Employer brand needs to start with teachers

There can’t be many schools, academy Head Teachers or HR Directors of Multi-Academy Trusts in England that wouldn’t claim to be focused on improving or maintaining their employer brand over the next 12 months. Naturally, acute competition for skills (particularly those in short supply) necessitates that HR and resourcing teams be ever more resourceful and creative in their approaches to finding, engaging and retaining talent.

Leaders within the education system are painfully aware of the challenges of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, both at primary and secondary level. And that means that everybody is looking to stand out from the competition as an attractive ‘employer of choice’ to teachers, both permanent and supply.

We recently carried out some research amongst Head Teachers and senior leaders within schools and Multi-Academy Trusts, to explore current concerns, priorities and objectives when it comes to workforce management. Unsurprisingly, 95% of respondents said that improving their employer brand to attract quality teachers was a key priority in 2018/2019. And interestingly, when we asked teachers themselves about what they view as the most important factors, beyond pay, in deciding on which school to work for, 95% cited the reputation of the school as a good employer. You can read more about that research here.

Employer brand is front of mind for everybody. But, what does it really mean and how should schools and academies approach it?

A lot of the commentary I’ve read about employer brand in education is focused around having a compelling careers page on the school website or making sure you are active on social media platforms. Of course, these things are important but I think they rather miss the point – to me it all seems a bit too tactical, too focused on the communication rather than the actual substance.

It’s an obvious point but I think it’s one that’s worth spelling out. In order to achieve a strong employer brand, you need to start with your fundamental offer to teachers – your ‘employer promise.’

Why would a great teacher come to work at your school or MAT rather than the one down the road, or the one in the neighbouring town?

That is the question that should inform all conversation and planning around employer brand. What is your core, genuine offer to teachers, both current and prospective?

And a good place to start in answering that question is to understand what teachers are actually looking for when selecting an employer. This point is often completely overlooked.

Our research asked over 1,000 teachers in England exactly this question and I think the responses are illuminating and potentially a very useful reference when formulating any employer brand or workforce strategy.

Below are five key points that I would recommend any Head Teacher or MAT CEO or HRD to consider when approaching an employer brand programme, based on what teachers themselves say they actually want:

1. Teachers want to work at schools and academies with high performance aspirations

A school with big, bold ambitions, and one that is proactive and open about its goals, is always going to attract teachers with similar characteristics. Being vocal about performance objectives (and also performance achievements) is not just about attracting pupils and parents; it’s also vital in recruiting teachers.

2. Leadership of a school or academy is really important to teachers

Teachers want to work at schools that have strong, innovative and visible leaders. This means that schools need to ensure that senior leaders are developing a credible profile within the local area and within education circles in order to build reputation and establish their credentials.

3. Flexibility is king

This is undoubtedly one of the more contentious points. Head Teachers and MAT CEOs have struggled to balance flexible working with the need to ensure they have adequate teaching staff on the ground at any given time.

Demands for greater flexibility (in all its forms) are only going to increase in the coming years, and our research showed how this desire for flexibility is pushing a large proportion of permanent teachers to consider moving over to supply teaching in the next few years.

There are no easy answers but schools and MATs that can develop and implement workable, non-disruptive flexible working policies for teachers, can really differentiate themselves in the eyes of prospective employees. That could be more opportunities for short-term secondments to experience other roles, sabbatical programmes or flexi-hour contracts.

4. Decent training and CPD is still the holy grail for teachers and schools alike

This one isn’t new but, as an industry, we still haven’t really cracked it, so it’s worth repeating. Almost three quarters (72%) of teachers in our survey said they would like more access to training and only 58% felt they have a clear path for career progression.

Schools and MATs need to do more to ensure they provide teachers with structured, interesting and rewarding training and CPD programmes to keep their teacher workforce motivated and skilled. Not only does it help to drive performance in the classroom but it also plays a huge role in attracting good talent through the door – and keeping them!

5. One school is no longer enough

Our research revealed that more than half of teachers now consider whether a new role would offer opportunities to move between schools and jobs more easily, when choosing an employer. In short, growing numbers of teachers no longer want to work in a single school year-after-year; they want change and variety.

Again, this isn’t necessarily an easy one to manage, but the whole ‘Collaboration Agenda’, particularly within Multi-Academy Trusts, provides an opportunity for forward thinking leaders to develop a compelling talent mobility offering, as part of their overall workforce strategy. I’ve spoken to MAT CEOs who are doing some pretty innovative stuff across their academies, giving their best teachers the opportunity to experience different schools and different departments, in a structured way. It works for everybody as the teachers get the variety, flexibility and new experiences that they are looking for, whilst Heads can retain their best staff, whilst attracting new talent.

Developing a powerful employer brand is not easy, far from it in fact. It takes hard work, creative thinking, collaboration and listening, and then some tough decisions. Head Teachers and MATs are never going to be able to put together the perfect proposition that they would like to offer to teachers. There is always some form of compromise.

When embarking on developing an employer brand programme, the important thing is to start with the teachers themselves. Ask your current teachers what is good about working at your school or academy and what makes them stick around. Find out what improvements they would like to see and get their input into how these can be achieved. Current employees are always the most powerful weapon you can have when it comes to employer branding, so it stands to reason that you should start with them. It’s your best chance of developing a compelling and authentic proposition that really resonates with other teachers.

Finally, never underestimate the importance of ‘authenticity’ when developing and communicating your employer value proposition. In today’s employment market, ‘talent’ knows its worth. Talented teachers now have more choices when considering future opportunities and are increasingly savvy about employer brand and its ‘promise’ to them. Whilst crowd sourcing of ideas, powerful words in an EVP and shiny new career sites may help to convince the best teachers to join your school or MAT, you then have to ensure that they are inspired enough to stay. What’s more counter-productive than having high-quality talent walk through the front door, only to head straight out the back door upon realising that the employee experience simply doesn’t live up to the promise? That’s a huge waste of time, effort and money…

When defined in an authentic way, tailored appropriately to the right target audience, and managed consistently, schools, academies and MATs can greatly enhance their ability to attract and retain talent through sustained engagement – and that’s what will ultimately drive productivity and performance.

Of course, once you have packaged up your compelling and authentic offer, then it’s time to turn your attention to your careers page and Twitter!

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