School taps rich vein of recruits by mining the system

Fourteen teachers at a remote school are new appointments, recruited using a combination of staffing strategies. Linda Doherty reports.

Image: Go west: New teachers at Lightning Ridge Central School, from left, Tim Wykes (relocated from Wagga Wagga), Amy Flaherty (Maitland), Damian Flaherty (Maitland), Josie Hughes (beginning teacher), Peta Wykes (Wagga Wagga), Stuart Bailey (Singleton), Jennifer Pickard (Newcastle), Kali Ratu (Lake Cargellico), Bec Jarvis (Shoalhaven), principal Richard Finter, Olivia Clark (Sydney), Trudy Spargo (Northern Rivers), Zoe Treweeke (Hebel), and Tim Flaus (Bowral). Absent: Josie Cargnoni.

Lightning Ridge Central School principal Richard Finter leaves no stone unturned to attract staff to the outback school, starting his recruitment drive in Term 2 for the following year.

He uses traditional methods like the JobFeed Service to share available opportunities at his school, expressions of interest, merit selection and the statewide transfer system, as well as specific recruitment strategies offered by the NSW Department of Education including the Rural Experience Program and the Graduate Recruitment Program, social media, personal connections and word-of-mouth.

The results speak for themselves: When the western division schools returned this week, the new teachers at Lightning Ridge Central School accounted for one-quarter of the teaching staff – with just one more position to fill.

“I’m quite proud of the fact that when I find these teachers, we often keep them,” Mr Finter said.

“When I’m selling the school, I also highlight the qualities of the community. Potential staff are curious about Lightning Ridge, partly accounted for by the reality TV show ‘Outback Opal Hunters’.

“Lightning Ridge welcomes newcomers with open arms and that makes the transition for new staff much easier.”

The 14 teachers for the Kindergarten to Year 12 school, who include executive head teachers and casual relief teachers, have been recruited from across NSW – from Sydney, the Central Coast, the South Coast, Southern Highlands, Northern Rivers, the Riverina - and from Hebel in Queensland. Last year two teachers were recruited from Geelong in Victoria and Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory.

The department’s staffing strategies support schools in a range of locations throughout NSW, in addition to generous financial incentives for teachers keen to work in rural and remote public schools.

From the Rural Experience Program, for example, Mr Finter recruited two head teachers. This program offers existing permanent, temporary and casual teachers the opportunity to relocate to a rural location for one or more terms. “The Rural Experience Program is like a circuit breaker for teachers who want a change to see what it’s like,” he said.

The school also has high-performing teachers recruited from the Graduate Recruitment Program. This year a record 4,500 new graduates received their approval to teach in NSW public schools, with nearly 900 new graduates taking up permanent roles in Term 1.

Mr Finter arranges internal transfers of existing permanent teachers from schools all around NSW, always looking for school staff committed to rural and remote education in the long term, or those who want to have a taste of outback education in the famous opal mining town.

“I rely on the goodwill of principals so their teachers can get experience in remote areas. They have a strong attitude of working for the system, not just for their school,” he said.

The school happily hosts initial teacher education students from universities for rural practicums with students able to access financial support from the Department. It also has a special relationship with the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, last year hosting four university students on professional placement mentored by a Lightning Ridge Central School music teacher, who is a graduate of the ‘Con’.

There are husband and wife teaching teams and teachers who moved to Lightning Ridge when their partner was transferred there, such as the Irish teacher of English whose husband is the local police sergeant.

Mr Finter is a fan of Facebook to target specific teaching areas. Last year he asked a colleague to post on a national Facebook page for food technology teachers when he was looking for a Hospitality VET teacher.

“Within five minutes of posting, I’d had a message from this brilliant teacher who had run her own restaurant in Geelong and was an experienced teacher in Victorian education and TAFE,” he said.

“I’m always thinking of new ways to find staff and I get great support from my DEL, Chris Jackson, and the department’s school workforce teams.”

Mr Jackson said he knew of at least two teachers who came out west for the teaching and lifestyle experience and were now principals in the Western Plains Principal Network.

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