Roy Blatchford: ‘Does recruitment need to be like this?’

Roy Blatchford argues that the profession can no longer afford to waste precious resources on advertising for teachers and school leaders.

Saxton Bampfylde
Odgers Berndtson
Perrett Laver
Heidrick & Struggles
Korn Ferry

What do these names have in common? Legal firms from the novels of Charles Dickens? A cluster of Cotswold villages? Authors of chemistry textbooks?

They are the names of successful headhunting firms, specialising in education and the recruitment of senior leaders for leading state, independent and international schools. As you might guess, their businesses thrive. And it doesn’t come cheap to secure a top Principal.

Away from the headhunting arena, secondary headteacher colleagues estimate that their schools can spend in excess of £70k per annum on recruiting teachers. Primary leaders suggest the annual figure, in many areas of high teacher turn-over, is £30k plus.

The Times Education Supplement has enjoyed a near monopoly over many decades. One local authority recently estimated that 93% of adverts for teaching posts in its schools featured in the TES. National and local newspapers across the country have shared in the flow of advertising revenue. Almost none of this financial bonanza has found its way back into classrooms.

Nor have most of the profits of the many teaching agencies which now operate across the country. Typically, a school might pay to an agency 25% of a first year of salary. In common with the NHS, the national education service risks being bled dry by agents’ fees which divert increasingly scant resources away from the classroom.
Devotees of ‘Winnie The Pooh’ will know of Edward Bear’s predicament:

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels perhaps there isn’t.

The teaching profession has been supine for too long. Profligate spending on recruitment has to end. The school system must challenge the status quo, albeit belatedly. Current budget tightening should surely lead us to find different solutions. I have a few, not mutually exclusive suggestions.

1. Agents

Working with a group of deputy heads a couple of years ago discussing professional steps to headship, one entrepreneurial deputy told us that he and a colleague had set up a recruitment agency, with most of the profits channelled back into a partnership of schools. He also predicted that, over time and in common with professional football, every teacher would have an agent – and that schools would be paying those agents when teachers transferred between schools. Perhaps. Could school partnerships and MATs establish agencies and teacher-agents whose profits are reinvested in the school system?

2. Social media

Disruptive technologies disrupt. There is a strong argument that the ‘digital native’ generation of teachers and school leaders can lead the way in ensuring that various forms of social media provide the ‘go to’ sources for on-line recruitment, cutting out the middle men. This would need co-ordinating, safeguards and due diligence. Perhaps Facebook guru and self-professing altruist Mark Zuckerberg, with his recent global community manifesto, might be tapped up to sponsor. Seriously, there may well be an interested social entrepreneur who could run with the idea.

3. Professional Associations

Whilst professional association and union leaders over the years have talked in my presence about cost-saving initiatives on recruitment, they have to date been sluggish on this agenda. Perhaps new leadership at ASCL, combining forces with NAHT, could stake out a real intent to provide free on-line adverts for all primary, special and secondary leadership positions across England. Their website infrastructures already exist. And in parallel, the newly merged NUT/ATL could do the same for all teaching positions. What a long overdue gift the savings would be to members wrestling with tightening budgets.

4. Department for Education

Whilst once local authorities did much to support teacher recruitment, those days are gone. Might the DfE step in? Is it impossible to imagine a centrally funded and run on-line service, given every teacher in the land is registered by the Department to teach? There might indeed be added value in government being able to identify more readily where geographically, and in what subjects, teacher shortages are emerging. Or where in the country there are difficulties in securing strong middle or senior leaders. Decentralisation has been the mantra for several decades now, but this might just be one area of the school system where a central lead would be welcomed.

5. Charitable foundations

Look carefully in their small print and you’ll find that Oxford University Press (OUP) is a charity, making handsome profits from schools. Might the Masters and Scholars of the Ancient University step forward and carry, free of charge to schools, primary teaching vacancies on OUP’s well established website, currently frequented by thousands of teachers? Could the respected Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) or Education Development Trust (formerly CfBT) devote some of their resources to subsidise on-line recruitment of school leaders? Other educational publishers or charitable foundations may be willing and equipped to take on such an initiative.

Across the kingdom, schools individually, in primary-secondary clusters, in MATs, in all kinds of partnership and alliances are engaged in a wide range of ‘grow your own’ strategies to bring on the next generation of teachers and leaders. That’s as it should be. But there are few schools this interview season which are not having to pay over precious funds to a profit-making company in order to be fully staffed for September.

Resources are precious and becoming ever more so. We need to do things differently. There must be an adventurer or two out there who can make this happen. It would be financially transformational for schools.

Roy Blatchford CBE is Founding Director of the National Education Trust. He is author of ‘The Restless School’ and co-author with Rebecca Clark of ‘Self-Improving Schools: the Journey to Excellence‘.

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Categories: Columnists and Employment.


  1. Stephanie Wyatt

    I think Roy, that the main problem recruiting is because the job is now so unattractive that even those tempted into it give up after a few years. Yes agencies are a complete nonsense both in education and the NHS but other forms of recruitment will not alter the huge problems with workload and stress.

  2. Jim

    I am a recruiter for schools, yes we charge fees for finding high calibre teachers. This is because that the school have been unable to source a viable candidate themselves (usually for the same reasons) and who agreed at the time that paying for our service was the best solution – I have never held a school at gunpoint to make a placement!

    So, the issue of increasing expense only becomes an issue through high staff turnover, which is a result of a employer / employee relationship after the hire has been made. You cannot tell me the average secondary school spends 70k per year on new positions or retirement replacements – almost all vacancies I work on are a result of broken relationship and a teacher leaving their post.

    What I find frustrating is the cost of recruitment is put in neon lights as a huge problem, quickly followed by chastising the organisations providing a service to what is a serious skill shortage. Why is nobody looking at the problem of staff retention?

    If my children kept running into the house with grazed or cut knees and all I did was complain at the cost of plasters rather than remove the broken glass from my garden I would expect social services to be paying me a visit. It’s staggering that the actual source of this problem isn’t the main topic, just the expensive fallout.

  3. That’s a great analogy Jim and you do have a fair point – demand generates supply, in whatever form.
    My company, in an effort to provide an alternative solution, helps schools recruit teachers for free with no R&S costs and no finders fees. Unfortunately not enough schools know about it!
    So its going to still be agencies for a while!

    • Jim

      Hi Kay,

      Good luck with your venture, hats off to those that are providing the services to try improve the situation.

      I have been doing my job for 13 years and have come to the conclusion that in a candidate short market just putting an advert in the public domain (press or online) is far too passive.

      Agencies make most placements not by filtering advert responses – those people are already ‘on’ the market and have probably already applied direct and been overlooked, the best people often are not currently looking. The best recruiters have a network of passive candidates and know where to pro-actively take a clients vacancy, make high calibre people aware of the role by calling them, they discuss it’s benefits and hopefully create interest.

      Adverts simply don’t do this.
      But schools pay up to 20% for this service.

      It’s expensive if the teacher leaves after 12 months through a relationship breakdown, but it’s money well spent if this teacher ends up staying for 10 years + or climbs the career ladder with that school.

      Analogy alert – I have never taken a dead plant back to Homebase to complain, I recognised that I didn’t water it enough and consider my responsibilities before buying another.

  4. Kay, was it you who set up the “meeting point/dating agency” I read about earlier this week on this news feed? In which case, I think it is a BRILLIANT idea. (I’m a former head and now a consultant working with schools in London – I’ve seen the incredible recruitment challenges they face.)
    Let me know if I can help!

  5. A very interesting and perceptive article, thanks! Whilst social media is yet to be used – as far as I know, by individual schools, digital technologies are beginning to disrupt this space. The TeacherIn app removes the need for agencies in finding supply teachers – I realise this article isn’t about supply but this is a step in the right direction and FindEd – is a start-up that is linking teachers directly with positions and minus the expense for the schools.

    Thanks again

  6. Peter Derby-Crook

    Many thanks Roy … relevant and thought provoking as always! We definitely need to undertake a complete overhaul of the way teachers and professionals in education move around. We make it very difficult to transfer between schools and it seems unacceptable to have a secondment or, God forbid, take a step down or across the ladder. I am certain a young thing somewhere will shortly develop an app that will supply a platform that enables us to do it differently … watch out for it Edward! Thanks again Roy. Peter

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