A considered approach to human resources will be more vital than ever after lockdown
Whilst some parents will already have made decisions and given notice to remove their child from school, there will be many more over the coming months who have to take that very difficult decision. It will be difficult to assess exactly what income a school may have, which makes any planning extremely difficult.
Where does this leave schools?
It is well known that the most expensive commodity is staff, above all the teaching staff. Finding oneself with a surplus of teaching hours, owing to falling rolls, must fill any management team with dread and yet this could be the scenario in September 2020.
Recessions and known shortfalls in numbers owing to demographic variations come with a lead-in period which, whilst not comfortable, does allow for planning. Any school that has gone through redundancies will be only too well aware of the need to undertake careful consultation of all interested parties. This is time consuming, not just in terms of meetings, but also has to be played out over periods of weeks, rather than days, in order to allow evidence to be gathered and the correct procedures to be followed.
Where there is union involvement, which can be the case, the availability of personnel often delays such a process and if this is being undertaken across a wider number of schools than usual this will place additional pressure on this service. But the current situation has come with no lead time; it was foisted upon us and the outlook has changed on an almost daily basis.
Plans made in innocence when schools were first closed when the pandemic started to show its severity have had to change as one factor after another has come into play. Some staff will have been recruited to start after the Easter holidays and, in some cases, they will have yet to teach a class face to face. There is no doubt that there will have to be some very serious conversations when final school rolls are known and these will be all the more difficult in view of the lack of face-to- face contact over the period leading up to these conversations.
Some staff will feel that they have had the support of their leadership team during the lockdown, facilitated by robust communication channels and a deliberate investment of time and energy in maintaining high quality contact. Other staff will already feel alienated having had little contact, perhaps verging on lip service, and they will have lost confidence in the value they feel their line managers have for them.
There is no doubt that the support of a good human resources team will be of paramount importance, but several of them may have been working with a skeleton staff, with others furloughed during the main part of lockdown in order to conserve funds. They will need to be brought up to speed.
The need for sensitivity on the part of all involved will be crucial, and school leaders will have to take care not to take easy options and then rue the day as and when the numbers in successful schools start to grow again. Since the total number of independent schools is fairly low, anyone looking at recruitment pages can quite easily see trends at indivudual schools. Those which seem to have higher than average staff turnover, above and beyond what might be expected in these difficult times, will be easily identified.