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How to advertise your rural school effectively when recruiting
Despite the many positives, being in a rural location can create a number of obstacles when trying to recruit new staff. Here's how to overcome those barriers and use your job advert and online presence to highlight your best features and entice candidates to apply.
- Make your job advert compelling
- Advertise in the right places
- Improve your online presence
- Make it easy for candidates to get to you
- Smooth out the application process
- Allow time for a contingency plan
We worked with Gareth Thyer-Jones, managing director of social media recruitment service Talented Teacher Jobs to write this article.
Downloadable advertising checklist
We've summarised this article in a checklist of 15 steps that you can tick off. Download it here, and then refer to this article for more practical information on how to complete each point:
Make your job advert compelling
The job advert is often applicants' first encounter with your school so make it informative, engaging and a good reflection of what you're about.
Always include (as much as the format allows):
- The basic information about the job
- A high-quality picture of your school looking its best, and logo
- Your school's ethos, culture and values
Highlight your school's unique features
Make a list of the qualities that make your school unique, and craft your advert around this. Is your pupil progress outstanding, or do you have great extra-curricular clubs or brand new facilities?
Your selling points might also not be your ‘best’ features. Be honest – if your school is underperforming, explain upfront that you're on a school improvement journey. You’ll only get applicants who are ready for the challenge, which will benefit you in the long run.
If you're not sure, ask your staff what they most value about your school with this survey template:
As well as giving you a steer on what to focus on, this can also give you great testimonials for marketing. Ask staff if you can use their comments on social media, your school website, or in a prospectus or other promotional material.
Sell the 'whole package'
Highlight the benefits that come from working in a rural, small school, and help applicants imagine living and working in your local area.
Gorefield Primary School's caretaker advert says:
Gorefield Primary School is a very friendly village school which benefits from the strong support of the local community. The successful candidate will play a vital role in the school in developing a vibrant and safe environment for learning.
Make the most of your location and mention the best bits in evocative language, mentioning aspects like the:
- Surrounding area and its distinguishing features (“... in the heart of the leafy village of ... "/"...situated in the beautiful Peak District”)
- Sense of community and neighbourly spirit
- Availability of local walks or restaurants
- ‘Feel’ of the area – if it’s a good place to raise a family, for example
Stress your links to the wider world
Counter the impression that working in a rural school will feel too isolated and remote
Some potential applicants may think that working in a rural school would feel too isolated and remote. To counter this impression:
- Mention the nearest town or city in your job advert
- Briefly describe the easiest transport route to the school
- Say something about any links you have with other schools, groups you’re part of, relationships you have, or the secondary schools that you feed into
- Highlight the career progression available, to curb any ideas that the school is too small to provide good development opportunities
What not to include
Don't list too many specific details of the job description; teaching jobs, in particular, don't vary much between schools, so it's unlikely that this is what will make your school stand out.
Counter-intuitively, perhaps, don't focus on your 'outstanding' Ofsted rating if you have one. This won’t tell applicants what it’s like to work in your school, or appeal to their desire to make a difference to children’s lives, or show how they're going to be supported to develop their career.
The Association of School and College Leaders has recently called for a similar de-emphasising of Ofsted grades in school advertising, saying that schools have many distinctive features that are "more inspiring than an accountability measure".
Advertise in the right places
Word of mouth is a cost-effective and often successful option for small schools. Ask your staff to refer candidates and share the vacancy with their peers and via their social media profiles. You could even offer a small financial incentive for any staff member who refers someone you later hire.
Otherwise, there are a lot of places you could advertise depending on your budget and who you want to reach:
- Your school's website
- National general recruitment sites like Monster and Guardian Jobs
- National education recruitment sites like Tes, Eteach, Education Week and Talented Teacher Jobs
- Local authority websites
- Local newspapers
- Social media
- Subject associations
Asking your staff for referrals can be cost-effective for small schools
Consider who your advert is aimed at
You'll reach different types of people depending on where you advertise. The general (un-scientific) picture is:
- Younger teachers tend to use recruitment websites, social media and local authority websites, so go online if you're looking for a less experienced teacher and you have a smaller budget. Forge links with your nearest university, as newly qualified teachers are likely to go to schools they have had a relationship with in the past (the school works with their university or they completed their placement year there)
- Teachers in the 34-50 age bracket are likely to use more traditional methods, like education recruitment sites or recruitment agencies. They tend to be active on Twitter for education-related purposes, and are most likely to be members of teaching associations. They use Google a lot to find vacancies, so make sure your advert is search-friendly (use relevant key words in the title and opening paragraph)
- Experienced teachers over 50 are not usually looking to move job, so are often headhunted or find vacancies through established peer networks and referrals. Ask your staff to refer candidates and share the vacancy with their peer networks, or proactively approach people you know in other schools who would be a good fit
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Take out a series of cheaper adverts in a variety of places, rather than one big, expensive advert. Diversifying your advertising can help reach people you wouldn't normally.
To cover all bases, post your advert on your school's website and online profiles, your local authority site, and one national recruitment website.
Improve your online presence
Update your school website
Candidates will research your school to find out as much information as they can before deciding to apply. Help them do so by updating your school website, taking the chance to put across the best things about your school.
Top tips for your website are:
- Make sure it works properly and is engaging and easy to use. This means that:
- All links work and go to the right places
- Images load properly and are high quality
- There is a clear 'menu' or other way of navigating around the site from the homepage
- Text is succinct, clear and free from typos and errors
- Make sure it looks good and works properly on smartphones and tablets – whoever created your website should be able to advise on this
- Fill it with attractive photos of your school and surrounding area
- Set up a permanent 'working here' page on your website, selling your school as an employer and place to work. Include:
Add a 'working here' page to your website all year round – all other types of employers do this
- The unique features of your school
- The benefits of living in your local area
- Your priorities for staff – their professional development, becoming part of the community
- Any benefits you offer – staff socials, the chance to get involved in research projects, work-life balance initiatives
- Photographs and testimonials from current staff members saying what they like about working at your school – you could even create a promotional video using these tips from the organisation Marketing Advice for Schools
Here are some examples of this type of page (there are no small primary schools here, but the approach and format are transferable):
- Fitzharrys School has a detailed description of the school and a document which explains why teachers should "Choose Fitzharry"
- Woking High School begins with a glowing testimonial from a staff member and provides a staff prospectus
- Southborough High School highlights features such as the school's reputation for innovation and the staff social committee
- George Abbot School sets out a long list of reasons to work there, including benefits such as a staff healthcare plan
- The careers page on The Key's website describes 'Life at The Key' and lists all the benefits available to staff
Use social media
Social media is very popular with teachers, but schools don't yet tend to use it for recruitment much. However, it can help you because:
- There are many groups and forums where teachers talk and share ideas – you can post vacancies in front of large, tailored audiences
- Candidates can get a day-by-day sense of school life through a well-maintained Facebook page or Twitter account – use it to highlight your school's best bits
- It is free to use and can save you money
If you don't have school social media profiles, set them up with help from our article on how to use social media for publicity and communications.
Once you're set up:
- Post your advert on your school's profiles and ask your followers/connections to share it with others who would be interested
- Include an image of your school to attract attention, and always include the link to the full advert and job description on your school website
- Search Facebook for relevant groups you can join and post your vacancy in. For example, if your primary school needs a deputy headteacher, try the Primary School Leaders group (you'll need a Facebook login to see this)
- Tweet your advert using popular hashtags used by teachers on Twitter, such as #teachingvacancyuk, #teacherjobs or #ukedchat
Take it to the next level
You could learn more about search engine optimisation (SEO) – making your post appear in the top Google search results – and paying for online advertising which targets certain audiences.
Many websites have advice and courses to help, like Moz's free beginners guide to SEO.
Alternatively, you could hire a social media company to do this. For example, Talented Teacher Jobs will post your vacancy on social media platforms and do the SEO for you. It will also use online advertising to make sure your advert is seen by the candidates you want to attract as they browse the internet, not just when they choose to look at a jobs board.
Make it easy for candidates to get to you
As a rural school, your transport links might be limited and candidates might struggle to get to you. Take these steps so you don't deter people from even applying.
When advertising the role
- List your links and connections with the wider world in the advert, as mentioned earlier
Consider how applicants will travel to your school, and be considerate
Once people have applied
- Consider holding phone or Skype interviews (after CV-sifting) to filter candidates before inviting them to your school
- If you’ve got a couple of applicants from a specific area, go there yourself for any initial face-to-face interviews
- Offer to pay for candidates' travel to your school
- Be considerate when specifying what time you’d like them to arrive: 8am might work for you, but anyone coming from far away will think less kindly of your school if they have to get up at 4:30am
- Do everything you can in one day, and fill it as much as you can. If it's a nice day, take candidates on a short walk at lunchtime to see the surrounding area. If it's a teaching role, make sure you see them teach. Build in opportunities to meet other staff members if possible
- Accommodate candidates' train times home and arrange a taxi to the station
Smooth out the application process
The application process is as much for you to sell yourself to potential candidates as it is for candidates to demonstrate their suitability to you. You want to make a good impression, and you don’t want candidates telling their peers about a stressful or unprofessional experience.
So, make sure your website is logical and simple to navigate, and that it's easy to find the job advert and job description. The same page that hosts these must make it obvious how to apply.
You could get a staff member to test the application process, checking how easy and user-friendly it is to find the job description on the school site and complete the application.
Your first stage in the process should be as simple as possible for applicants. It will also make it less time-consuming for you to manage the process if you're not having to sift through lots of extra information or paperwork at this point. Just ask for:
- Basic personal information like the applicant's name, contact details and whether they’re a qualified teacher
- Their CV
- The necessary safeguarding information
- A statement of why the applicant wants to work in this role, at your school
Don’t make all applicants fill in an unnecessarily long application form, as this will be time-consuming and may put people off. It can also frustrate candidates who don’t get any further – meaning they might not want to apply again in the future, or might discourage their peers from doing so.
For teaching jobs in particular, make sure your application process fits around the demands of the job.
Keep applicants informed at every stage of the process. Communicate dates and deadlines properly, thank applicants for their interest in the role, and provide timely updates.
Notice periods for teachers
Teachers employed under the conditions of the Burgundy Book must give a certain amount of notice.
Run your recruitment rounds in plenty of time for your successful candidates to meet these deadlines when giving notice to their current school:
Term end date
Allow time for a contingency plan
Firstly, make sure your job advert is live for at least a month so people have time to see it.
Teachers work a lot of overtime, and it takes time to find a vacancy and complete an application – yet some schools only put adverts out for 1 or 2 weeks.
Secondly, don’t assume that you’ll find someone in the first round. The teacher recruitment market in particular is challenging at the moment, so leave yourself some contingency time in case you don’t find a good candidate at the first try.
The earlier you start your recruitment process, the more time you will have to go out again if you’re unsuccessful (and the less chance you have of panic-appointing a candidate who might not be right for the job).
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