Recruitment for Regional, Rural and Remote Schools

The following is an extract from my submission to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education.

It is one of three topics covered in the submission; the others being:

the recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers; and
the strategies used by Australian states and territories to address the Closing the Gap targets in relation to educational disadvantage.

Recruitment of appropriately trained, qualified and experienced teachers

In his 2003 paper, John Hattie, now Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, proposed that apart from the attributes which a “student brings to the table” themselves, the quality of teachers is the next most important factor in a student’s learning at around 30 percent of effect (Hattie 2003). This view has been supported in many subsequent papers and is not widely challenged.

The recruitment of appropriately trained, qualified and experienced teachers for schools in regional, rural and remote communities is also not a new challenge. There have been many creative, and not so creative, attempts to deliver successful recruitment and retention strategies.

While some may reflect on the halcyon days of the 1970s when teachers were appointed directly to these schools from teachers’ colleges and colleges of advanced education, the world has moved on, in terms of the needs of those schools, the modes of educational delivery and the effective “hooks” to lure teachers to these areas.

It must also be recognised that recruiting inexperienced teachers for these schools in the 1970s may have created similar issues to those being faced today, albeit without the considerable exposure to today’s media. The use of bonded scholarships and guaranteed employment also contributed to a more seamless recruitment process.

Over the past 20-30 years most public education jurisdictions across Australia have devolved decision making and governance to schools and, in some cases, local school boards. The devolution of recruitment has featured as one of the enticements for this, along with relative independence of budget management.

Victorian public schools have been progressing down this path since the early 1990s, with the responsibility for recruitment managed locally by school councils. Similarly in Western Australia, under the Independent Public Schools model, school boards have this role. While Local Schools Local Decisions in New South Wales, is not as far advanced as the other two aforementioned states, principals do have much more responsibility for recruitment now than they did a decade ago.

This progression to local governance and decision making has not been without risk, as evidenced through the Operation Ord inquiry of the Victorian Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission, leading to criminal charges against a senior officer of the Department of Education and Training and several of his alleged associates.

Where school jurisdictions have decentralised the recruitment of teachers they have tended to support that process through centralised accreditation or registration processes and access to centralised databases, if required. They have also provided single point advertising solutions, with mixed acceptance by principals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are significant shortcomings in this approach:

a. principals and school executives are not trained or experienced recruiters and often have to base their decisions on simplistic consideration of written applications, interviews and referee reports;

b. schools in regional, rural and particularly remote locations may attract limited or, in many cases, no field when positions are advertised; and

c. recruitment activities are not enhanced by sufficiently targeted incentive benefits or enticements for applicants.

In most school recruitment processes a teacher, executive or principal is being considered for their capacity to perform at the level required as well as in the particular location. This is done without any rigorous evaluation of their teaching or educational management and leadership capabilities.

A system whereby there was an initial consideration of their teaching or educational management and leadership capabilities, prior to being eligible to apply for promotions or specific opportunities would add another dimension to the recruitment process and allow recruiters to focus on their specific school’s needs.

This type of two tiered approach would also allow for the consideration of eligibility based not just on position level but on suitability to work in certain locations or with certain student populations and communities. This is not to be confused with existing accreditation or registration processes.

Recruitment training for principals and other school based recruiters is currently either non-existent or substantially based on compliance with process. The NSW Department of Education provides online “training resources that can assist … conveners/hiring managers and other members of selection panels understand the procedures for selecting school staff through advertised positions” (DoE 2017). This is typical of most jurisdictions.

School recruiters are not trained in the intuitive aspects of recruitment or provided with the high level tools available to professional recruiters. They also do not have access to all information about applicants, which may be available to a Department’s centralised human resources team.

Other than through an advertisement, school recruiters in regional, rural and remote locations do not have any real capacity to source potential applicants for vacant positions. Unlike a Department or a professional recruiter, they do not have access to talent pools or other sources which may enhance the size or quality of a recruitment field.

School recruiters in regional, rural and remote locations are also not experienced in generating interest in vacant positions through networking with colleagues, accessing professional networks or using other means such as social media. In fact, the perceived regimentation of government recruitment processes leads many school recruiters to misconstrue the generation of interest with nepotism.

School recruiters are also often “time poor” without sufficient capacity to devote energy to the additional activities which contribute to successful recruitment.

In any recruitment system as large as many of the public education jurisdictions, there needs to be a targeted system of incentive benefits or enticements to lure quality teachers, executives and principals to non-metropolitan locations. Many of the current systems were developed many years ago and do not reflect the desires or needs of current teachers or school communities.

Many teachers who could be enticed to work in regional, rural or remote locations have needs that extend beyond themselves and include their families. Many of those needs are related to well-being and access to networks, social structures and services to which they had access prior to relocating to a regional, rural or remote location.

There needs to be an investment, not just in monetary rewards for working in these locations, but in infrastructure which supports the physical, social and psychological well-being of the teachers, executives and principals.

A comprehensive review is required, taking into account feedback from the teaching profession to determine what incentives and enhancements are considered suitable enticements by appropriately trained, qualified and experienced teachers. This must not just include inexperienced or beginning teachers but must suitably reflect the views of experienced teachers, executives and principals.

Finally, and with reference to the abovementioned matters, there needs to be a recognition that the centralised provision of recruitment services and access to mobility within and across schools for teachers, executives and principals, does not limit the capacity of principals and school communities to contribute to the types of attributes which they desire in teachers, executives and principals being appointed to schools in regional, rural or remote locations.

The mechanism for the appointment of teachers, executives and principals to schools in regional, rural or remote locations can be managed centrally allowing staff in schools to focus on their core business, teaching, managing and leading schools. Such management should include a transfer option, with sufficient priority consistent with the commitment of staff to support regional, rural and remote locations.

The United Kingdom Department of Education acknowledged in 2014 the need to address issues of teacher workload, with the establishment of the “workload challenge” (DE UK 2017). Through the challenge they are intending to “remove unnecessary workload for teachers, to help them concentrate on teaching and their own development” (DE UK 2017).

The same is arguable for school recruiters in schools in regional, rural and remote locations. The management of more of the recruitment and appointment processes centrally would allow current school recruiters to focus on those aspects of their roles which are essential to delivering better learning outcomes for students, with the possibility of increased quality of staff working in those schools.

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