Recruitment agencies are the good guys in the UK’s teacher shortage crisis

“Britain has a teacher recruitment crisis. So far, so uncontroversial”

Rob Grays, Managing Director of Prospero Teaching, writes about the role that teaching agencies provide in addressing teacher shortages – despite the bad press they might get.

Britain has a teacher recruitment crisis. So far, so uncontroversial. It’s had one for years, but the government has suddenly decided that Something Must Be Done.

And it’s a global problem. The US has a teacher shortage, as do Australia and New Zealand. Even Hawaii!

In England, in a range of key subjects, the number of trainee teachers recruited for 2015 is significantly below the target figures, with some disciplines (especially maths and some sciences) attracting barely half the numbers sought.

The influential cross-party Commons Education Select Committee has now announced that the issue will be examined in an inquiry.

You might think that teacher recruitment agencies, which work so hard to provide schools all over the country with top-calibre candidates to fill their teaching vacancies, would be welcomed as partners in addressing this important issue. But you’d think wrong.

Last month, one of the biggest UK teacher unions, the NUT, went so far as to arrange a picket of agencies: ‘Supply teacher agencies are making millions while supply teachers’ pay continues to plummet,’ said NUT leader Christine Blower.

This anti-agency narrative is inaccurate in so many ways.

First, ‘supply’ agency is a misnomer. Over 80 percent of our business is placing teachers in posts lasting two years or more. The idea that we’re just a quick fix for when Miss Jones has flu and there’s no one to take Year 8 geography is a million miles from being an accurate representation of our work.

And, for us, placing candidates is only the beginning: our priority is developing a long-term relationship with our teachers, inspiring them and enthusing them. We provide a free accredited programme of CPD so that they can develop their skills, and acquire new ones. Recent sessions have included Behavioural Management, Effective Differentiated Learning and Literacy and Numeracy Strategies.

And with many of our candidates coming from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, we put enormous effort in helping them settle into life in the UK. We’re there for them when they’ve had a bad day at work or they’re feeling homesick. Without us, they would probably be on the first plane home, but with support and encouragement they settle into school life and become assets to the UK teaching profession.

And our overseas candidates provide fantastic PR for the English education system when they return home – thereby encouraging more candidates to come over. Many of our teachers tell us that they’ve heard horror stories about British schools, their friends tell them they’re mad to work here – to London in particular. But they love the variety of experience they get, from academies to faith schools, from comprehensives to free schools, and they thrive on the challenges presented by working in inner cities.

“We’re busting a gut to help schools access the inspirational, motivated, highly skilled teaching staff they need”

At Prospero Education, we believe it’s important to give something back to our partner schools. We’ve spent over £250,000 on an anti-bullying campaign led by legendary former Wales rugby skipper Gareth Thomas. He works alongside teachers to build children’s esteem and explores a range of issues including equality, diversity, leadership, aspiration and how to achieve goals.

There’s no single cause of – or solution to – the teacher shortage. Workload, pay, political meddling, a fixation on exams and league tables and low morale all play a part. And we need to keep the teachers we have. Last year a record 50,000 quit. And more than 300,000 qualified teachers are not working in schools.

But while politicians debate and bicker, we’re busting a gut to help schools access the inspirational, motivated, highly skilled teaching staff they need.

And if Christine Blower of the NUT would like to drop in for a cup of tea, she’d be very welcome!


Rob Grays is managing director of the Prospero Group Ltd. Established in 2000, the Prospero Group continues to achieve award winning success across a variety of sectors, namely education, technical, IT, engineering and health & social.