How would you like a room with a view – of your school?
Attracting and retaining teachers in the midst of a recruitment crisis is about more than just offering them a job. For one primary school in Surrey, it’s about offering them a house.
“We have to be much cleverer,” says Sir Andrew Carter, headteacher of South Farnham School, explaining how he approached the problem. “There are not many teachers out there, particularly in the South East.”
And so one of his strategies has been to do up and rent out the on-site caretaker’s house (the school caretaker has his own property). Now three of his teachers – Suzanne Smyth, Lucy Egan and Hannah Baird – share not only a workplace but also a bathroom.
Can it be a bit, well, awkward? Not according to Ms Baird, 25. “We’re all of a similar age. It works well,” she says. “There are times when we’re busy but there are times when we’re all in together and socialise.
“We tend to cook individually, but I am perhaps the most adventurous cook – I do the occasional Thai curry,” she adds. “It’s like student living, in a way. We do have our own shelves in the fridge – and especially our own milk. There’s nothing worse than going for cereal in the morning and having no milk.”
‘We don’t discuss work’
Of course, the danger of living with colleagues, especially in a school property, is feeling as if there’s no escape from your job.
Ms Egan, 24, is just finishing her newly qualified teacher year. She has lived in the house for just over 12 months, moving in at the same time as Ms Baird. “We didn’t discuss not talking about work,” she says. “But we are pretty casual and just don’t wind up talking about it.”
The school has a strict policy of staff not taking work home with them. Planning for the following week has to be finished and left in school on a Friday, allowing a supply teacher to easily pick it up if someone is off sick. But even so, Ms Smyth, 24, was at first wary of moving into a house so close to her workplace.
When she moved to England from Northern Ireland, she lived in a series of house shares. But she got fed up with paying a high rent for not-so-nice accommodation, so she decided to try out the caretaker’s house, which is right next to the infant school buildings where she teaches. The detached, three-bedroom, two-bathroom property is set back from a country lane and has gardens to the front and back.
Ms Smyth didn’t know her two housemates well before she moved in, as they both work at the junior school, which is a mile away. But she says: “We’ve become really good friends by living in the house together. We sometimes go to the gym together, and it’s nice to meet other teachers your own age and become friendly with their friends. It’s fun.”
In fact, the only (minor) drawback Ms Smyth can think of is nothing to do with living with her colleagues or being near her pupils, but rather being surrounded by parents. Wild parties are not an option.
“I don’t feel like I’m at work, not at all, but you do have to be aware of how you conduct yourself a bit when the parents are your neighbours,” she says.
Sir Andrew says that the teachers’ rent is not subsidised, but set at a reasonable level to cover the maintenance of the house.
Providing the accommodation fits with his principles for attracting and retaining staff, the headteacher adds. “Supporting people in their rent brings up tax issues and you need to take due professional advice,” he says. “But the general principle is to help people, and support them.”
Other ways schools have sought to tackle teacher recruitment and retention problems:
- Recruiting teachers without relevant degrees and providing training through subject knowledge enhancement courses.
- Offering relocation packages.
- Encouraging teaching assistants and other support staff to train as teachers.
- Scouring the globe for recruits from as far afield as Australia, Canada and Jamaica.
- Providing in-school benefits such as laundry services, car washing and valeting.