Neil Golding, Deputy Headteacher, highlights how his trust is developing its own innovative approach to ‘homegrown’ teacher recruitment.
With teaching vacancies in schools and colleges continuing to grow, recruitment is undoubtedly one of the toughest challenges currently being faced by leaders around the country.
The National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER’s) recent Teacher Labour Market in England: Annual report 2023
) highlights the extent of the problem with recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) in 2022/23 being 20% lower than it was in the year before the pandemic (2018/19).
In addition, schools posted 93% more vacancies in 2022/23 than they did before the pandemic (2018/19), further reflecting the recruitment and retention difficulties we are dealing with.
As a senior leader in a special school that provides education and care for 11–16 year-olds with social, emotional and mental health needs, I am acutely aware of this national challenge, and that is even greater in this type of setting.
Working in one of our special schools is incredibly rewarding and our retention rates are high, but our pupils require specialist support from talented teachers who can meet their needs and these individuals are not easy to find. Even if they are excellent teachers, not everyone is suited to working in this type of environment.
Many of our pupils and their families are dealing with difficult issues requiring multi-agency involvement. Many of our young people come with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), some are on the autistic spectrum, and most have missed some education and are behind academically. Our staff need exceptionally high levels of resilience, empathy and understanding.
To help us address this issue, our trust is developing its own, innovative approach to ‘homegrown’ teacher recruitment. We are part of London South East Academies Trust, which comprises nine schools, including mainstream, special, profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) and alternative provision across Bromley, Bexley, Lambeth and Surrey.
Part of a wider education group (London & South East Education Group), the trust is sponsored by a high-performing FE college – London South East Colleges. This unique set-up offers many advantages for staff in our schools, giving them access to many progression opportunities and an exceptional peer-to-peer support network. The group also has a director of continuing professional development (CPD), providing excellent training and personal development at all levels.
As is the case in many schools, we have some unqualified teachers working across our network. Many of these staff members are extremely gifted when it comes to understanding our children and young people’s specific needs. They have the ability to help them progress, build confidence and manage behaviour effectively, building close relationships and enabling these pupils to access learning and achieve.
While these members of staff may not have the formal qualifications or the required pedagogical knowledge, they are of fundamental value to our schools and to our pupils, and this has been recognised by trust leaders.
Our trust has a strong track record of supporting talented individuals to progress within its schools. This includes teaching assistants from many different backgrounds who have become qualified and quite exceptional teachers.
This is achieved by developing personalised training pathways to suit each individual. For some staff who already have a degree, this means securing qualified teacher status (QTS). We help them to do this through the support of both our sponsor college and Bromley Schools’ Collegiate with whom we work closely, including the delivery of training sessions by senior members of the trust.
Other staff members will need to gain a degree before moving on to the QTS stage. We recognise the challenges of this for people who are working full-time and have family commitments, so we have worked with Premier Pathways, an approved apprenticeship provider, to develop a degree apprenticeship. This is funded from the apprenticeship levy, so is free for staff with the flexibility to continue earning while they learn, and gain valuable experience of working in a school. This is a truly win–win situation for the staff member, the school, the trust and the pupils themselves.
Such accessible pathways make it possible for people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in teaching, with dedication, commitment and a natural ability for working with children being the key requirements of success.
In addition to offering and supporting this training, we have also developed an eight-session programme in professional studies for our unqualified teachers, of which 20 are currently involved. This enhances staff knowledge around how children learn, as well as encouraging participants to reflect on their own practice. This builds on their own experiences in the classroom, supporting professional development and quality of teaching and learning.
Feedback from these sessions has been hugely positive, with staff recognising the trust’s genuine desire for in-house progression. It also gives staff the confidence to consider taking this learning further and progress onto the next step of teacher training.
With two members of staff starting their teacher training with Bromley Schools’ Collegiate next year, ten applying for the degree apprenticeship to start in September 2023 and three who will have achieved their QTS this summer, the positive impact of our trust’s approach is already being seen. Recent feedback from staff involved in the programme includes:
“The trust is really helping me to achieve my goal of becoming a better and more qualified teacher.”
“I have a clear pathway to teaching qualifications now and the degree apprenticeship route will be affordable and do-able for me now. I just could not afford to pay my way through a degree course.”
“The trust programme (of Professional Studies) has enabled me to reflect on my practice and have a deeper understanding of how children learn.”
“I am really excited that the trust is providing the opportunities to further my own learning and develop my career in an area that I love.”
Our staff are our greatest asset, and we need to do all we can to nurture the huge amount of internal talent we have. This approach is beneficial to our whole community, serving the needs of our children and young people and ensuring that everyone – staff and pupils – have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Deputy Head Teacher at Endeavour Academy part of the London South East Academies Trust