By The School Recruitment Guru

Placement rates across the entire recruitment sector grew to their highest levels for two years in July 2017 and this is off the back of an immense 5-year growth run and the lowest levels of unemployment since records began. So, if the private sector can do so well in candidate driven markets, across nearly all role and salary types, why do schools continue to struggle so badly?

Schools are in a difficult situation, with budget cuts, incessant bureaucracy and curriculum reforms. Despite the difficult current climate within the recruitment crisis however, schools could begin to help themselves by addressing the major aspects of their recruitment process. The answer lies in the structure, planning and process of this most important of services.

What can schools learn from private sector recruitment?

Over the past 10 years the Private sector has spent an immense amount of time, effort and money researching and creating attractive working environments, magnetic brands and values that engage with their people, all in an effort to attract and retain the world’s best talent. Companies such as Google, Facebook and Salesforce, were mere minnow enterprises and relative start-ups only 15 years ago. Today, when they advertise a role, they are 20 times more oversubscribed than Harvard University.

All of these companies have grown exponentially and continue to do so, while employing hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe. Not one of them could have achieved this rise with a poor sector profile, disenfranchised staff and stress filled working environments, along with an outdated recruitment process. So what could schools take from these enterprises to get a step above during the current difficulties with teacher recruitment and retention?

It is a well-known recruitment fact that, the best working environments are devoid of bias and contain diverse and engaged staff, who in turn deliver the low attrition, happy workforce and increased productivity, that all employers seek, regardless of their workload. With this in mind, schools can learn from the successes of private sector recruitment in order to begin to solve the recruitment crisis, improving the attraction and retention of staff.

So what does the science say?

The most successful recruitment methods have used behavioural science to understand bias within the hiring process. Behavioural scientists, psychologists and economists, have been trying to come to terms with how we actually behave in a situation, versus what a rational action should be in that situation, something that tends to change in accordance with the environment and background of the individual. In plain terms; we don’t always act rationally or in a balanced way, we are emotionally driven and unconsciously biased.

In recent years, top selling books such as Thinking Fast & Slow by Nobel Prize winning Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thalers’ Nudge or Misbehaving, influencing governments around the world to set up their own Behavioural units.

Both President Obama and David Cameron set up individual ‘Nudge teams’ to help implement policy in a more effective manner, known as ‘Behavioural Insights Teams’ or BITs. These units looked at internal recruitment processes, discovering that the key to success is the use of tools such as environment mapping, situational questioning and anonymized profiling.

As Steve Jobs said, “Finding the right talent is the most important job yet!”

What can schools learn from this?

Unbiased hiring isn’t just a sound bite, a fad or the preserve of the world’s most forward-thinking enterprises; it is a must for any organisation that values their workforce, including schools. To build the right environment and culture, schools must select a mix of staff that will help to improve its attraction and enhance its profile for prospective teachers.

However, schools, or indeed the DfE, don’t need to employ teams of behavioural psychologists, economists, occupational therapists and neuroscientists to highlight the reasons why schools struggle to attract, recruit and retain. Most of this work has already been done. All the schools need to do is open their mind to change!

For over 100 years schools have placed adverts with similar information to their peers, only differentiated by their crest or emblem, into a national paper and waited for a response, generally with continued diminishing returns. The only recent improvements to this scenario have been the move of these adverts to online and the schools’ engagement with skilled recruitment agencies, who will spend huge amounts on resourcing and marketing from around the world.

This resourcing system is not sustainable. Other recruitment markets, such as technology, finance and Pharma, see the schools recruitment process as nascent at best, or detrimentally backward at worse. During the current shortage of teachers, schools that are open to change and new recruitment methods could gain a step above the rest, despite the current difficulties in the education sector.

The biases within education recruitment are plain to see if you look at statistics within staff diversity. For example, ‘Leading Equality’ reported that only 13% of all teachers and 3% of all head teachers identify themselves as BAME. Fortunately, I don’t believe that the education sector is institutionally racist; it just has a bad case of unaddressed, unconscious bias. The school staffing system relies on an embedded perception that what went before should continue to follow (a bit like broadsheet advertising!).

So what’s the diagnosis –

Well, schools have a large case of recruitment bias, including endowment bias, egocentric bias, status-quo bias, base-neglect bias, mere exposure effect and an affinity bias (see all definitions below). Unfortunately, this is an issue that affects many contained sectors. The safety of the proverbial ‘four walls’, the school building, can become an insular domain for repetitive recruitment mistakes, without anyone ever knowing there was anything wrong!

Let’s remove these antiquated techniques and change the sector’s perception. Embrace new solutions and partnerships, with a positive vigour and determination to succeed, the same kind of effort that we would expect from our best pupils.

Surviving the school recruitment crisis: A checklist

  1. Profile your school’s environments and the best 3-5 teachers
  2. Use up to 5 correlating points to improve your adverts
  3. Receive applications that have been anonymized – (where gender, age, ethnicity, previous school & University are removed)
  4. Build behavioural & situational questions from the profiling
  5. Develop a profile scorecard of competencies for shortlisting
  6. 3 staff members, including the Head or Deputy head, to interview the candidate using the set scoring system.
  7. A member of staff who has not met the applicants to make a hiring decision on scores given and comments alone!
  8. Ensure there is an on-boarding plan that involves the Head teacher! – We all like working for inspirational, appreciative leaders who value our efforts.
  9. Ensure internal and external referrals are intrinsically motivated and not due to extrinsic rewards.
  10. Remember a well-led organisation becomes remarkable, which then becomes viral. Your co-workers will remark on how great your school is, your social media will augment this position and your school will become a magnet for talent!



  • Don’t entertain anymore DfE or CCS recruitment projects. There is no doubt they will fail in the same way ‘Pan London’ did in 2006, ‘M-Star’ 2009 and ‘Schools recruitment Service’ in 2010. These projects cost many hundreds of thousands to research, resource, market, staff, then unwind. Money that could go to schools!
  • Don’t grab everything that glistens, as it isn’t always Gold. Even with the vast sums invested in TeachFirst, the retention rates are completely out of kilter with the perception of its impact. Ensure you have your eyes wide open when taking the chance that an individual with stronger academic background will hit the ground running and take the role in their stride…. It is another bias and Google proved it to be wrong! – They all need help whatever their background.
  • Don’t lose faith; every market is suffering from a candidate shortage in these times of low unemployment, but the cream always rises to the top, so create an environment where the best want to work!
  • Don’t worry if there is only the one candidate applying or shortages hinder the scoring. It is a long game, educating doesn’t stop. If you have the right environment, even those that haven’t blossomed will reach for the sky if treated well.


Most common types of recruitment bias

Optimism bias:        Overconfidence in how successful you will be

Myopic bias:            Short-sighted on how much they will value an aspect of the role

Status-quo bias:      Just sticking to the sectors and roles they are currently in

Egocentric bias:      Considering your own characteristics rather than the characteristics of                                 those applying for the job

Base rate neglect:   Overestimating the supply & demand for a role when looking at the                                   probability of success

Sunk cost fallacy:   Not counting what went before an individual to lead them to a point                                  i.e. sunk college or training costs

Affinity bias:            Liking people you perceive to be similar to you

Mere exposure effect:       Liking someone because you have had exposure to a previous                                           environment

Endowment effect:             Looking for skills or perceived attributes of people you have                                              hired before

Out-group bias:                  Perception that every other group outside of your own, are                                                similar (e.g. In their ethnicity or social class).

Conscious bias is the easiest to disrupt and to assess. Yet applying a little pressure to a conscious bias can be the route to closing a deal or securing a placement, as it introduces a different viewpoint that can be easy to understand.

RealiseMe offers permanent and supply teaching jobs along with supportive advice forums.

We are a social enterprise company that aims to focus on positive, unbiased and practical solutions within education. That’s why we are also exploring ways of integrating in to our system new ways to tackle diversity issues in school recruitment through anonymised candidate profiles and AI behaviour job matching.

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