The Retention Crisis is seldom spoken about, especially compared to its more prominent twin, The Recruitment Crisis. Nonetheless, the figures associated with Retention Crisis are deeply unsettling.

Eager to understand the story behind these figures and the optimal response strategies, we were fortunate enough to attend an eclectic smattering of talks on the subject at the Schools and Academies Show 2019. Our main takeaways are outlined below.

‘Panel Discussion: Recruitment Crisis – How Can We Attract and Retain Teachers?’

Russell Hobby (CEO, Teach First)

  • Retention and recruitment challenges are continuous with each other. The same issues that are pushing experienced teachers out of the profession could very well be the same ones failing to pull prospective candidates in.
  • Retaining teachers in the workforce is less about reducing workload per se, and more about reducing unnecessary work. Teachers seem happy enough to sink many hours into projects they view as valuable – from planning school trips to curriculum design. They’re considerably less happy about engaging in tasks of spurious value, such as odious and excessive data-entry and marking practices.
  • The uneven distribution of retention and recruitment challenges in the UK is partly a product of a free labour market for teachers. This is uncommon in other developed nations, where teachers are employed directly by the state and deployed based on needs of local areas. Local recruitment issues are thus a significantly smaller problem. The challenge is to figure out how we can achieve a similar effect without compromising the virtues of a fluid labour market.

Emma Hubball (Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, Department for Education)

  • Having listened extensively to teachers and industry expects, the DfE recognises the need for improved access to flexible working options in teaching. Part of this push will involve schools sharing case studies of flexible working done well alongside timetabling and resource management tech solutions.
  • The plethora of available Initial Teacher Training routes can confuse and dissuade candidates. A simpler, parsimonious access solution is required.
  • The Early Career Framework will be an important part of retaining early career teachers, but ensuring that the scheme isn’t excessively burdensome for schools will be vital.

‘How to Improve Staff Wellbeing and Reduce Turnover’

Dan Morrow (CEO, Woodland Academy Trust)

  • Teacher wellbeing is intrinsically valuable – but that shouldn’t make us forget the instrumental benefits of high teacher wellbeing on staff retention and performance.
  • When instituting his suite of policies to improve staff wellbeing, Morrow consulted with all of his staff. Although time-consuming, it overtly communicated to all staff that their views are valuable and their wellbeing a priority. As such, the consultation itself may have played a causal role in improving recruitment and retention at the Trust.
  • Relatively small short-term investments can yield major long-term gains. Staff at Morrow’s Woodland Academy Trust are entitled to three ‘wellbeing days’ a year, which can be taken at a teacher’s discretion. The cost of managing such a process is greatly outweighed by the savings on running an annual recruitment drive and managing unplanned absences. Indeed, the Trust saw staff retention increase from 63% to 97% over the course of the academic year of such policies being introduced; equally the number of days lost to sickness dropped from 11% to 6.5%.

Final Thoughts

Retention and recruitment are two sides of the same coin. This becomes even more apparent when we interpret ‘retention’ in a broad sense, keeping teachers in a situation where they are able, and more likely, to return to the classroom. Realising this broad interpretation of retention will involve better opportunities for flexible and part-time working, as well as strong positive contact between individual schools and pools of local teachers. EdTech may have some role to play in this, but a genuine desire to keep the right teachers in the right schools will be the main driver of such improvement