The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

David Weston

4 ways for MATs to become employers of choice

David Weston describes key ways MATs can become employers of choice where talented individuals want to stay and develop.

In a time of significant challenges for recruitment and retention, MATs are under pressure to stand out as great employers. CEOs and executive headteachers are increasingly emphasising the importance of building a brand with a reputation as a great place to work and develop, but often struggling to make that a reality.

So how can MATs distinguish themselves as great places to work?

1. Compensation

Pay is always going to be a key factor for anybody choosing their employer. How can you ensure that your MAT stands out for your reputation on pay? Candidates will be interested in a number of things.

  • Starting pay – how does it compare to similar roles elsewhere?
  • Increments – what is the process by which the pay could increase in future within the same role? To what extent is there performance-related pay and how does this work?
  • Progression – what are the opportunities within the trust to take on a larger role and how likely is it that this would be compensated appropriately?

MATs can proactively discuss their pay and progression policies within adverts and on websites. You could consider using social media, local media and sector media to share stories about how you’ve supported progression. The media can often be interested in stories such as ‘I started as a cook… now I’m a deputy head!’ Other hooks can be around working with underrepresented and local groups to get them into teaching and sharing stories of their progression.

2. Benefits

When it comes to retention, research shows us that benefits and development opportunities have a larger impact than pay. A reputation for flexibility can help your MAT to stand out and it is useful to be explicit in adverts and on websites.

  • Holidays: how much work is required during holidays? Are holiday dates, frequency and length in line with standard school practice, or are they unusual?
  • Flexibility on leave: what are policies for taking time off during term? How easy is it to get permission for family events, childcare or training?
  • Childcare: is there any support, facility or subsidy for looking after children?
  • Personal development: would the employer support personal study, such as academic or professional qualifications, or would they subsidise or loan money for these?
  • Housing: does the school offer any support for finding housing, for relocating, or for subsiding costs? Some schools or MATs offer their own housing at a much lower fee to teachers, for example.
  • Other benefits: employee discounts for certain purchases (e.g. certain shops or experiences), health and dental care, mental health support, fitness suites, etc.

As before, sharing stories can be powerful. Do you have employees who can celebrate a positive story about how they were helped back into flexibly working after paternity or maternity, for example? Could you produce a case study of caring for an employee through a family trauma or serious illness, to emphasise how you value wellbeing and treat people with respect?

When it comes to other benefits, this should be handled with care, as both the profession and public value teaching for its intrinsic motivation; excessive emphasis on other benefits could cause reputational issues.

3. Work-life balance

Employees will be interested in whether this job will still allow them time to live their own lives. Increasingly, schools are making more out of updated marking, data and lesson-planning policies that save teachers significant time. Some leading headteachers are making waves on social media and sector publications by sharing their efforts to ensure that staff are out of the building by 6.00pm at the latest and only rarely have to take work home. With these schools increasingly in the limelight, there’s greater pressure on others to showcase their own sustainable workload practices.

School employees remain highly dedicated individuals, happy to go above and beyond, but a better work-life balance is ultimately better for employee and employer to get the best out of everyone.

  • Will employees have lunch times protected or will they be expected to work through?
  • What are the expectations on taking work home to do in evenings and weekends?
  • Are there policies on sending or answering out-of-hours emails?
  • How many meetings will there be outside of main commitments?
  • What is the email burden – is it manageable?
  • What extra-curricular activity is expected or encouraged?

4. Development and recognition

Employees will be interested in the amount of training and learning that they can access. At the Teacher Development Trust, we’re seeing an increasing number of schools use our CPD Audit award in job adverts to signal how seriously they take development, while others are trumpeting their success on social media and local newspapers to ensure that their attention to development is visible to potential new recruits.

Employees will be interested in how the appraisal process works. With many schools moving away from graded lesson observation, teachers will be looking out for employers that are up to date in their appraisal practices. This could also include the extent to which teachers are held to account for their students’ exam results – there are so many factors outside of their control that we are hearing of more schools that are dropping hard performance targets and instead following the evidence toward effort-targets instead.

Other schools make explicit promises about opportunities for job shadowing, secondments, and time for collaboration and study. Some staff may be interested in wider reading and some TDT schools make a feature of offering staff access to Lesson Study or our research library. Other schools are now subsidising and encouraging members of learned bodies such as the Chartered College of Teaching or certain subject associations.

Make it a priority

The recruitment and retention challenge shows no sign of easing in the next few years so it is increasingly important for MATs to take this agenda seriously and not only review and address these areas in-house, but also ensure that they can be flagged up to new recruits. Trusts that fail to grasp this nettle could be seriously left behind, but the prize for making it a priority is becoming the employer of choice with the sort of reputation that money cannot buy.

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