Teacher recruitment: The marketing mix

20th November 2015

I don’t think business studies is on the government’s current ‘subjects we like‘ hit parade. It’s certainly not in the Ebacc, however at last night’s SSAT event, Matt Hood, of Heysham High reminded us why it matters when it comes to one of the DfE’s biggest upcoming headaches: teacher recruitment.

Why teach logoInspired by Matt – and as the proud bearer of a GCSE in business studies, I want to set out the things I learned with regard to what the ‘4 Ps’ of marketing theory can tell us about solving the recruitment crisis, particularly in the light of our recent ‘Why Teach?’ report.

I was horrified last year to find that several of my trainee teachers were balancing the demands of classroom teaching and teacher training with part time jobs – whether at Sports Direct or as free-lance personal trainers: it was the only way they could pay their way through the course. That’s not ok.

Although these remarkable trainees took on what seemed to me an unfeasible and unreasonable challenge, not everyone would do what they did. If you’ve just left uni with £25k or more of debt, taking on another £9k for the privilege of becoming a teacher (when you’re only 21 and not even sure what you really want to do with your life) is not appealing; particularly if you’re weighing up teaching against starting salaries in other professions (without the extra debt) equivalent to what you might only achieve several years down the line as a teacher.

Given that on the average salary most teachers are unlikely to ever pay their training debt back, even the demands of austerity don’t justify such a vast disincentive. I’ve heard a lot of people from every end of the political spectrum make this argument recently. Surely it can’t be too long before the government listens?

Our ‘Why Teach?’ report revealed that teachers primarily go onto the profession to make a difference and are overwhelmed by meaningless workload. More than 3/4 of teachers who’ve considered leaving the profession have done so because of workload. If the ‘product’ – i.e. teaching itself, is not right, people won’t stay in the profession and others won’t want to join. Let’s not forget that for the most part, the need to recruit is the flip side of a failure to retain.

web-0412As several people last night pointed out, the ‘product’ therefore matters a great deal because it’s teachers that ‘sell’ teaching. Some like Nadia – a head teacher in Lowestoft (right), actively sell the profession because they’ve had a positive experience:

“I try and convince everybody to move into the profession. Because you meet great people, you meet great people with big hearts. So when I get on with people, the first thing I say to them is ‘why don’t you work in schools? You really need to be involved in working in schools’ “

On the flip side, others say:

“Don’t go into teaching… (because of ) the workload… I’m here at eight o’clock in the morning. I don’t get home ‘til six o’clock at night, I have my tea, sit down and I work ‘til eleven, twelve o’clock most evenings.  So it’s not much of a life… And I don’t see things particularly getting easier”

Heads and teachers like Nadia will pull people into the profession whereas the second teacher – through no fault of their own, will push people away. In many schools, the product itself (teaching as a career) simply isn’t up to scratch. So long as that’s the case, recruitment and retention will be a mess.

When it comes to place, I want to focus on the place teaching takes in teachers’ (and potential teachers’) lives.

As was pointed out last night, most teachers enter the profession when they are 21-25. To recruit more of these people, the focus needs to be on graduate recruitment fairs, summer internships and pitching teaching as preferable to other graduate careers. But do we only want to recruit recent graduates? Probably not. A rather different offer, around how teaching can fit with family life, a change of career and a sustainable, professional future, is therefore needed if we are to recruit people at every point in their life.

Lots of people last night pointed out that recruiting more teachers wasn’t just about better adverts; but I still think the question of how you promote teaching is key. The focus of advertising strategies is often on which ‘message’ will appeal to the most teachers. Several people last night for example drew attention to work from the behavioural insights team showing that more people clicked on adverts promoting teaching as a challenge than clicked on adverts focused on the opportunity to make a difference. That’s all well and good, but we really, really need teachers right now, and our research has shown that different teachers enter the profession for different reasons: some are idealists, some practitioners; some want to change society, some love their subject. When promoting teaching we can’t just pick one message. We need to take an “and and” approach- hooking in the un-usual suspects as well as the usual suspects. We need to target the geeks, the missionaries and those who want a decent lifestyle/reasonable pay – not to mention those who haven’t really thought about it but end up ‘hooked’ into the profession by accident. One or the other just won’t do the trick.

Each of these reasons for entering the profession needs to be articulated loudly and clearly. Only then do we stand a chance of solving a truly worrying crisis in the making.

If we don’t, it will have more profound consequences than almost anything else in education.

You can download our full “Why Teach?” report here or view key stats here!