It’s been almost 12 months now since we were all told to stay home and save lives. 12 months of disruption to our daily lives and 12 months of uncertainty. But now, as the green shoots of recovery are beginning to show, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact of Covid on the education sector. What will its legacy be and how can we be smart and act now to prevent the legacy turning into a hangover?

The Impact of Covid on Education Staffing Levels

Normally, around this time of year, Teachers will be considering their options and looking at their next opportunity. Whether it be for personal development or a new school environment, this is one of the key times for teachers to move on.  However, this year it’s different. Life is still on hold for so many and this applies to teachers moving roles too.  Most are not moving on, or certainly not in the numbers usually expected around now.  This means that there are less teachers for you to choose from if your school is looking to recruit main scale teachers.

It’s the Senior Leaders who are retiring or moving on. Some of them out of the education sector all together.  There’s an element of leadership burnout in education and as a result, there are senior leaders who have chosen to take early retirement.  Schools are starting to feel the pain of losing exceptional talent due to the pandemic. There needs to be more thought around back-filling these roles and plugging the skills gap.

The Impact on Trainee Teachers

Learning has moved online for many schools and the same is true for trainee teachers. Whilst learning online may be the new normal for a while, the impact on trainee teachers is devastating!  The various lockdowns have meant that many trainees haven’t been able to experience any time in the school environment.  A part of teacher training that many of us may well have taken for granted during our training days. Imagine starting your first year as an NQT without that invaluable, hands-on experience

Many trainee teachers are worried about their lack of classroom experience. It’s almost that they are the forgotten generation of our future teachers.  They have missed out on that ‘real’ experience and the vital feedback they receive when classroom based. It’s an experience all of us as teachers had when we were training. So, what will happen to this year’s trainees? Will they be thought as less prepared, or less capable? Doesn’t this seem a little unfair?  Schools need to start thinking about different ways to attract NQT’s and help give them the confidence to carry on in their teaching career. 

What about when it comes to trainee teachers applying for new jobs? Without that vital experience, what will they include in their personal statement to help them secure their first teaching role? There needs to be a focus on the availability of CPD for all our teachers. But in particular, those that have missed out on so many experiences during the last 12 months.

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The Impact on Supply Teachers

Spare a thought for our amazing network of supply teachers in the UK. The teachers we rely upon for last minute and short-term cover. Supply teachers are an essential resource to many schools.  During the first lockdown, many education recruitment agencies took advantage of the help offered by the government to cover the costs of employees and this covered supply staff too.

However, the same was not the case during the second lockdown and many supply teachers now feel forgotten by the pandemic. Due to minimal government support many have completely missed out on furlough during the second and third lockdown and some are in a desperate financial situation. Some have moved into different careers to continue to support themselves and their families, but will they return when schools reopen again? 

Schools need to consider the impact that will be felt across the majority of the supply teacher network. There is likely to be a shortage of supply teachers for next term and beyond. Attracting those teachers will become harder and the war for talent that so many other sectors have experienced in recent years will start to enter the education sector.

The Impact on Teachers from Overseas

We are fortunate, particularly in London and the South East, that we have historically been able to attract a large number of teachers from Australia and New Zealand, but what will happen now and how will this impact on our staffing levels?

Firstly, there’s the problem of not being able to travel to the UK simply. With no outbound flights from Australia and New Zealand at the moment, a move is off the cards. And with the news released just last week that travel may not be an option until everyone has been vaccinated, this will be a concern to many. It’s hard to predict what will happen here – even our government don’t have all the answers on overseas travel just yet. 

And whilst there may be exemptions where teachers from overseas would be allowed to come to the UK to teach if they secured a long-term role this isn’t straightforward as permanent teaching roles are not the easiest to come by.

The Impact of Covid on The Near Future

Whilst a lot of schools didn’t feel the full impact of the resignation cut off in May 2020, the next date looming for resignations is 30th April 2021.  That date is fast approaching, and schools are concerned about the spike in demand in May for teachers and education staff.  Could this churn outstrip the available pool of teachers? The number of teachers with the confidence to move jobs is likely to increase as infection rates drop and the vaccine roll out continues, but what about the gaps we will then need to fill?

Schools will need to re-think their post-Covid recruitment strategy as the landscape will no doubt be very different. Creating talent pools, increasing focus on employer branding and utilising technology to attract teachers will be the solutions of the very near future.

Teachers are Humans Too

And it’s not just about recruitment when it comes to education staffing levels. There needs to be a greater focus on retention across many schools.  More consideration needs to be given to mental health and wellbeing as we come out of the pandemic. Schools will need to showcase how they support their teachers when it comes to mental health. Teachers will make their decisions on choosing a new school based on more factors that before and schools need to start making plans now.

We spoke to Cheryl at Advocet Academy Trust about the impact of Covid – 

“The potential for staff to feel isolated can adversely affect recruitment and retention in smaller schools. Our local primary schools in Suffolk forming the Avocet Academies Trust in 2014 has led to strong collaboration, teacher training and development schemes and the ability to offer career opportunities to staff who may have otherwise left us.

The positive impact was particularly clear in the way we tackled the first lockdown – a united staff and leadership teams brilliantly meeting the challenges presented by the pandemic. 

One year on though, the Covid imposed isolation style of working is starting to take its toll. What would have been team problems become individual ones and as such are magnified. 

Alongside this pupil and staff successes are shared less. Online meetings and newsletters are poor replacements for a leader being seen or for colleagues to exchange anecdotes over a coffee. 

In the post Covid era catch up programmes for our pupils are paramount but we will also need to work just as hard to rebuild the bonds between staff that empower our teams and our pupils to excel.”