The teaching shortage and how agencies are helping

In England, we currently have a two-fold issue with teacher recruitment; we have a shortfall in the number of graduates training to be teachers, and we also have the “brain drain” issue of teachers going abroad to teach, leaving the profession here worryingly under-staffed. Agencies often get a bad rap, but they may be the key to resolving this issue, and here is why…

 

Why do schools use agencies?

Education employment agencies are essential for the day-to-day running of many schools. When the usual teaching staff are absent, be it for training, illness or any other planned or unplanned absence, schools will always try to cover them internally first. Some use higher level teaching assistants, where others might use cover supervisors or teachers. However, there will always be days when this option does not offer a viable solution. This is when using an agency becomes absolutely essential. Without a member of staff to cover a class, what can the school do? Merge classes to form huge, disruptive sessions? Sometimes, but more often than not this doesn’t offer a very stable option. They certainly don’t have the option to send children home, so the reliance on using an agency is clear for many schools.

Dr Rona Tutt (right) with Axcis Associate Director, Catherine Friel.

Dr Rona Tutt (right) with Axcis Associate Director, Catherine Friel.

Isn’t Axcis “just like all the other agencies?”

No – in fact, we are the foremost supplier of special needs staff to schools and specialist units in England and Wales. We consider ourselves to be “the ethical agency” and sponsor or support a range of charities and SEND organisations, including the NAHT. Many key figures in the sector support us, such as Dr Rona Tutt, Past President of the NAHT;

“Axcis is not only the leading recruitment agency in the field of SEND, but has been a generous sponsor of many conferences, including NAHT’s annual Special Schools, Specialist and Alternative Provision Conference. This has enabled us to set a more competitive rate, making it viable for more than one person from a setting to attend. We are extremely grateful for their support.”  Dr Rona Tutt OBE, Past President

How does the teacher shortage affect agencies?

Agencies must continually recruit staff in order to maintain a steady flow of candidates who are ready, at a moments notice, to go into school for cover work. But where are these teachers coming from? There are those teachers who have been working abroad and just returned home, mums and dads returning from a child-care break in their careers as well as teachers who have perhaps had other commitments and not been able to work full-time. At Axcis, we see many actors, singers and other performers who need to maintain a flexible work schedule in order to be available for auditions or other commitments, so supply work can be a perfect option for them. However, even with all of these excellent candidates combined, the numbers are not high enough to fill the needs of our schools.

What are the government doing about it?

The British Government are offering financial incentives for high quality graduates to train as teachers. However, this does not extend to training as a special educational needs teacher. Nor is there compulsory SEND content in the teacher training curriculum (although many ITT institutions do include some useful content).

 …we have not seen a single government-sponsored stand attempting to attract teachers to England

When you consider that some studies are showing that SEND is 3 times more under-staffed than it’s mainstream counterpart, it seems that the staffing crisis – for special schools in particular – is only likely to deepen in the coming years. The issue with this programme is that it doesn’t address the immediate issue of under-staffing in our schools, as we must wait for these graduates to complete their training and mature into fully-fledged teaching professionals.

How are agencies plugging the immediate staffing gap for schools if the teacher shortage affects them, too?

Agencies across England and Wales are very aware of the need for teaching staff in our schools. From a business perspective, it is highly frustrating to have schools requesting your service, but to be in a position where you just can’t help, because you don’t have enough teachers, either! Agencies can’t simply “magic up” endless supplies of teachers for the schools they work with. Recruitment of teaching staff represents a huge financial investment for supply agencies.

Nicola (right) with a prospective teacher at a recent university fair in Canada.

Nicola (right) with a prospective teacher at a recent university fair in Canada.

So what are agencies actually doing?

Many agencies are turning their attention to overseas trained teachers to help plug the current staffing gap in the UK. Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and Ireland offer some of the best options for recruitment, since English is spoken as a first language and the education curriculum is not terribly dissimilar to ours here in England. At a recent education recruitment fair we attended in Canada, the vast majority of stands were UK agencies all seeking staff to tempt back home to work for them. Interestingly, despite the fact that we have now attended fairs in all of the countries listed, we have not seen a single government-sponsored stand attempting to attract teachers to England. It seems that agencies really are putting their money where their mouth is with regards to their commitment to find high-quality teaching staff for the schools they work with. These fairs can cost thousands of pounds for an agency to attend, and there is no guarantee of the teachers they meet will ultimately end up working for them. Perhaps this is something to consider if you feel that agencies are over-priced or unnecessary for our schools. We also have the capacity, time and expertise to maintain a constant turnover of staff and yet still offer training and support, which again comes at a great cost. However, at Axcis, we are passionate about supporting special educational needs, and believe that to do well, we must do good.

Do you want to help?

5If you are interested in working as a member of school teaching or support staff, and feel that working for an agency might represent the best option for your personal circumstance, why not get in touch with your local Axcis office or register online? We have vacancies across England and Wales and are always seeking staff with a positive attitude and willingness to learn. Extensive SEND experience isn’t essential – we offer training and support in this area, so even if you’ve not done this sort of work before, it can be worth a chat to one of our consultants to see how we can help you!

 

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