Staff retention during a pandemic: what the UK education sector needs to know

Although some announcements have been made in regards to when children might return to classroom learning, most year groups in schools, as well as colleges and universities throughout the UK remain closed for the foreseeable future. The education sector has had to make big changes to the way they communicate with, as well as the way they educate pupils, students, parents – and staff.

But what exactly does COVID-19 mean for staff retention in educational institutions during this period? Is it possible that maintaining a full staff might not happen during the pandemic and lockdown period?

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

If you’re not already, you should be familiar with the term ‘furlough’ or ‘being furloughed’ – a term coined by the government, in regards to their Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Briefly, the scheme allows institutions and businesses to keep staff protected during the lockdown period and continue paying wages, which is 80% of their salary or up to £2,500 per month. 

Throughout many schools, colleges, universities etc. in the UK, and worldwide, however, certain staff members are paid through recruitment agencies or umbrella companies, such as supply teachers. Currently, there isn’t any solid advice on whether or not these organisations can claim back through the government’s scheme. However, if individuals are being paid through a PAYE, there may be opportunity for them to be furloughed continue receiving some element of their wages.

Child learning - Staff retention Am I eligible?

If you’re a supply teacher or staff member, and you usually work through recruitment agencies, consult with your agency about your previous role and try to make steps to be furloughed. Remember, if you are successful in being furloughed, you won’t be able to work for that particular job, even if requested to. If you have a fixed term contract with a school, you will be a crucial part of the team when it comes to supporting other teachers. 

If you’re a contracted teacher, there should be no change to your employment during lockdown. Your role may continue by remote teaching, as well as looking after key workers’ children, during allocated times. If you’re a vulnerable person however, you won’t be expected to do this, as this could put you at risk, especially if you have an illness.  

Your main focus throughout the lockdown period may be to plan the delivery of next year’s curriculum, as well as planning for if you’re expected to go in and teach certain year’s before the end of the school year. Department improvement and development are also important tasks, particularly with the education sector, as we’re expecting to see huge changes in learning and teaching because of the pandemic.

Online teaching software, such as Kinteract, enables teachers to effectively communicate with students and parents during the lockdown period – and beyond.

What about Further Education?

If you work for a college, which is not primarily funded by the government, you will be eligible for furlough, especially if you work in departments such as finance, student administration, human resources, and marketing.

Admin and support staff are an essential part of college life. Although not all of these staff will be furloughed, it’s important that those that can be are. This is so that when colleges begin again, students will be aware of familiar faces.

What about Higher Education?

Fixed-term contracts are much more likely to happen in universities, such as visiting lecturers, support workers, and researchers.

Throughout UK universities, there are queries over the impact that the pandemic could have on staff retention. This could be based on speculation that international students will no longer apply and perhaps September 2020 applicants will defer to next year.

Can an independent school apply for the job retention scheme?

Yes – but this depends on certain elements. An independent school should not rely on the government to offer additional funding, unless they receive this already.

If you are an independent school and can prove that cash flow has been affected by the pandemic, for example, parents may have ceased paying fees - then independent schools may be allowed to furlough staff and gain payment from the government scheme.

Online and remote learning

Staff and students, wherever they’re based, can benefit from online and remote learning. For many education staff members, this might be a completely new way of teaching, but can only complement classroom-based learning. Using an online platform enhances the teaching experience for the student, rather than replacing the teacher entirely. 

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