Diary of a Headteacher: Recruitment – getting it right

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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There are huge problems with the high-stakes high accountability culture which undoubtedly contributes to teachers quitting, but how many schools are proactively doing something about it?

One of best pieces of advice I was given before I became a headteacher was that “you live and die by your appointments”.

Since then I have ensured this mantra underpins all of the recruitment processes I have led in the two schools where I have been the headteacher.

More recently I have thought long and hard about how we present ourselves as a school when we are recruiting; there are so many vacancies out there, it is easy for an advert to become lost. For years we had been churning out the same adverts without any great thought. There were so many superb features of our school that we were not overtly portraying.

I ended up completely rewriting all of the materials that we send out when we advertise. I wanted every single sentence to accurately reflect what we are all about as a school and, more importantly, why it is a great place to work. After a few drafts I arrived at a format I was happy with and we recently advertised our first vacancy of the year using these new materials. I approached this exercise from a recruitment perspective but it actually ended up being just as much about retention.

Recruitment and retention continue to be challenging in education. The problem is simple and yet incredibly stark – the student population is rising and the number of teachers in the system is falling.

For years we have been hearing the headlines that too many teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years and this, combined with a failure to recruit enough new teachers, is significantly contributing to the teacher shortage problem.

There are huge problems with the high-stakes high accountability culture in England which undoubtedly contributes to teachers leaving the profession, but how many schools are taking responsibility and proactively doing something about it?

When I became a headteacher I used it as an opportunity to stop doing all of the things that I thought were damaging, pointless and not in the best interests of students or teachers. This philosophy has been the fundamental component of my strategy to recruit and then retain really talented staff in my school. “Train your staff well so they are able to leave, treat them so well that they don’t want to.” This quote from

Richard Branson forms the strapline to our approach to CPD and features prominently in our advertising.

I want to recruit the best people, but then I want them to stay for a sustained period of time so they can have a genuine impact on our students; this is too important to leave to chance and has to be carefully planned for. But how can schools find ways of treating staff well when we are working within an education system that promotes competition and creates as many winners as it does losers through measures such as Progress 8? The answers for me have been simple, but it has required brave decisions and genuine trust in my staff.

So, on a really practical level, what are the things we have done to create great working conditions ? We are very flexible with part-time requests and if we have a vacancy we always advertise for full or part-time applications; I would rather have two or three great teachers than one average one. We do not use data-driven targets for performance management, the targets set are completely owned by teachers and they focus on pedagogy and leadership.

We leave plenty of slack in our 1,265 hours directed time calculation and give as much time as possible for our departments to work together on their teaching resources. We have recently stopped giving students target grades, instead we focus on teaching to the highest possible standard. We are also in our second year of a new feedback policy, which has replaced the previous marking policy that was affecting workload.

There are many other strategies we are now deliberately planning for which ensure we keep teacher workload at a sensible and manageable level and which are focused on helping our teachers to do their jobs really well. After all, if every teacher in my school has the conditions in which they can genuinely thrive then I have no doubt that our students will receive a great education – and that is what it is all about. 

  • The author is a headteacher in his sixth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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