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“You don’t want to be one advert among 25 – you want to be something more attractive”

Marc Doyle, Chief Executive of QUEST Multi-Academy Trust which operates Bolton’s UTC, has told The Blueprint how recruiting teachers creatively helped not just fill staffing gaps but deliver on a strategic vision…

When Marc Doyle joined QUEST in July 2023, Bolton’s UTC (named the University Collegiate School) had received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted report, been placed in special measures, and had lost staff including through poaching by other schools.

“We had an English staff member who was phoned by another school and asked, without an interview, ‘do you want to come be our head of literacy? We will give you an extra £6,000’ and he left without even having visited the school.”

UCS had eight staff vacancies when it started the 2023/24 academic year, meaning existing staff had to take on extra teaching responsibilities and the UTC has relied on multiple supply staff for the majority of the year.

New head of school was ‘sold’ vision of making the UTC ‘something special’

Firstly, Marc said, “I had to make sure I got the leadership right because, until you do that, it’s difficult to sell the school to potential staff because the vision is not right.”

The trust now has four strategic objectives for 2024-27 which have been shared widely with staff to “get them onboard” with the fact they are part of a united trust.

UCS’ new head of school, who did already know Marc, was sold on the vision that he was not simply “filling a gap” at a special measures school.

Instead: “You’re here to make a school something special. We’re going to turn this into a world-class UTC,” Marc recalls telling him.

Once the head was in place, the next task was to recruit an employer engagement lead, which Marc knew was a “pivotal role” within a UTC from when he served as principal of Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire.

To aid this, QUEST held a ‘UTC summit’ at UCS where the UTC programme’s co-founder Lord Baker spoke and which was supported by representatives from the Baker Dearing Educational Trust and the UTC’s employer partners.

This led the employer engagement lead at Bolton College, who attended the summit, to switch to the UTC: “She was so interested in what she heard at the summit, that she wanted to work for us – and she’s doing an absolutely cracking job,” Marc said.

“These successes were from getting those ingredients in place that make the UTC something sellable.

“If you have a vision for the trust and school and some clarity over what you want to do, that makes it easier to recruit.”

UTC maths teacher post had six applicants

“It’s not always monetary value that makes people want to work somewhere,” Marc explained.

He pointed to the school’s new Key Stage 3 building as a sign to new hires that “something bigger is coming” to the UTC.

But he said the “biggest shift” was improving the UTC’s relationship with the University of Bolton, which is located on the same site as UCS. The university’s education students have been offered initial teacher training (ITT) placements at the UTC, with UCS exhibiting at careers fairs to attract potential teachers.

UCS had 13 applications for a English teacher post and six for a maths role. In contrast, the Commons Education Select Committee reported recently that only 63% of the target for postgraduate initial teacher training new entrants in maths had been reached.

An emphasis on UTCness – what makes a UTC different to a mainstream school – has also proved attractive to new hires. UCS is now working with 30 different employers, compared to one at the start of the year, and Marc argues employer engagement makes a “massive difference to the opportunities that you can bring in.”

However, he also said that the trust and UTC had been “cute” when recruiting, by contacting potential candidates directly, focusing on those who would work best for a role, and adjusting roles to make them more appealing.

For instance, when the UTC could not recruit a vice principal, the trust instead advertised for an ‘education adviser’ and received 30 applications.

“The person we appointed was an assistant principal before but this appealed to him because I’ve got him doing oversight of the trust-wide teaching and learning group, he sits on executive meetings. It’s given him an incentive that’s not financial.”

UCS is also looking at working with the university to deliver T Levels in dental nursing (starting this September) and optometry (in 2025), by using the university’s experts to deliver some of the content. The UTC is also hoping its partnership with Synergy Dental Clinic, a significant north-west dentistry provider, will allow its staff to support students.

UTCs offer teachers all the benefits of the profession

Asked what he thought the government could learn from Bolton’s successes, Marc replied that: “I can be attracted to become a teacher because of the excitement of the job, the benefits that it brings, the fact that you join the profession on a higher than national average wage, and that there are opportunities for flexible working patterns.

“I will always say one of the best places you can possibly work to get all that is a UTC and the government really need to continue promoting technical education because it’s not only a great place for kids to go, but for staff to work as well.”

Why work at a UTC from perspective of the teachers…

Emma Xie, an Early Career Teacher (ECT) in English, explains why she is going to work for UCS:

“It’s challenging but fulfilling: Many students are from a less privileged background so they may have challenging behaviours. But once the teacher-student relationship is built, they are amazing. I think there is a real benefit to working in a UTC as it has a vision for children and their future.

“The team at UCS is supportive and friendly: During my ITT placement, I struggled at times with my classes in the first few weeks. Every single teacher in the department offered me help and valuable advice. Other staff are also very kind and friendly. I know it’s a good working environment when I see the smiles on their faces.

“It’s beneficial for an ECT as I will have lots of opportunities to practise different teaching strategies with all types of students here. I’m sure working at UCS will make me more confident in classroom management and adaptive teaching. I can’t wait to work in a UTC!”