Workforce planning in an era of Covid-19

Written by: Chetan Sood | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

This academic year will see continued disruption with the intense demands on the school workforce constantly shifting and showing no signs of letting up. Chetan Sood considers workforce strategy for the coming months

With some clever short and long-term planning, and decisive action, headteachers can get ahead of the game and face the challenges of workforce uncertainty in the months ahead.

Tackle strategic leadership on recruitment head on

Now is the time to analyse and predict your school’s likely mid and long-term staffing requirements. Doing this early and aligning your workforce and recruitment strategy accordingly will minimise the need to be reactive if and when staffing gaps begin to appear, or as delayed resignations (which in normal times would have been tendered during the summer months) necessitate additional recruitment drives over the course of the year. Do not wait for notices to be handed in, gather and analyse previous patterns of staff turnover now so you can anticipate where you may need additional resource moving forward.

But it is not only permanent recruitment that heads will need to consider this year. There is the possibility of an increased need for short-term cover as teachers have to isolate or shield.

Schools will experience sudden requirements for very last minute supply cover for mid and long-term absence and staffing gaps may well increase in the coming weeks and months. But this provision, and the associated time-consuming evaluation of new candidates (not to mention the massive expense of sourcing agency cover) does not have to be arranged at the 11th hour.

Leading MATs are already implementing innovative workforce planning initiatives, such as building their own “Covid-secure” pool of supply teachers.

Through strong forward planning, empathetic consultation and decisive leadership, we can achieve better outcomes. Try the following:

Analyse your workforce data

By looking at your workforce data and previous absence patterns it is possible to predict likely requirements with a good degree of accuracy – meaning that cover staff can be engaged and prepped for deployment well in advance. Gathering and analysing the data will help your planning and save on expensive last-minute recruitment and cover costs down the line.

Once you have projected your likely requirements for supply, look at how best you can support this. Having a ready and engaged bank of already-known and trusted cover staff ready to go whenever something does come up (like a sudden need for a staff member to isolate) will deliver better outcomes for pupils, colleagues and your school’s budget.

Having a bank of staff requires routine engagement and continued good treatment of those potential cover staff. Bolstering your employer brand and ensuring all staff in your network feel valued and part of your school community will aid your workforce management strategy and enable greater flexibility for your network of trusted staff.

Evaluate your recruitment strategy

As well as keeping your immediate community of staff, pupils and parents in the loop about your Covid-19 response, it is worth reaching out to your local network of other school leaders and the individuals in your community who may be able to offer support – whether that be advice or direct assistance with provision should you experience a sudden challenge with staff levels due to isolation/shielding, for example. Working cooperatively increases trust and options for flexibility, and delivers significant financial savings.

To engender a positive recruitment approach (rather than a stressful and expensive one), take a moment to interrogate your current recruitment and retention strategy. Ask yourself how your school is perceived by candidates and others in your local community, and how this compares with other schools. Is your school ethos, culture and employer brand clearly and convincingly communicated? Do local candidates look favourably on your school and actively want to work with you? Does your recruitment and on-boarding system or processes allow for the best possible candidate experience? There are three key pillars of your workforce management and recruitment strategy to consider to ensure a seamless process and candidate experience. Try out the following:

Evaluate your brand: Evaluating your outward-facing employer brand and what you are communicating about your school to current employees and prospective candidates is crucial. As a leader, it could be worth developing a personal profile/brand online in conjunction with your school brand. Schools and leaders who clearly and convincingly communicate their ethos and what life at the school is like have far less difficulty in recruiting directly – especially if the language they choose differentiates them from other local employers and chimes with the local candidate base. And of course it goes without saying that the more mobile-friendly your recruitment channels are, the more candidates you will engage.

Review your channels: Consider the channels through which you recruit staff. Traditional channels like job boards and recruitment agencies are geared towards last-minute/reactive hiring and are expensive, obscure and impersonal. If you are able to identify your likely staffing requirements early, you can make use of cheaper, more direct and more personal hiring channels like informal networks, social media and local school-to-school collaboration.

Engagement techniques: Look at what engagement techniques you are using to maintain relationships with prospective candidates and current staff in your network. Once you have engaged candidates and secured their interest in working at your school or group (ideally before you actually have a vacancy), ensure you remain engaged with them. “Talent Pool” technology is a term often bandied about, but in reality it is often little more than a CV repository with little or no on-going candidate engagement. If a candidate registers interest in your vacancies, uploads their CV and then does not hear from you, it becomes increasingly difficult to re-engage them later when a suitable role does come up. Remember, a good way to keep prospective candidates engaged once you have generated interest might be to invite them for casual or supply work, even before you have a suitable permanent or long-term vacancy.


If you address these questions now, the results are twofold: in the short term you will ensure as little uncertainty and fluctuation in staff levels and continued provision as possible, and in the long term you will be starting a virtuous cycle of recruitment and retention success by enhancing and developing your school’s brand.

  • Chetan Sood is head of operations at Teacher Booker, an online network of teaching and support staff which offers recruitment provision to schools. Visit


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