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What do the government's plans for the Education sector's reopening really mean?

03 July 2020

Yesterday evening, Gavin Williamson, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, announced the government’s plans and guidance for the Education sector to reopen in September. The news, although very positive for the sector as a whole, does still raise concerns about children’s and staff’s safety.

Nurseries, early years providers and childminders have been welcoming back children since the beginning of June. From the beginning of September, schools and Further Education College will be expected to do the same, with attendance being mandatory from the start of the new academic year.

As expected, guidelines are still in place to minimise contact where possible. For nurseries and other early years providers, the limit on bubble sizes has been lifted, but classes are still expected to be separated to minimise the risk of spreading cases, should they occur. Schools and Colleges are advised to do the same, especially between year groups, by separating classes and limiting the movement of classes through corridors at the same time.

Schools may also consider staggering their teaching hours and class times to minimise the number of students and teachers in the school at any one time. Teachers are also expected to distance themselves from each other and older students as much as possible.

Special guidance for SEN schools and other providers have also been outlined by the government.

What does this mean for the sector?

The full reopening of schools is a positive move for the sector which has been hugely disrupted since the lockdown began in March. The closure of our schools and colleges meant that a huge proportion of staff were placed on furlough or had contracts ended and many will have also been made redundant. But now that preparations for September will be underway, we expect to see more jobs in the Education sector across the board.

The UK economy has been hit severely by the pandemic, which has raised concerns about recession, the effects of which are already being seen through high unemployment. Jobs in all sectors are less widely available than this time last year.

As a result, we expect that both young and adult learners will focus on their education, developing existing skills, upskilling to meet the demand for certain jobs and in some instances retraining for career moves. For Further Education colleges, this should have a positive effect on enrolment numbers which in turn increases the need for teachers to meet the demand.

An increase in College course attendees should also increase the need for support staff and cleaners in the school to ensure that the highest standard of safety is maintained for staff and pupils.

How great is the risk?

The greatest concern is of course the risk to the wellbeing of staff and pupils. The pandemic is not yet over and schools, colleges, parents and pupils will be understandably concerned about the risk of contracting the virus caused by increased contact to others.

According to the government, the risk of contracting the virus in schools and colleges is low and they are confident the measures outlined in their plan will help minimise that risk as much as possible. For example, regular cleaning and handwashing should be practiced. Schools will also be provided with a limited number of home test kits for those who would normally not have access. This, they hope, will help identify new cases early on so that the spread can be controlled. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the potentially higher quantity of pupils and teachers that will be present in the next academic year, as well as the risk of a second wave.

The government outlined that in the case of contraction, the person affected and small groups of young people and staff will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days. A mobile testing unit may also be sent to test others who have been in contact with the person who has tested positive. Testing will focus on the immediate class, then the year group, followed by the whole school if necessary.

The true risk to the everyone’s health and wellbeing will be unclear until schools do open again in September. Education organisations now need to focus on planning their return, how distancing can be maintained and the measures that need to be taken to keep their staff and pupils safe whilst ensuring the highest level of education.

Luckily, the experiences of the last few months have shown that the Education sector is resilient and able to deal with challenges despite adversity. A blended-learning model has already been put into effect. Anecdotal evidence from many of our clients within the sector has labelled the model as a success, meaning this model could continue to be used from September to ensure everyone’s safety without interrupting the vital education of learners.


Managing mental health in challenging times webinar with David Beeney

12 May 2020

Our mental health has never been so challenged en masse as we struggle to cope with the coronavirus crisis. Below you'll find a recording of our webinar 'Managing Mental Health in Challenging Times' that took place on the 6th May. We hosted a Q&A with the inspirational David Beeney.

David was recognised in 2018 as one of the top 101 influencers globally on employee engagement, he is also a qualified Mental Health Counsellor affiliated to the BACP (British Association of Counsellors and Practitioners) and a trustee for Mind.

In the webinar we explored how to improve our own levels of personal resilience, as well as the best ways of keeping staff engaged, with particular emphasis on how to stay emotionally connected with remote workers.

Key themes we explored:

  • We explored ideas of how to create a kinder culture ‘remotely’ where people are caring, supportive and more empathetic of each other’s anxieties.

  • We looked at what is considered best practice for managers to inspire employees to remain engaged during exceptionally challenging times.

  • We looked at the importance of using the right language to encourage honest and open conversation about wellbeing.

  • We looked at how you can improve your own levels of personal resilience during challenging times.

  • We looked at how to inspire employees to be more open by saying ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and by sharing our own vulnerabilities.


How to create an effective mental health and wellbeing strategy

22 May 2019

On the 9th May 2019, Morgan Hunt welcomed David Beeney, from the mental health consultancy firm ‘Breaking the Silence’ to discuss with HR professionals how to approach offering support for mental health needs within an organisation. With 4 out of 10 suicides reported as unexpected from people who know the victim, poor mental health can go unnoticed until it is too late.

David has first-hand experience of being an employee hiding his struggles with his mental health across a 30 year career in the training sector. He gave real life examples to illustrate just how an employee’s feelings can materialise in non verbal ways. It could be manifest as a person finding it difficult to speak in a public environment, not completing tasks or just doing things differently to their usual style.

The workplace may not be the source of anxiety but may exacerbate feelings of stress or being overwhelmed. Employers have a duty of care and, in most cases, managers within organisations want to help a member of their team but many people mask their problems and fear appearing vulnerable in their professional life. David explained some key ideas around positively helping employees to share their anxiety and advice for HR about working with them to improve wellbeing and offering assistance.

What are the signs to look out for?

Nonverbal cues are very important. When individuals feel mentally unwell, they may change their behaviour. It can be avoiding situations, becoming less responsive, appearing distant or not actively listening, for example. If the employee has been in the organisation for an amount of time, changes may be more subtle. 

What we say and how we express ourselves in words also has a role. A person may have become more aggressive or indeed the reverse. They may avoid conversations or keep their interactions short.

How do you help without offending?

Prepare managers about the seriousness of mental health. From an organisational perspective, interactive training sessions can help. This is particularly useful to prepare managers for what they perceive as awkward conversations. In this scenario, leaders are taken out of their comfort zone to explore their own vulnerability and conversation techniques to find a common ground for sharing issues that are core to a person’s mental wellbeing.

Make mental health an open conversation

Mental fatigue can happen to anyone, so the promotion of any Employee Assistance programmes across a company is vital if this forms part of your employee benefits. Campaigns to raise awareness, with free materials from organisations such as Mind, can also raise awareness of the mental health and reduce the perception of it as a taboo subject.

Use the right language 

Employee issues should be escalated to HR where appropriate, so the education of managers is paramount. HR may be able to help in joint discussions using the right language to encourage an employee to share their concerns.

What next?

Treat the mental and physical challenges in the same way. Get your leadership teams on board and share the message to encourage employees to be able to alert you to stress before it impacts their lives. Being open about mental health is good for everyone.

Here is just some of the excellent feedback we had from previous attendees of David’s Masterclass:  

“Excellent speaker, thoroughly thought provoking, thank you Morgan Hunt for running this”

“Spectacular, inspiring human who has changed my thinking about a way forward with wellbeing in my organisation” 

“Thought provoking and relevant to the workplace” “David was an incredible speaker and the way in which he shared his personal experiences was extremely humbling”


Financial health for Further Education colleges

07 February 2019

From stress to success for Further Education Colleges

At Morgan Hunt, on the last day of January, we invited a group of Financial Directors from the Further Education (FE) College sector to join us and a great speaker to get a better insight from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) into what they think the benchmark is for a financially successful college as well as the likely impact of the insolvency regime on the FE sector . 

Matthew Atkinson
Director of Provider Market Oversight
Education & Skills Funding Agency 

The speaker was Matthew Atkinson, Director of Provider Market Oversight, leading the Transactions Unit in the Education and Skills Funding Agency at the Department for Education. He spoke passionately on the subject and gave robust but clear advice to the group. His teams deliver and support (via investment) implementations of restructuring options developed in the Local Area Review process. 

The team also oversee the provision of Exceptional Financial Support and carry out reviews on Sixth Form Colleges wishing to become Academies.

Post the Local Area Review and in light of the Special Insolvency Regime, he acknowledged that the Further Education sector is going through a challenging financial transition and the lack of a comprehensive review for this area of education has hampered its evolution. It is complicated with over 12,000 courses and 2,000 awarding bodies across the UK. Margins can be low, as colleges are capital intensive organisations with their regional markets having differing impacts on employer and student availability. This is especially the case in rural areas.

Please read on to pick up the key points here:

We’re not the bad guys

The EFSA is monitoring all FE colleges, but of course the level of scrutiny for colleges varies according to the level of financial risk in which a college finds itself. The body provides intervention with the best possible outcome in mind for the learners and the college. Many organisations have been in denial about their cash position and their ability to find a positive cashflow solution. This can vary due to colleges’ liabilities and the effect of the local employment area.

The team will look to reverse the set of conditions which put the college in a stressed financial position. So, the guidance is to seek advice early even if senior leadership prefer not to raise the alarm.

Focus on selling jobs not courses

The main thrust of the discussion was that Further Education colleges would find a better way to financial success by preparing their annual financial forecast with their key audiences in mind: their learners and local employers who both benefit from a student’s academic success. 

A key takeaway was that colleges are not selling courses, they are selling jobs! And therefore, it is extremely important to keep in touch with organisations in the local employment market to ensure there is demand for the skills the students will learn. The difference between colleges’ utilisation of assets such as real estate also provide different opportunities. The whole balance sheet needs to be considered as well as the profit and loss forecast.

Forecast, Forecast and Forecast

Typically, the sector has made reference to historical data to determine future spend and demand. This has to change to forecasting that commences in October, which focuses on the education of 16 to 19 year olds as the core source of income. This allows for better commercial planning and market insight for the following academic year. 

As with all forecasting there are pitfalls: the optimism bias of the Governors, the challenge of managing real estate to reduce costs or provide an income, and finally, acknowledging when the forecast highlights loss or a high need for cash. If a loss is forecasted, this is the time to approach the EFSA, not wait until the college has run out of money.

Own your Business Strategy

FE appears to be complicated but at the centre of its success, just as for any other independent organisation, is a business strategy. The simple formula to organise planning begins with good leadership. The leaders assess the demand both from Learners and Employers for the product which in the end is a job, create a compelling offer in the form of the curriculum and finally communicate the plan. Clearly communicating the organisation’s purpose, teaching aims and outcomes, to the key audiences of employees, learners and employers is vital.

Matthew advocated considering employing senior members of staff with commercial experience. Just as a Sales Director would consider building networks with local buying groups or influencing bodies, a college ought to map those routes to market. For instance, the local Chamber of Commerce, employers and schools will provide a great business barometer and promote the opportunities at the college.

Often missed is a consistent and clear communications plan. Once the financial and business planning is complete, the leadership must engage with its audiences to win hearts and minds for the plan and include teams to become ambassadors for the positive changes and opportunities at your college.

The Golden Thread

This phrase is used to highlight that business strategy runs from the business goals to the measures of success. For FE Colleges this relates to some key plans:

  • Market engagement plan
  • Curriculum plan
  • Teaching plan
  • Real Estate plan

And the communications plan will enable the message stemming from these building block plans to define who you are, what you are good at and what you will become as an organisation.
Insolvency sounds bad – is it?

Members of Matthew’s team,  including himself, have been Insolvency Practitioners. Insolvency sounds like failure to most people’s ears but at the heart of administration in this sector is the preservation of provision for existing learners. 

Often for FE institutions the rescue plan has been pre-packaged by the EFSA and is delivered by the administrators after consultation with the college on the final deal. Re-brokerage is an option and common in this sector as unlike other institutions in the education sector, colleges have independent status. So although it is administrators working with a college team, they are carrying out the due diligence, not defining the outcome.

Mergers and acquisitions are becoming common for FE institutions but this too can be positive. Many can consolidate teaching staff, reallocate building use and ultimately create a much more compelling offer for employers and learners.

Whichever the proposed solution, closure is the last resort.

Final review

There are lots of income opportunities in this sector; the introduction of T-levels will offer a true alternative to the traditional routes to University, for example. But like all products, you need to have the operational strength and investment planned before rolling out the offer. Some courses such as those with digital or computing content may require capital expenditure for IT equipment and infrastructure – how could this be funded?

Colleges have lots of real estate; these are assets. Consider how else space can be reconfigured or an income derived from third parties. 

In the end, the EFSA exist to aid the sector manage its finances to give good value to the UK tax payer. They look forward to working with colleges, they are clever and keen teams – get in touch!


Digital marketing skills shortage

05 December 2014

Surge in demand for digital marketers leads to skills shortage across marketing sector

Where are all the digital marketing professionals? With 71% of businesses planning to increase their investment in digital marketing, the demand for specialist digital marketers with strong content creation, social media, SEM and online community management expertise has significantly increased.

Brands are increasingly taking advantage of digital channels for the delivery of their marketing campaigns in response to the shift in the way companies communicate with their audiences. Today there is a real focus on building communities and using content and social media to facilitate brand engagement directly with audiences to develop an awareness, as well as an affinity, with that brand. It’s not just about increasing brand exposure but establishing a position in the digital market as a thought-leader, driving quality traffic to the site, lead generation and improved search rankings.

The result? A shift in mindset to prioritise investment in digital marketing, resulting in new roles being created by employers to move their digital marketing in-house where it may have been previously outsourced.

Talent shortage within digital marketing sector

The Econsultancy/Responsys Marketing Budgets 2013 Report revealed that 71% of businesses plan to increase their investment in digital marketing compared with 20% looking to increase their offline marketing spend. In addition, a 2013 report looking into content marketing in the UK by the Content Marketing Institute revealed that 94% of respondents use the tactic in their campaigns.

This surge in demand for digital marketing professionals from companies looking to quickly step up their game in this space has inevitably led to a skills shortage across the marketing sector. Unsurprisingly, the limited number of experienced and skilled candidates seeking a new job don’t stay on the market for long.

Latest employment data from The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) - the APSCo monthly hiring trends report - reveals that the marketing and media recruitment sector continues to suffer from a talent shortage. Permanent placements have collapsed by 21% year on year, but actual job openings have risen by 2% - indicative of an ongoing shortage of experienced and available digital marketing candidates.

Offline marketing still key

Despite this change in emphasis there is still a demand for marketing professionals with an offline marketing background – particularly evident within the charity and not for profit sectors where there is still a strong focus on print and offline marketing as key strategies.

There is also increasing uncertainty from businesses regarding digital marketing's ROI, with 18% of respondents to the Econsultancy/Responsys report rating their understanding of it as 'poor' or 'very poor' – an increase from 10% in 2010.

With many digital marketing strategies still in their infancy, it’s time to up-skill and gain experience within these sought-after sectors; evolving your career to meet the changing demands of the market.

At Morgan Hunt our dedicated marketing and communications team maintains in-depth knowledge of the sector. We understand how industry and market developments affect hiring trends and we’re able to advise clients on effective recruitment strategies and advise our candidates on how to adapt career plans to the changing requirements of the market. To find out more contact us or email [email protected].


Role of the line manager in employee engagement

04 December 2014

It’s no secret that recruiting and retaining top talent is key to the success of an organisation. But with further pay freezes and cuts across the public sector, HR teams are under greater pressure to develop even more creative strategies to attract and retain the best employees.

Employee engagement must be seen as a top priority for HR and leadership teams, with strategies to improve employee engagement high on the agenda.

With many organisations having to focus heavily on ensuring cost targets are met and managing significant organisational changes with limited resources, it’s easy for employee engagement initiatives to fall down the priority list.

Employee engagement – effective management style is key

Pressures on remuneration - coupled with restructuring and redundancies – understandably has a significant impact on staff morale and productivity.

In the CIPD Employee Attitudes to Pay 2012 survey, response (in terms of agreement) to the statement 'I feel motivated to perform well in the work I do' by respondents who had a pay freeze or pay cut in 2012 was just 1% and -8% respectively. Public sector employees' response to the statement 'I feel valued as an employee' was -27%.

It is vital for senior leaders to lead from the front to champion employee engagement and for it be embraced by the entire organisation - especially line managers. This should be seen as a key part of overall organisational objectives to create a productive working culture.

Line managers should strive to ensure employees understand how they can develop and progress, with employees’ achievements and successes acknowledged and recognised.

Management styles should be continually evaluated and evolve to improve engagement. Line managers have the crucial responsibility of communicating effectively leadership vision to the front line and supporting employees to achieve their full potential.

Shifting cultures – the rise of generation Y

The need to adapt leadership and management style is even more critical with the shifting culture of today’s workforce, with generation Y taking up positions previously filled by the retiring baby boomer generation.

Gen Y employees typically seek a culture that encourages creative freedom, with less rigid policies and structures and consistent recognition for their achievements, in order to excel.

Effective internal communication is vital. Line management should seek to ensure employees feel engaged and are respected as key contributors to the organisation's strategic aims and vision.

In the CIPD spring 2013 Employee Outlook survey, response to the statement ‘They treat employees with respect’ scored -7%. Only 61% said they were satisfied with their relationship with their line manager.

Addressing this issue as part of the employee engagement strategy, and ensuring management styles and working culture/policies are adapted to suit the changing landscape, should be a top HR priority in order to compete for and retain top talent.

At Morgan Hunt our dedicated HR team has a wealth of HR recruitment experience, with specialist expertise recruiting widely across the public sector. We appreciate the essential function of HR and the importance of finding the right HR professionals – not only in terms of skills and experience, but also in terms of cultural fit and long-term development. To find out more contact us or call the team on 0207 419 8935.