The Teacher Shortage Can’t Be Solved By Another Jobs Board

Teachers know where to find vacancies, says Patrick Hayes – it's the lack of staff that needs addressing…

Patrick Hayes
by Patrick Hayes
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History repeats itself, said Karl Marx. “The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

While they probably won’t like to hear it, there is a lesson that Conservative Education Decretary Nicky Morgan and Schools Minister Nick Gibb could learn from Herr Marx, having announced the launch of a national school jobs platform in the last week’s White Paper.

It all sounds good in theory. The White Paper talks of a “New, free national teacher vacancy website so that aspiring and current teachers can find posts quickly and easily, transforming the current system and reducing the burden on schools when budgets are tight”. At a time when there is a looming and widespread teacher shortage, who could disagree with that?

They built it, but no one came

The problem is we’ve been here before, and all too recently. Back in 2009 the Labour administration announced a very similar-sounding initiative – the Schools Recruitment Service (SRS). It was launched with great fanfare, with Labour claiming at the time that, “This is a watershed in how schools recruit staff. This harnesses innovative online technology to make it a painless, speedy and more cost-efficient exercise”. A five-year contract was awarded, £350,000 was spent and the platform quickly went on to win awards.

Despite the plaudits, however, the SRS hit a couple of fundamental hurdles early on. Any good marketplace, including a jobs platform, needs what we in the industry called ‘liquidity’ – teachers using it to look for jobs, but also schools posting their inventory of jobs on there. If a marketplace lacks liquidity, especially in the online world, things can run dry very quickly.

Very rapidly the Schools Recruitment System became a desert, and closed down unceremoniously in 2012 due to lack of use – a classic case of a government-masterminded ‘Build it and they will come’ approach. It was shunned by the teachers who were expected to flock to it. They built it, but no-one came.

Why? Very simply, it’s because there were already established, tried-and-tested channels that had a huge number of teachers’ eyeballs looking for jobs. eTeach works with over 7,500 schools and colleges and has a candidate database of over 1.2 million education professionals. The Guardian claims to have 713,000 school professionals open to new opportunities, and TES Global has over 8 million registered education professionals worldwide. Yet The DfE seems determined not to learn from history. With last week’s White Paper, they have evidently decided to give the idea another go.

An unnecessary distraction

This seem odd for a number of reasons – not least because such a centralised approach jars with the Conservative government’s proclaimed ethos of working in partnership with the private sector to develop market-driven solutions.

An argument could perhaps be made that technology has evolved enough since 2009 that an ‘SRS 2.0’ could work – but so too have sites like TES, eTeach and The Guardian. Does the DfE think it has the ed-tech capability of these companies? Or even emerging players such Talented Teacher Jobs, Schools Week and TeachVac? There’s no need for government to reinvent the wheel when there are a multitude of potential partners in the sector to work with.

The problem isn’t that teachers don’t know where to go to look for a job – the problem is that there are very few teachers out there looking for a job at the moment. The government needs to address the root causes of the teacher shortage; a new jobs board is just an unnecessary distraction, and a potentially expensive one too.

Patrick Hayes is the director of British Educational Suppliers Association; for more information, visit or follow @besatweet

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