MAD world

  • 10th July 2023

Rachel Hadley-Leonard addresses recruitment issues for marketing, admissions and development staff

Recruitment in schools is tough right now and, wherever we turn, articles about the teacher recruitment crisis abound. Brexit, the Covid pandemic, teachers’ pensions, and strikes over pay and conditions, have joined together in the perfect storm to make excellent talent acquisition harder than ever. Teaching vacancies that used to have over 50 or more solid applications, are now seeing merely a trickle of applications, if that.

But what about the recruitment of support staff in our schools? I say “support staff ”, but as a colleague recently pointed out following an article I had written on independent school closures, why we are still labelling marketing, admissions and development (MAD) directors as “support staff ”, is a mystery. In any other organisation, the registrar might well be titled global sales director, the head of marketing, possibly the UK head of marketing or sales, while the head of fundraising and alumni relations could be the chief financial officer. But regardless of title, it would be a given that all three positions would also be part of the executive team and seen as company leaders. Anyway, I digress a little. That’s a battle for another day.

The recruitment of so-called support staff, however, is undoubtedly getting tougher. The available talent pool is diminishing, for a myriad reasons, while the demand and need for such roles is increasing. School heads, bursars and governors are realising that it is these front-facing, yet ultimately commercial positions, which carry an equal weight to academic staff in terms of a school’s reputation and success.

Sustainability, growth and pupil retention in our schools are heavily reliant on support staff, and in particular, the marketing, admissions and development teams. Finding the right person for such roles is even more fundamental.

A contributing factor to the MAD role recruitment crisis, akin to teacher recruitment issues, lies in inadequate salaries. I benchmark MAD role salaries on a weekly basis, and it frustrates me that schools aim to recruit a person who will be partially responsible for the school’s success, or a million-pound fundraising campaign, on a salary equivalent to little more than minimum wage.

While MAD salaries are slowly beginning to command the financial rewards they warrant, it has been a slow change, and some schools, mindful of the bottom line, still seek to secure these essential front-facing appointments on the cheap. At the end of the day, you will get what you pay for. Consider the following:
• Is your offer comparable to rates in the commercial sector?
• What benefits are you offering?
• Will an annual salary review set against key performance indicators be standard practice?

If we are to secure candidates who can marry together commercial acumen with an understanding of our unique education sector, then we will need to dig deeper and invest further in the valuable assets of the MAD team.

Attracting colleagues to your school over other offers is also a crucial part of the recruitment process. It is often heads, bursars and HR that are responsible for writing the job description. They know the outcomes they want, more often than not “a school full to capacity”, and “an unparalleled reputation”. But when writing the job specification for a MAD post, is due consideration given to the people skills required to achieve such goals? Recruiting for MAD roles is all about the person.

Where will we find these inspirational, efficient, creative, warm but business- savvy candidates? No longer will a small square advertisement in the back pages of an educational journal, followed up by a typed document listing two pages of mundane duties, attract the right applicants. It constantly surprises me how dull, uninspiring and quite frankly boring, some advertisements and recruitment packs can be. Forward-thinking school leaders and HR personnel will be repackaging old-fashioned applicant packs and replacing them with bright, colourful imagery depicting the enticing world of the school. Quotes, or better still, videos generated by QR codes from current employees, details and images of impressive working conditions and generous benefits will almost always attract a higher-quality candidate.

Historically, schools have searched for candidates within educational circles, and by doing so, perhaps missed out on the wealth of expertise from the commercial and charitable sectors. But the education sector is unique, and we need to be sure that skills are transferrable. Discerning schools may try to find candidates with experience of both the education and commercial sectors.

Flexibility and trust are key when looking at the small print. Talk to any self-respecting, and more importantly, successful modern-day business, and they will offer flexitime, annual salary reviews, holiday purchase schemes and even ‘duvet days’ as standard. The MAD team is often heavily committed at weekends and evenings, so why not acknowledge and reflect this in a sensible, flexible approach to working hours? If you have been lucky enough to find the right person for your school, don’t let them slip through your fingers because of inflexible working arrangements and a low salary.

Of the many appointments your school makes, getting the MAD team right should be very high on your agenda. After all, you are effectively appointing your next global head of sales and marketing.

Rachel Hadley-Leonard is director and founder of RHL Consulting and MAD Recruitment





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