Navigating the shifting sands of recruitment

Getting the right Principal is crucial to the success of an Academy, however, the growing demand for experienced leaders and other changes can make it more difficult to recruit the right person for a senior role.
The recruitment market is shifting with the growth of the Academies Programme and the emergence of Multi-Academy Trusts. While this has resulted in real improvements in the classroom, it has also changed the nature of recruitment and sometimes makes it harder for governors to run a recruitment process.
However, by navigating the shifting sands governing bodies can take advantage of the new opportunities available through system-reform. The IAA has been helping governors with advice and guidance, built on a heritage of leading state funded independent schools. This advice is available through the Executive Office, Board Members and through the association’s conferences.
Some questions are clear when speaking to governors and recruitment professionals.

How has the rapid growth of Academies affected recruitment?
The growth of Academies has led to a new flexibility and a greater diversity of provision which has had a direct impact on recruitment in both primary and secondary sectors.
Governors are using the freedom to set pay and conditions for leaders and this has led to a move away from the old pay bands with a greater emphasis on rewarding talented leaders.
According to Richard Gould, the general manager for leadership and recruitment at Capita Resourcing, the growth of the programme has also created a new type of leader, principals who are more focused and innovative in their approach and are also more commercially experienced.
In addition, the growth of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) has helped produce a new cadre of leaders who are responding to the challenge of leading large trusts, driving forward school improvement on several sites.

How has the market changed in other ways?
Changes to Ofsted and accountability measures have led to greater pressure on Academies and schools to show rapid improvement.
Mike Phillips, managing director of the Advising Consultants, Pentir, said: “Improvement in results and Ofsted judgements make or break reputations of individuals and organisations in the field. Recruitment and retention of high quality people at the top of Academies is therefore a critical factor for success.”
While greater accountability has been welcomed for its role in helping to drive up quality, it can make it harder to recruit Principals both for schools in special measures and those given an outstanding grade before Ofsted changed its criteria.

How is the increase in MATs affecting recruitment and retention?
More recruitment is carried out within MATs, says Aaron Ashton, recruitment director of TES Prime, as they develop their succession planning to bring on future leaders. This can have significant benefits, reducing the costs and risks of recruitment and ensuring business continuity.
However, there can sometimes be a down side for stand-alone Academies, because of the opportunities within MATs although one solution can be for stand-alone Academies to get professional help.
The high profile of some MATs can also attract ambitious leaders, as they may enjoy being in an organisation which is seen by some as having greater influence, according to John Carter, of Veredus.
However, the number of free schools which are opening or in development is also creating a wider range of opportunities.
At the same time, but separate to these developments, many young leaders are also being developed through programmes like Teach First and Future Leaders.

How do you hold on to good people in the current market?
The most effective way to hold on to Principals and senior leaders is to offer them progression and this is one of the reasons MATs have been successful in developing their own talent, something that has been noticed by John Carter.
Philip O’Hear, chair of governors of the London Academy, which has recently become a small MAT, commented: “We have developed two principals from within through our approach to succession planning which runs through the Academy from our extensive work with Teach First upwards. However, the timing of personal development and organisational do not always match so we have also lost outstanding leaders but this adds to capacity in the system.”
Principals are clearly not just in the profession for the money, added opportunities to develop are often the best ways to retain senior leaders, which also can help their Academy or MAT.
This can range from offering to pay for an MBA to allowing a Principal to carry out work with other Academies, as a consultant or mentor, some Academies are thinking outside the box and are also considering retention bonuses.
While Academy budgets are not as flexible as they were there is an awareness that the market is competitive, even though this is tempered by the natural desire of governors to try to manage salary budgets.
Richard Gould describes the negotiations as “not a perfect science” but a process of “good people knowing what they are worth, coming into contact with governing bodies sometimes wanting to pay less than most candidates will want.”
Another issue which has come to the fore with teachers but also affects Principals is how best to use performance bonuses.
While a simple approach may be easy to administer, there are advantages in getting the right range of accountability measures. The balance is to make sure the range of KPIs is wide enough to link to the full range of school improvement objectives while keeping it manageable.
“Performance has to be secured against all the KPIs,” Richard Gould emphasises.
However, Aarron Ashton believes PRP linked to KPIs is less of a feature than it used to be a few years ago.

What is the best way to recruit Principals in the present market?
There is no simple solution to recruiting the right Principal for a particular role and it does depend on the nature of the Academy in question, how far it has developed, together with the nature of the local and regional recruitment market.
For some governing bodies advertising will lead to a healthy field of well qualified candidates who can then be considered and suitable ones short listed for interview. For others the response may be very different. However, Philip O’Hear who has worked extensively advising Pentir, says his advice to governing bodies would be always to use search in addition to advertisement.

“The key to successful Principal appointments is to create a field of a small number of outstanding leaders all of whom have evidenced their ability to do the job. Then the selection depends on the match of values and approach between the Academy, governors and appointed candidate. That match is critical to success in the role.”
One approach being used by some governing bodies is to widen the recruitment pool through using recruitment consultants who can approach Principals who may not be thinking of looking for a new role and as a result they may be able to find a better field.
Firms also say they can widen the interest in advertisements, through their experience of marketing roles and they offer support in short listing and selection, including in areas like assessment centres and psychometric tests. Though recruitment consultants will often outsource these specialised parts of the process they do have experience in helping clients to weigh up the evidence from psychometric tests or other tools like an in-tray exercise.
There seems to have been an increase in the number of Academies looking for professional help, although the proportion using recruitment consultants is relatively small. Many governing bodies appear to prefer to test the market themselves with an advert first and in the primary sector there are also real constraints on the potential spending on recruitment.

How much weight should be put on psychometric tests?
Psychometric tests can attract interest and comment but for many professionals the issue is not whether to use them, but how best to use them. The tests are best seen as a useful tool and part of a wider tool kit of measures which help governors gain insights into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and their style of leadership, according to John Carter.
The question for many Academies is not whether a potential Principal can do the job but how well will they fit with the corporate culture of a particular Academy or MAT. This aspect of assessment is where psychometric tests can play a particularly useful role, especially when taken in context with evidence from interview or an applicant’s career development.
Academies and schools can face real challenges recruiting the right leader. But change also creates opportunities and there is real scope to innovate in the way they recruit and as a result to achieve a much better outcome by recruiting the strongest possible leaders for their academies and MATs.

Further information
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