Portrait photo of Helen Stevenson

We Can Never Be Employers of Choice Until We Promote Being a Sector of Choice

A guest blog by Helen Stevenson. Helen (a former teacher and MAT Executive Leader) is the Founding Director of Satis Education which deals with recruitment at all levels across the schools’ sector. Satis Education are market leaders in MAT executive leadership recruitment. Follow Helen on Twitter.

There’s a huge focus across the education sector about how we become employers of choice. However, I don’t believe we can ever become employers of choice until we operate in a sector of choice.

As education leaders, before we can begin to talk about how to become a sector of choice or employer of choice, it’s really important that we all understand what, in the 21st century, we are perceived to be.

We live in an increasingly consumerist society and as such education, like many other sectors, is viewed as a service industry.

We don’t make things, we don’t sell things – we provide a service. And to provide the best quality service we need to employ the best 'service providers'. With the current crisis in recruitment and retention, we need to do everything we can to encourage a new generation of 'service providers' to join us.

When when it comes to promoting the education sector as a sector of choice, we all have two choices: We can be an Eeyore – the eternal pessimist, or we can be Forrest Gump – the ultimate in glass half full.

Unfortunately, in recent years, and certainly coinciding with an increased use in social media, I fear there are far too many Eeyores taking to social media to bemoan our wonderful profession. I don’t believe in 'naming and shaming', so I purposely won’t provide examples.

However, as someone who spends a lot of time on social media for professional reasons, please believe me when I say if you are connected to people within the profession, it won’t take long before you come across numerous posts from education staff complaining about their job, directly or indirectly.

How do you feel about this?

What impact do you think it has potentially to new entrants to the profession?

But before I offend anyone I want to make one thing very clear, I’m not for one second saying that working in the education sector is easy. There are a number of issues that need to be tackled – the most pressing of which is workload.

And I for one would love to provide the silver bullet that means we could rid our colleagues of overwhelming workloads in one go – sadly none of us can do that.

The challenge of teacher workload is not one that will be resolved overnight – it will take school leaders collectively and persistently knocking on the doors of those in power and those who would be in power before anything is done. Together we are stronger, together our voices are louder, together we become a crowd and are more difficult to ignore.

But for the time being we can also be relentless in coming together to promote the positives, as well as seeking to address the negatives. Building the reputation of the sector will allow us to try to do something constructive about the recruitment and retention crisis ourselves.

In preparation for a presentation I gave at a conference recently, I contacted some colleagues and asked why they had chosen to work in education. And without sounding like I’m presenting Family Fortunes their top answers included:

  • It’s more than just a job – you get the chance to make a difference
  • No two days are the same – it keeps you entertained
  • You become not just a teacher but a lifelong learner
  • It’s generally a secure profession – a job for life if that’s what you want
  • It’s a profession that allows you to be flexible in terms of where you choose to live and work – your qualifications and skills are recognised nationally and internationally

Now I have to say I don’t think that’s a bad list... it contains a great balance between altruism and personal gain.

If we let the Eeyores dominate we’ll reach a position where we’ve become part of the recruitment and retention problem, by promoting a narrative that puts people off joining the education sector.

I believe it’s incumbent on us all to accentuate the positives associated with the profession, in an attempt to ensure the sector becomes a sector of choice.

We are in charge of our narrative – let’s make it a positive one.

Clarity connection and coaching blog image

Clarity, Connection and Coaching

Dr Emma Kell in conversation with Sarah Hussey. Reflections on her recent health scares, tips for current school leaders and the power of coaching.

Sarah Hussey sat outside with her dog.

Possibilities and Perspective

A guest blog by Sarah Hussey.

Possibilities and Perspectives or What You Get When You Begin to Heal.

My little blog, How Headship Broke My Heart, was viewed over 400,000 times! It connected me with all sorts of wonderful people, and I even appeared on the local news! So, for anyone who is interested, here is an update from my current position in a brave new world.

As I write this, I am sitting on a blanket outside a beach hut close to where I live on the Isle of Wight. It is a Tuesday, term time and 2 o’clock. I am calm and I am breathing. It feels alien and amazing all at once. I am not in front of a screen (I am handwriting in a notebook), and my phone is on silent. I am calm and I am breathing. I do not have an emotionally dysregulated child (or two) with me, building Lego to calm down (neither do I feel the need to explain this to a member of staff who perceives this to be a reward!). I am calm and I am breathing. I am guessing that my blood pressure is fine, and I have a distinct and welcome lack of pains in my chest, head or arms and no sign of overwhelming feelings of anxiety. I am calm and I am breathing.

I am also very lucky.

It has been six months since the cardiac events that hospitalised me and scared myself and my family to distraction. Six months since I admitted to myself the impact that headship was having on my physical and mental health. I am still taking extensive amounts of medication daily and cannot do everything as ‘full on’ as I used to. I know I cannot go back to headship and stay well, and I am still waiting on a decision about ill health retirement (patience has never been a virtue of mine). On reflection though, I am not just lucky, I am lucky to be alive.

During the past few months, I have started to heal, and I have realised much about our education system and about myself. I maintain that the system is broken and serves neither pupils or school staff. It has slowly dawned on me that I am just one person, and that I cannot and should not do the job of five. And I finally recognise that I deserve a ‘good life’, but that doesn’t mean I can’t care and support others along the way.

Don’t get me wrong – I miss the school community deeply. It is a wonderful concoction of families and staff that I have invested my time and emotions in. I miss contact with the children, cuddles, jokes, comments about my outfits and, of course, the joy that good education brings them. I have learnt that I thrive on human contact and interactions and on some days I feel the loss of them.

However, there are many, many things that I do not miss. In pole position is jumping through hoops for an invisible inspectorate. Followed swiftly by the absolute ridiculousness of testing children for government league tables and allowing them to feel the pressure of these nonsense exams! After considerable rumination, I think that my third position would go to the daily difficult conversations and conflict that now makes up a large part of the headship role. I could go on…

For weeks after I was signed off, I didn’t know who I was – I had lost my sense of purpose. But over time I started to return to myself and remember who I was before I broke. I naturally have days when I am anxious about my heart health. I suffer with angina quite regularly and although I know how to treat it and what to avoid, sometimes I worry that the pain will turn into something more sinister. I have a wonderful therapist, who quickly identified that I have trouble slowing down and want everything done immediately (there has even been some discussion about ADHD – who would have known?). Her services are provided by the wonderful NHS, free of charge! And amazingly, my internal monologue telling me what a failure I am only pipes up occasionally and is no longer on a permanent loop!

If you are still reading, well done – stay with me as this is the important part! During the healing process I have been blessed with two life affirming things – possibility and perspective. I have possibilities stretching out in front of me. I am training to be a performance coach (with NLP), and this is teaching me valuable lessons about life and how we approach it. I am excited/terrified about supporting others to gain clarity and reach their goals. My mind is working overtime, ideas jumping about. Could I write a book? Train others to coach or teach? Run a cake shop that sells books? Become an influencer? A stand-up comedian? A pub landlord? (Okay I agree not all of them are sensible ideas!) But it is time to set some new goals, use my skills in a different but not less important way and how blooming exciting is that?

As for perspective, it is a game changer! All of the terribly important things that kept me awake at night, that I wanted to do better – they are no longer important to me. I did my best and that was enough. When you are in the midst of a busy life, in stressful situations, your perspective can be lost, normally shortly after your sense of humour!

Perspective has made me look to the future. When you suffer trauma of any kind you need time to adjust (recognised by therapists now as Adjustment Disorder). Knowing that you have risked your health for your job brings both clarity and perspective.

It is an obvious thing to say, but it is something we forget. You have one life and how you shape it is in your hands…

Classroom desk with books piled on top and a backpack hanging from the chair.

What It's Also Like to Be a Teacher

This blog is reproduced here with permission. Written by Ian McDaid on his blog on 15th May 2023.

Preface from Emma

I’m constantly struck by the narratives around our profession and am acutely sensitive to how they play into the ongoing and serious recruitment and retention crisis in teaching. Whilst it’s important to call out poor practice and be honest about challenges, it is also essential that we remember that working with young people is a privilege and is frequently joyful and rewarding. I came across this blog during what feels like a particularly dark period in our profession, when something bordering on despair seemed to pervade my interactions and my social media and it was a poignant and essential reminder of how wonderful this job can be, despite everything.

What It's Also Like to Be a Teacher

“Good morning Sir, had a good weekend?” That was my first interaction with a pupil today. However it wasn’t the first interaction since leaving school on Friday. Over the weekend I received this:

“Hi sir, I just want to inform you that I will be going on holiday on Saturday 20th May so will be missing the last week of term. This is a one off holiday and I my attendance this year has been 100% so far.

My parents did inform the school on the 5th February with a leave of absence form, but I was unsure if the attendance team had informed you.

Do I have to let all my individual teachers know?

Kind regards, ********”

Day then continues with praising a form for their attendance last week, and bigging up all last week’s achievement points awarded.

First lesson of the day… a timetable rotation mix up. I’ve got a whole class of kids sitting in a room, books open and raring to go. It’s the wrong class! Off they trot to where they should be and the correct class arrive shortly after.

Parental email to respond to, querying a detention ending with the words “if this is the case you have my full support”.

Break duty, always tricky, but more positives to take away. What stood out was the politeness of the student who wanted access to the lift. Good manners always appreciated and make a huge difference. Also spoke to some Y11s who were positive about the RS GCSE they just sat.

Practical lesson with Y8. Engaging, happy hour, with loads of achievement points awarded for outstanding work. Yes, a few positive rule reminders needed, but that is the norm.

After lunch I see a student I teach looking anxious about attending a lesson. I acknowledge that she looks agitated, and tell her to take a few mins to compose herself. I’m thanked by her. Without kindness we have nothing in schools.

Last lesson of the day was the most challenging. An example of one or two students wanting to rule the airwaves. Yes, sanctions were applied, more than I’d like, but that is why systems exist – to support teachers so we can get on and teach. Take away from that lesson “is it as easy as this?”, says the previously sanctioned pupil!!

Let’s see what tomorrow brings… other than a fresh start for every pupil.

Image by Freepik