Vacancy war breaks out

The DfE’s rather muddled announcement earlier today of a service to clampdown on agencies charging schools “excessive” fees to recruit staff and advertise vacancies https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-free-website-for-schools-to-advertise-vacancies was clearly written by a press officer that didn’t understand what was being said. Either that or the government is in more of a mess than I thought. Muddled up in the announcement posted on the DfE’s web page today are two separate and different services.

In one, the DfE announced that:

Mr Hinds will launch a new nationwide deal for headteachers from September 2018 – developed with Crown Commercial Service – providing them with a list of supply agencies that do not charge fees when making supply staff permanent after 12 weeks.

The preferred suppliers on the list will also be required to clearly set out how much they are charging on top of the wages for staff. This will make it easier for schools to avoid being charged excessive fees and reduce the cost burden on schools of recruiting supply teachers through agencies.

Such a service might backfire if it drove some agencies out of business and then allowed the remainder to actually increase their prices to schools.

However, it is the other service, starting now for a limited trial just after the end of the main recruitment round for September vacancies that is of more interest, as it directly competes with TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free national service for vacancies that has been running successfully for the past four years. TeachVac was set up to do exactly what the DfE say they are now trying to do:

 To help combat these costs, the Secretary of State has announced a free website has been launched to advertise vacancies, which currently costs schools up to £75 million a year. This website will include part-time roles and job shares.

Well, TeachVac does all of that. Regular readers will know that I am chair of the company that owns and operate TeachVac and its international site Teachval Global. Why should the government want to destroy an already successful free service? Perhaps the teacher associations can tell me what see that will be better in the DfE’s offering? Certainly, the DfE won’t have access to the same level of real time job data as TeachVac that has already allowed us to comment on the problems facing schools in London and the Home Counties that have been trying to recruit teachers for September.

TeachVac will continue, as it is backed by its successful TeachVac Global arm that provides a similar paid service for international schools around the globe. http://www.teachvacglobal.com as well as its extensive data and associated businesses.

In the meantime, paid for vacancy services, such as the TES – also a player in the supply agency marketplace- eteach, SchoolsWeek and The Guardian must explain to their investors how they will combat another free service displaying teaching vacancies. Local authorities, don’t have investors to explain to, but could see their job boards affected by the DfE move, especially for posts in primary schools where they are often a key player in the local market.

But, for everyone the key question is, after two failures in this field, will the DfE be successful this time around? Judging by the quality of the announcement, there must be a measure of doubt, especially at the costs involved. Let me know what you think. Is this a service the DfE should provide and do you think that they can for a credible cost?

 

 

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School Recruitment Service Mark 2 announced

Yesterday, at the Public Accounts Committee, a senior civil servant announced the date for the DfE’s latest foray into the world of teacher recruitment. The DfE’s version of a vacancy service will go on trial in the spring. Over the past two months, I have written a couple of posts about the development of this service, first mooted in the 2016 White Paper and then, somewhat surprisingly, rating a mention in the 2017 Conservative General Election Manifesto. In the meantime, the DfE has been quietly beavering away designing their service.

With political backing of this nature, such an idea wasn’t going to be ditched easily, unlike the plans to offer middle leaders to struggling schools, unceremoniously dumped this time last year. So, I am not surprised by the latest announcement.

As regular readers will know, I chair TeachVac, http://www.teachvac.co.uk the free service for schools and teachers that has been up and running for the past four years with no government aid and is now the largest platform by number of vacancies for teacher vacancies in England. More recently TeachVac has expanded to handle vacancies in international schools around the world through TeachVac Global www.teachvacglobal.com

As TeachVac is free to everyone using it is England, competition from the DfE doesn’t both us; although I do wonder about the size of the DfE’s budget that will be needed to ensure the new product doesn’t follow the route to oblivion of the School Recruitment Service that was established and then scrapped a decade ago. Perhaps someone could ask a PQ or submit an FOI to find out how much money they aim to spend on marketing the trial next spring?

For paid providers of recruitment services, whether, either just vacancy advertisements or through recruitment services and teacher placements, the threat to their profits is more real. You only have to look through the accounts posted on the web site of Companies House to see how valuable teacher recruitment has been over the past few years and why the government might have wanted to offer an olive branch to schools by providing a free service at this time so many schools are strapped for cash.

As I pointed out when starting TeachVac, such a service, like TeachVac, also helps satisfy the National Audit Office’s remarks about the lack of data available to the DfE about the teacher labour market. What they will do with the data they will obtain we won’t know until 2020 at the earliest, as 2019 will be the first full year they will be able to obtain data for a whole recruitment cycle. However, by then Ministers won’t be able to fall back on just the data from the School Workforce Census.

TeachVac, now covers all schools state funded and private – I wonder whether the DfE will offer their service to the private sector – as it does with access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme – or restrict it only to state-funded schools thus offering a lifeline to paid services.

I will post more when I have read the transcript of yesterday’s Public Account Committee hearing where the announcement was made.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

In the DfE’s White Paper of March 2016 there was discussion of the idea of the need for a teacher vacancy portal. The Select Committee in the last parliament were also interested in the idea. As we also know for the NAO report of earlier this week, the DfE historically has had little handle on the necessary management information regarding the current working of the teacher labour market. It was, therefore interesting to receive the email detailed below earlier today from the DfE:

Thank you for your email. We [at the DfE] have recently started a 14-week ‘alpha’ development phase of the Teacher Vacancy Service project, and our focus is very much on user testing at the moment. We are hoping to engage again with vacancy suppliers shortly.

I would be delighted to hear from those involved in the ‘alpha’ testing phase at present so we can see how the DfE’s efforts match up against those of TeachVac and other suppliers such as the TES and eteach?

We know the DfE set aside a budget of £300,000 last autumn for some of this work. As TeachVac is free to schools and teachers, anything the DfE is going to do isn’t going to hurt our direct profits, as TeachVac makes its money in other ways. Whether it hurts other suppliers of vacancies will depend upon the model the DfE is proposing to use.

If it is a portal to redirect schools and applicants to suppliers and other job boards it probably won’t be public money well spent. If it is a foray from the DfE into the type of service TeachVac offers for free, then it will be interesting to see how the DfE’s ideas match up with what already exists. If the DfE is intending to drive down the cost of recruiting then it will certainly have an impact on those that charge for marketing teaching vacancies? They can argue the case as to whether or not it is good use of public money.

Either way, from the Fast Track scheme of nearly 20 years ago, through the School Recruitment Service of nearly a decade ago, to the National Teaching Service, abandoned late last year, schemes derived by civil servants don’t seem to have had a great success rate when they try to intervene in the labour market for teachers.

Nevertheless, as TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk has demonstrated, there is a need for a service that is free to schools and teachers and also provides high quality data for those that want to understand the current labour market.

If the DfE version does not interact with independent sector schools, the private providers such as TeachVac, the TES and others will continue to have the edge over the DfE by offering a wider range of information about vacancies all in one place.

This week has seen a significant move forward in understanding the need for real-time vacancy information for the teaching profession. The DfE should now explain what they are proposing.