Education recruiters Marie Tormey and India Kapur felt large recruitment firms were serving schools and children poorly, so they set up their own venture in Liverpool. Tony McDonough reports
Most large recruitment companies will insist they work hard to match the right person to the right job in terms of experience and qualifications.
And, for the most part, that is probably technically true. But when your job is to hire teachers for schools the bar is raised and comes with a wider social responsibility, or at least it should be. As Marie Tormey says: You are looking for teachers who will inspire, engage and enthuse children.”
Marie is co-founder of Liverpool-based MAT Recruitment along with India Kapur. Between them the pair have amassed 28 years working in the education recruitment sector, mainly for larger corporates. And they felt the way they were having to work could sometimes lead to standards being compromised.
India explained: “When you work for a large organisation you are too often driven by KPIs (key performance indicators). There was a lot of pressure to satisfy the client from the organisation by finding any teacher to fill the role. But it meant that we didn’t feel like we were always making the right ethical decisions.”
So in February 2018, they took the plunge and launched MAT Recruitment. And, despite a few early setbacks, the business has gone from strength to strength with support from Liverpool City Region Enterprise Hub via The Women’s Organisation in Liverpool. It’s a venture that is aware of its wider responsibilities to society.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, MAT has grown headcount with four people, including Marie and India, now in the business. Rather than just putting bums on seats, MAT will go the extra mile to ensure the right teacher is being placed in the right school.
“We would rather say to a school ‘I’m sorry I don’t think we can help you on this occasion’ rather than taking their money,” she said. “We don’t comprise on our standards. Our philosophy is always the same – profit with purpose. We are, and we will always strive to be, a values-led ethical business.
“You often hear of good teachers leaving the profession altogether. It doesn’t always have to be like that. Too often the problem is they are not in the right school. Most of the time, people don’t leave jobs that they are happy in.”
MAT works with individual schools and academy trust across the UK. It helps to place teachers as well as other educational staff such as HR, finance, facilities and support staff. It offers a personalised service to candidates. Time and care is taken to understand their career history and own aspirations.
India said: We take considerable time to discuss challenges they may have faced in their careers. We write a personalised profile for each candidate that highlights their key achievements and successes. Writing this profile gives confidence to the candidate that we understand who they are as a person and a professional.”
“We recruit more than just an individual who meets the job description,” added Marie. “Our responsibility is not just to the candidate and to the school, it is to the children as well. We believe we have to put the teacher in their classroom that they deserve.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the education system with children away from their classrooms for weeks and months at a time due to multiple lockdowns. This has led to fears of long-term effects on young people.
Both Marie and India acknowledge but add they have found the resilience and adaptability of both schools and children to be awe-inspiring. Both are active school governors in Liverpool and can offer insights on the education sector from multiple perspectives.
“Schools and children have done a fantastic job in adapting to the pandemic,” said India. “During the first lockdown there was a gap between the children who were getting access to teaching and those that weren’t.
“However, that has now changed significantly. This time around, schools are much better organised and they are offering online structured timetables. They have really upped their understanding of what the technology can do.
“At MAT we have provided a fully-staffed virtual school with tutors across a number of subject areas for a large multi academy trust. This has been specifically aimed at year 11 students and is helping to fill gaps in knowledge. It has been a really big piece of work for us.”
Marie offered her own insight into how that has impacted on her own family. With two school-age children, she is balancing running the business with making sure the children are taking part in their online lessons.
She explained: “I think we have underestimated how resilient children are. My daughter now has a full structured online curriculum. What she misses is the social aspect – the chats with friends she would have in the corridors between lessons. But, like so many, she has adapted to the reality.
“It is not perfect. There is, of course, issues with children getting access to the correct IT equipment. Some are viewing lessons on their mobile phones and that is not ideal. We have been offering a huge amount of support to schools during the pandemic helping them understand how to get the most out of the technology.”
Although both Marie and India were experienced and accomplished professionals in their field, there is much more to starting and running a business which is where the support of Enterprise Hub proved invaluable.
India said: “Enterprise Hub helped us a lot with structure. Both Marie and I know our stuff when it comes to recruitment but there are other things you have to consider – marketing, accounts etc. It helped us to step back and look at areas we needed to focus on. There were things we probably would have got around to but with their help we got there sooner.”
And, talking about the learning curve of starting a business, Marie added: “We went into this with our eyes open. We are self-funded and we had a clear budgeting strategy to enable growth and sustainability.
“I think you have to have faith in your own abilities and be prepared to learn from your mistakes. We have certainly had our setbacks. Those situations test your resolve but we have always kept the faith in what we do, and refused to compromise on our principles and standards”.
“Both India and I bring different skill sets to the business and we have a lot of confidence in the two people we have taken on. They have really bought in to what we are trying to achieve. We are two hard working professionals who had a dream and wanted to create something unique within our industry. Our aim is to ensure that our values continue to drive the growth of MAT Recruitment.”
If you are thinking of starting a business in the Liverpool city region or have a new business under three years old, you can speak to the Enterprise Hub team via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0151 706 8113. Enterprise Hub is part funded by European Regional Development Fund and is free to access.