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Covid-19 - Maintaining staffing levels

The past 12 months have been the most disruptive those working in education have seen. The fierce demands on senior leaders to maintain staffing levels shows no sign of easing anytime soon.

When it comes to trying to predict where staffing gaps could occur, it almost seems nonsensical. However, strategic steps can be taken to get ahead and prepare for the challenges that lay in the months ahead.

Assessing your needs

Whilst I’m sure you’re familiar with the Department for Education’s School Workforce Planning Guidance, this doesn’t provide any practical guidance for the extraordinary demands schools have faced over the last year, particularly for temporary staff.

No one can see into the future, but you can use past data trends to help you evaluate and build a picture of your likely future staffing needs. Using this analytical method (as you would normally for workforce planning), with a particular focus on the last 12 month’s data, should give a clearer picture of how much you utilised flexible staffing. Going through this process now will enable you to be proactive with your recruitment strategy and anticipate where you may need additional resource moving forward.

Resignations and planned absences can be managed relatively easily(!) when compared with the unpredictable nature of sickness absence, or those suddenly needing to self-isolate.

Previous absence patterns can be used to forecast likely requirements under normal circumstances. A further allowance can then be made for additional short-term cover for staff that need to self-isolate, shield or have tested positive.

Building a strategy to fulfil those needs

Once you understand what your staffing needs are likely to be, you’ll be able to build a strategy to deal with the higher-risk scenarios likely to cause the most disruption. As previously mentioned, the high-risk aspect is likely to come from the less predictable drops in staffing due to illness or self-isolation. There will also be an element of higher-rated risk from mid-academic year resignations, which would be constrained to the summer under normal circumstances.

Most schools will be looking for a supply agency that can service their school efficiently and accurately match the best candidate for the assignment. Aside from providing high-quality staff for short- and long term cover, schools should ensure their provider also offers:

  • The ability to create a local supply pool of known and trusted professionals
  • Direct contact with cover staff so they can be better prepared for their assignment, taking the pressure off those in school
  • Affordability and transparency when it comes to fees and what day rate the teacher will receive
  • No exorbitant fees if you choose to make a temporary member of staff permanent

At this stage, it’s worth reviewing your current supplier. Quite often they don’t fully fulfil all of a school’s requirements, and that should be expected as each school is unique. However, identifying where the gaps are with your current provider(s) will allow you to either add additional providers to your supply cover eco-system or to change to one that better suits your needs in this new era.

Plan of action

If nothing else the past 12 months have demonstrated that there will be agility needed to meet the fast-paced changes within schools. Many supply cover providers are falling woefully short and are creaking under the strain of the new challenging environment we all find ourselves in.

Taking the time to review and create a new strategy to maintain staffing levels now, will pay dividends going forward. Here’s a recap of the 5 key areas to cover:  

  1.  Interrogate the data you already have to pinpoint where the likely staffing shortages will be
  2.  Make an allowance for additional pressure from Covid related staff absences
  3.  Review your current suppliers and identify any gaps in service (restrictive office hours, high fees, no control over professionals supplied etc)
  4.  Research supply cover providers that can either meet all of your needs or fill the gaps left by your current provider
  5.  Determine which suppliers are the most efficient and cost-effective for different scenarios

Next steps

Once you have your shortlist of preferred suppliers it’s important to engage with them on the finer detail. During these conversations, you’ll get a good grasp of whether the agency really does suit your school and are easy to work with.

Don’t be afraid to have more than one supplier if that’s what your schools needs to maintain the quorum of staff required. You may decide that one agency will be great for emergency cover and another for long term. At this point, it really is about what your school needs in the current climate and that is likely to be quite different from 18 months ago.

Once you’ve made your decision, any changes to your process for supply cover should be communicated internally. This can be done as part of your usual change management to ensure staff understand how it will benefit them in the long term and to safeguard a smooth transition.

Don’t settle for second best

From the schools we’ve spoken to recently, most have a newfound confidence and are not prepared to settle for anything less than what they need. This had been driven largely by the detrimental effects on staff time that the pandemic has caused—and is still causing. It’s not sustainable for schools to struggle on with providers that don’t deliver and it’s certainly not conducive to staff wellbeing.

We are in a position now where we can reflect on the last 12 months and draw insight from that on how to better prepare for the challenges going forward.

Supply cover has always been an integral part of school life, more so now than ever. Ensuring your supply cover agency moulds to your needs and not the other way around, should now be a prerequisite.

Just Education is offering a free consultation to help schools plan for the staffing challenges expected in the months ahead.

To book yours please email hello@justeducation.co.uk or call 01242 388 357.

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