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Teacher Recruitment And Retention – Keep Your Staff, And Keep Them Happy

August 21, 2017, 9:31 GMT+1
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  • If they want to attract and retain primary teachers, school leaders need to be more human and less corporate...
Teacher Recruitment And Retention – Keep Your Staff, And Keep Them Happy

Teachers are becoming as precious as gold dust – perhaps because there isn’t enough sprinkled in their pay packets for the job they do and the hours they work. But research into teacher retention by the National Foundation for Educational Research has found that pay isn’t the key to retaining teachers; job satisfaction, being valued by supportive management, feeling part of a school community and being proud of where they work are all more likely to make teachers stay. Leaders should take these findings on board.

Too many schools have become unattractive places to work precisely because they fail to make teachers feel valued or supported. The rise of a corporate approach to delivering education – where ‘results’ are all that matters and ‘failure’ often leads to punitive measures – has been well and truly ushered in.

The 1988 Education Reform Act introduced market-led processes and solutions into schools. These led to the high stakes accountability of a corporate ‘compliance’ culture, prompting many leaders to adopt top-down, coercive leadership styles to ensure they stayed in their jobs. More recently we’ve seen the academy model, under which a number of academies have adopted corporate approaches associated with their business sponsors.

Numerous school leaders report feeling trapped in a system that’s squeezing the life out of both themselves and their learners, as highlighted in the recent ATL-AMiE report, ‘Business as usual: the increasing corporatisation of education leadership and management’ (see amie-business). The report summarises the impact that following a business agenda has had on leadership thinking, and points out what needs to change if we’re to create workplaces that teachers actually wish to work in.

University of Warwick research cited in the report shows that many individuals in middle and senior leadership received no support upon entering management. While many leaders remain committed to the moral purpose of education, excessive workloads combined with a lack of support and professional development make it difficult for them to live up to their values.

Business practices can be beneficial if they are conducive to learner outcomes and teacher well-being. Companies across the private sector are increasingly reaping the benefits of building trust in their workforces rather than fear, and are gradually recognising the need for incentives that encourage staff to join, stay and develop. There is good corporate practice out there that can benefit primary schools and teachers if similar models are adopted.

The problem is that too many of the business practices imported into primary education have been the wrong ones, such as micromanagement, performance-related pay and cut-throat competitiveness. These are divisive and dehumanising approaches often adopted for short-term performance gains, but are strongly associated with increased staff mental illness, high sickness rates, reduced collaboration and workplace bullying.

They are approaches that have prompted people to leave the profession, served to widen inequality of educational outcomes (due to the priorities placed on pupils expected to perform well in assessment) and are symptomatic of an ethical vacuum that’s harming pupils, staff and the profession.

Mark Wright is the director of AmiE – the leadership section of the ATL union representing school leaders and managers. A new AMiE booklet, ‘Leading in Tough Times’, explores different types of ethical leadership and how a leader’s ethics may be tested. For more details, visit or follow @atl_amie