived areas, thus enabling them to make more balanced and informed decisions regarding the roles on offer.

Dispelling the myths for potential teachers

Prejudice continues to present one of the biggest barriers to staff recruitment for schools in deprived areas. Whether directed towards the school specifically or the area more generally, this can have an enormous impact on your potential pool of candidates before the recruitment process has even started.

Though it pains me to say it, prejudice of this kind can sometimes be fuelled by other teachers in the local area. Stories can be passed on – often fourth- or fifth-hand – in a way that very quickly puts off prospective teachers.

Reputations can, of course, be difficult to shake off. I work in a school that’s seen rapid improvement in a few short years, from Inadequate to Good with Outstanding leadership, but it’s been a slog. Staff and students, as well as parents and the wider community, have all banded together, and with direction from the right trust, the school has been transformed.

I’m immensely proud to have played a part in those efforts, though in many ways, the reputation of the era we’ve left behind is still what’s initially referenced whenever the school is discussed among the local educational community.

But still, that reputation is mentioned less often now than it was. A combination of effective PR and celebrations of the school and the achievements of its students and staff has started to sway the balance.

Social media has played a big part in this, as has effective communication with the local press, so that when the school is searched for, positive sentiments are more easily discoverable than they used to be. With so much misinformation passed around due to word of mouth, dispelling the myths about teaching in deprived areas remains extremely important.

Teacher retention – needs and wants

Misconceptions around working at schools in deprived areas, and the associated pressures of such jobs, can cause candidate pools to be smaller than those for schools in more prestigious areas. As such, it’s often the case that the narrowed choices school leaders are left with work against their ‘wants’ when it comes to the shortlisting of candidates.

Schools in deprived areas tend to have significantly higher rates of staff turnover. Research by Education Datalab found that teachers in the most deprived 10% of schools were 70% more likely to leave than those in the least deprived schools. This leaves the leaders of deprived schools with even less room for manoeuvre, making the process of filling posts a delicate balancing act.

The secret is getting the right candidates through the door. By effectively advertising the post with clear and well thought through parameters and role requirements, you’re more likely to get an appropriate candidate.

Careful consideration should be paid to how the advert is worded. Archaic traditions involving heavy implicature of language ought to be a thing of the past. If you’re looking for a teaching and learning lead who can deliver CPD, make that explicit. There’s nothing worse than finding out you’ve shortlisted the wrong people because you made the advert too broad in the first instance.

The right support for Newly or Recently Qualified Teachers

There are challenges regularly faced by schools in deprived areas that many teachers won’t have had to confront, or been trained for during their ITT and NQT years. Some may well have been on placements at such schools, but just as many won’t.

Similarly, leaders with a certain type of contextual experience might lack some of the more refined skills that come from working in deprived areas – or may even possess those qualities, but won’t have had the chance to put them to good use.

When recruiting, one of the key challenges is therefore seeing candidates’ potential, and considering what training and support they may need to thrive in your context. That applies to all teaching posts, of course, not just those in deprived areas – but be aware of the time that may need to be put aside for acclimatisation.

Publicising the support that your school is able to offer new teachers joining you can be a great way of dispelling any persistent myths that might be circulating around your setting.

I’ve found that schools in deprived areas have exceptionally strong bonds within the staff body, and are often the most supportive. I know this first-hand, having worked in a number of such schools myself. Showing prospective candidates explicitly what kind of transitional support you can offer will go a long way towards helping you get the staff your school needs.

We know that staff make the biggest difference to student outcomes, so making sure the right people are teaching your lessons is of paramount importance. Teachers – don’t overlook schools in deprived areas when submitting those job applications, and assume that they’re no-fly-zones, and leaders – do what you can to make sure your school doesn’t look like one.

Teacher shortages action points

  • Avoid traditional rhetoric and be clear as to what you want
  • Showcase what you have to offer new staff – make the support you can provide visible from the start
  • Celebrate your successes and cultivate a positive reputation via effective communications
  • Emphasise the impact you have on the local community

Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning and author of the book Teach Smarter: Efficient and Effective Strategies for Early Career Teachers (£16.99, Routledge); follow him at @teachmrriches.

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