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Attracting and keeping high quality staff

March 14, 2023, 12:48 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Making staff feel valued and understanding their concerns can be more important than pay
Attracting and keeping high quality staff

The best outcomes for pupils come from being taught consistently by experienced and well qualified staff.

This means that, regardless of how well run your school is, having high-quality teachers is vital to achieve the best results.

Thinking about how best to retain staff, as well as considering approaches to effective recruitment, is therefore a crucial aspect of school improvement.

The benefits of retention

Where teachers stay in a school longer term, this ensures consistency for pupils, and helps you build an effective team.

The ‘institutional memory’ of a school can be lost where high staff turnover is an issue, with new teachers constantly having to learn the school’s policies, ethos and approaches. 

Retention is also important because of the cost and difficulty of recruiting new staff, especially at present. Unfortunately, schools in areas of disadvantage experience more difficulty recruiting staff than those in affluent areas.

A Sutton Trust report found that 85% of teachers in disadvantaged schools felt that their school’s quality of education was affected by high staff turnover and difficulties in recruitment. 

Research into teacher recruitment and retention

Research by RAND Europe, commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics, looked at factors influencing teacher retention in England.

It found that pay and rewards were important for retaining staff. However, workplace characteristics such as the working environment and a focus on minimising workload were often valued more highly by teachers than financial benefits.

A report on teacher recruitment and retention in England, published by the House of Commons Library in December 2022, noted that the overall number of qualified teachers has not kept pace with the number of pupils over the last decade.

Postgraduate teacher recruitment is 29% below target for the latest academic year, after relatively high recruitment in the previous two years, due to the pandemic. Some subjects are suffering from particularly low recruitment levels, with physics 83% below target.

The government has been using bursaries and scholarships to encourage both recruitment and retention. However, issues around workload persist, and impact negatively on retention, with 53% of primary teachers and 59% of lower secondary teachers currently feeling that workload is ‘unmanageable’.

Teacher retention concerns

A survey by the NEU in April 2022 showed a worrying picture of teacher retention in the profession. The survey found that 44% of England’s state-school teachers plan to quit within five years, with 22% intending to leave within two years.

Schools are also struggling to fill vacant posts, with more teachers being asked to double up their roles to fill gaps.

The figures in the survey are broadly in line with the DfE’s statistics, which show a two-year retention rate post qualifying of just over 80% and 41% of teachers leaving the profession within 10 years of entering it.

Retention and CPD: the Early Career Framework

As part of its recruitment and retention strategy, the Department for Education introduced the Early Career Framework (ECF), a two-year package of structured support and training for new teachers.

High-quality CPD can act as a protective factor for retention within the profession. However, the ECF is currently experiencing teething problems.

A survey carried out by Teacher Tapp and the Gatsby Foundation found that four in five early career teachers (ECTs) and mentors say the training they have received was not well-designed.

Most ECTs currently see the Framework as a burden, with 72% saying it adds a lot to their workload, and 65% of mentors saying it adds too much to the workload of their ECT.

Mentors are not currently being given sufficient support to help implement the training programme, with nearly half saying that they did not get additional non-contact time to work with ECTs. Four in five mentors say the requirements of being a mentor have added a lot to their workload. 

Incentives for retention

Characteristics of the workplace, such workload management, school culture, teaching environment, opportunities for progression and the quality of CPD all have an influence on staff retention. As your most important resource, your staff need you to support their wellbeing and minimise their workload. 

Teachers who feel valued are more likely to be open with you about their plans, because of a sense of loyalty to the school. For instance, they might let you know that they are thinking of applying for a promotion at another school, giving you additional time to recruit a suitable replacement.

Recruiting and retaining high-quality staff has a strong impact on disadvantaged children’s outcomes, so schools can use pupil premium funds to support this work. 

Getting recruitment right

With fewer teachers in the recruitment marketplace, it is important to market your school effectively to potential candidates.

Your school website is your ‘shop front’ and the place where applicants start to get a feel for what your school is like. Have a section listing the latest vacancies and consider including video clips to give a better sense of the workplace.

When advertising vacancies, consider how you might emphasise the benefits that you can offer the candidate, as well as what you want them to offer your school. Highlight the work you do to reduce teacher workload in your school and talk about opportunities for career progression. 

Local opportunities

A recent Sutton Trust report, called the Recruitment Gap, identified that only a small percentage (10%) of staff would consider moving any distance for a ‘dream job’. Most teachers willing to move to pursue career opportunities are younger and less likely to have family ties. 

Experienced teachers are more likely to be attached to a specific area and less likely to move to find new roles, meaning that local recruitment strategies are key to recruiting experienced staff.

For instance, using local press and local Facebook or parent WhatsApp groups, as well as more traditional outlets such as the TES, Schools Week and Indeed.

Helping Staff Feel Valued
Key strategies for teacher retention:

  • Minimise demands that cause workload, such as requests for data collection
  • Use a verbal feedback policy to minimise marking workload
  • Have a policy about not answering emails outside of working hours
  • Where teachers take on additional roles, such as being an ECT mentor, consider how to minimise other parts of their workload
  • Offer staff time off to attend important family events, such as primary school nativity plays
  • Offer access to services that support staff wellbeing, such as free gym membership
  • Provide day-to-day benefits, such as free tea/coffee/biscuits
  • Fund an end of term meal to show staff how much you value them
  • Offer flexible working as a powerful incentive to retain staff
  • Although 40% of women in the UK workforce work part time, this is only the case for 28% of female teachers. Increasing options for flexible working practices can increase equity and improve retention and recruitment.

Sue Cowley is a teacher, author, trainer and keynote speaker. She has taught in all phases of education and has helped manage her local early years setting for over a decade.