Coronavirus has well and truly sent the world into a mad panic and in opaque situations like this, the herd effect usually manages to make things worse.
The government’s Cobra Team sat down in a germ free room to consider all the options; they started with ‘keep calm and carry on’, a little help from cleaner hands, tissues instead of hankies and ‘don’t you dare touch your face!’ All the way up to a complete lockdown, rations and space suits for anyone brave enough to go for a pint of milk.
But what’s bang, smack in the middle of these discussions? Schools, that’s what. Well-known incubators of germs, dirty hands and face touching, although it has to be said that no child has been seen with a hankie since 1978.
So, do they close schools? If they do or don’t, what are the knock on effects and the post Coronavirus issues they will face?
The ripple effect could go in many different directions, so, as we only have behavioural science expertise within recruitment and human capital, we will just cover the five most likely impacts on recruitment.
Schools and governments know that closing outside of school holidays will have a social impact, especially on the lowest paid parent workers and carers.
So, with the Coronavirus pandemic gaining pace, showing no signs of slowing, what are the points to consider? What can we act on now to ensure schools are covered in the short to medium term and what can we do to ensure that the social impact can be softened on those it will hurt the most?
1. School closures
The most obvious effect on a school would be teachers taking time off with a suspected virus and/or self-quarantining, especially after a trip overseas or contact with an ‘at risk’ individual.
Some schools may consider closing should a teacher be tested positive for COVID 19. Although, we see that most are pragmatically weighing up the risk levels first. For children under 18 it’s extremely low and for those under 9 it’s almost non-existent. So it’s mainly about the staff.
Forward thinking schools will look to stay open until Easter, then carry out a sanitisation as a precaution.
When opening again after the holidays, they may allow increases in class sizes to deal with higher than normal absences.
The percentage of death rates in Italy is far higher than China. Italy has the second oldest population in the world after Japan, although its death rate is 6 x higher. So, why?
Many now think it was due to schools closing too quickly, so grandparents become a key support for children while parents worked.
As the effects of COVID 19 are very mild on those under 19 years of age, many children would not know they are infecting the elderly. It now appears that they actually spread the virus very quickly.
Whatever the right solution is, there is no doubt that more adult teachers will be required to cover core subject lessons, especially in the end of year run up to important exams.
The result? An increase in supply requirements.
2. Social and parental backlash
As shown in the above scenario, the impact of school closures will be mainly on working parents, children and obviously teenagers sitting exams, such effects could be hugely detrimental.
Increases in crime and issues such as knife attacks and robbery, especially in areas of deprivation, have in the past been intrinsically linked to school holidays and increased exclusions. It therefore makes sense that if children and youths are out on the streets rather than in school or at home in front of a laptop, working on a VLE, that crime rates will rise along with social unrest.
Schools and teachers could see some of that blame or backlash from any social issues laid at the school gates. Which could cause rifts and poor relations between parents and teachers.
It is also known that after the longer school breaks, many teachers experience hard to manage and disruptive classes upon their return.
Any additional stresses placed on top of their already tough role, will see an increase in sick and stress leave, resignations and ultimately more vacancies.
The result? An increase in permanent and long-term supply requirements.
3. Overseas teachers in decline
Overseas Trained Teachers (OTTs) are already harder to come by than a decade ago and a fair bit more expensive.
With the rapid expansion of COVID 19, many OTTs that have been recruited for new roles in the UK are already indicating to their agencies and direct to schools, that they are reconsidering travelling and leaving family.
A recent survey of OTTs showed that over 30% were uncertain if they’d return if they went home for Easter. Causes of stress and worry around seeing loved ones back home, will see many struggle.
If there is an increase in travel bans and flight restrictions, there will be a massive decline in those OTTs looking for their busman’s holiday. Many enjoy the work in England, but the freedom to explore Europe at such close range.
Even for those who do decide to travel, there is the concern that they may be subject to a 2-4 week quarantine on arrival. Pushing back their start time with schools and leaving start of term gaps.
Lower than normal overseas teacher numbers will remove the supply buffer that London and the South East have enjoyed for so long.
The result? Less supply staff and higher costs.
4. Strain on the North
At the end of 2019 only 2% of all teaching roles advertised were for the north east of England, yet 58% of all roles were posted for the south east.
A coronavirus hit on teacher availability in the south will see their schools look further afield, mainly at the north.
As a generic broad brush view, the further north you go, the less schools struggle to fill long term teaching posts.
If a significant squeeze on OTTs occurred, a possibility is that recruitment agencies and schools from the south east of the country would expand their search and where possible increase incentives to attract northern trained teachers down into their open posts or supply roles.
Ultimately this will cause an in balance to the northern supply market, supply availability would drop and demand will rise.
The result? Less supply staff and higher costs.
5. Safe place
However, it may not all be bad news!
As counter weight to a pandemic with lock downs and closures; being a teacher is actually fairly safe place to be, employment wise.
Teachers can receive full pay when sick. Starting from 25-100 days, dependant on length of tenure and then the same again at half pay.
School closures cover between 1.5 and 12 months on full pay for the same periods of employment.
So this could actually be seen as a sector attraction. Those considering leaving would stay, ex-teachers tempted back and sector crossovers into teaching may arrive in droves.
The result? More applications for teaching roles.
We really don’t know how COVID 19 will pan-out over the next few weeks. Whatever happens, it will definitely change mindsets on preparing for the future and safeguarding both our health and economy.
The consensus is that the UK will have a 3 month cycle of issues, the virus will come under control and the world will get back to normal by September.
However, schools should still have a full impact plan in place; not just one for closures and sanitising.
Schools need to look at the wider effects and how it may take more time to get back on an equal footing, even after the coronavirus is a distant memory.
The peripheral and knock-on effects of Newton’s Third Law, our reaction to an action, will set our short to medium term future.
Schools, MATs and LEAs may see costs and problems rise quickly as an unwanted consequence of action to deliver a solution.
Engaging with the appropriate support in all areas, including recruitment, will pay huge dividends, support funding and help safeguard their children.