Challenges in Recruitment and Retention: School business and support staff

By Christine Ellis, COO, Cranmer Education Trust

Across the sector, from a school business and support perspective, just as for teaching staff, recruitment is getting harder. There are the ever-expanding expectations on our core purpose and accountability, and a reducing talent pool to recruit from.

The expectations on our business staff and support workforce are growing. Accountability matters, but we are finding we need more experienced and qualified colleagues to keep up with the demands on our sector: ICT and developing technologies, communications and marketing strategies, cyber awareness, health and safety, estates management, financial management, governance, and HR. The compliance requirements and the tasks that fall to school and trust business leaders and their teams are increasing and becoming more specialised. 

Changing expectations
The changing expectations on pupil-facing and pastoral staff, often due to under-resourced children’s support services, mean we are looking for people who are prepared to take on roles which may be isolated, without the network of professional support from local services. 

The talent pool is changing too. We are in a society where, mostly, both parents in families need to work full-time. In the past, schools have relied on families where one parent can afford to work part-time and term-time only. It’s often not the case anymore, possibly more often in underserved communities. The difficulties in matching the pay, conditions and flexibility other sectors can offer, along with insufficient funding coming into our schools, is a reality our leaders are facing. 

Facing the challenges – a case study
In Cranmer Education Trust, the application of our People Strategy is setting the culture for how we face these challenges, with a sharp focus on wellbeing and professional development as we grow and navigate changing landscapes. With the security of a strong trust family, great connection through people, partnerships, and technologies, it is our mission to attract and retain staff in an organisation where everyone shares a sense of obligation and accountability to the children we serve. We believe we can retain staff through a collaborative and developmental culture, where specialist expertise is shared across a group of schools, offering opportunities for personal development, to build a career with us. 

The application of our business framework ‘hub model’ helps with our recruitment and retention. It is based on the principle of geographic proximity of groups of schools, so that we can develop a network of people across school hubs, working collaboratively. With a framework of standardised processes for the core business elements in schools, there is cohesion and clarity. These elements include finance, HR, IT, marketing, governance, facilities, and estates.

The structure of the framework arrangement allows a spectrum of knowledge within each discipline, at different career stages and skill sets. This means we can fulfil our accountability arrangements and improve the systems which allow the quality of education to improve, allowing headteachers to focus on transformative change for children and communities. 

No role is isolated
Our ambition, through a matrix and spectrum of business roles, which is so far proving effective, is that no role should be isolated. We want to call time on individuals with specific experience being singly responsible and vulnerable (IT network managers, business managers). We want to create structures, within a sensible scheme of delegation, which offer development and growth for people. Structures where people have a sense of belonging and nurture, where groups of people in similar roles can network within a governance framework under one legal entity, with the same processes and procedures, and in a structure which builds capacity.

Apprenticeship roles have proven an effective route to training in IT, HR, finance, and marketing. Using the levy to fund qualifications which run alongside a supportive structure within a trust, with capacity and a wealth of knowledge and experience and different levels, means mentoring is possible, with great opportunities for shadowing and modelling roles.

At the heart of our business recruitment strategy is culture. We can (and do) have the best systems, but it is the people who make true collaboration happen and a sense of belonging. For example, knowing colleagues in sister schools are on speed-dial, being able to jump on Teams calls, and having networking opportunities to share ideas.

It’s not easy. Culture and relations, working with purpose and integrity, and opportunities for development are strong levers to attract people. But they only go so far. In the end, we are up against competition with better funded sectors that can pay more. We must fund education sufficiently in order for us to put the best structural frameworks in place to enable children to flourish.

Christine Ellis is COO at Cranmer Education Trust.

Posted: 15/01/2024 12:28:19