retaining teachers: keeping quality in classrooms.

As school pupil numbers in the UK continue to rise having enough teachers in our classrooms to provide students with an education is more vital than ever. 

Between January 2016 and January 2017 the number of pupils across all school types rose by 110,000. Although most of this increase was still in primary schools with 74,500 more pupils in January 2017 than 12 months earlier.

There was also an increase in secondary schools where numbers increased by almost 29,000 while in special schools there were 4,400 more pupils than the year before. 

Recruitment will play a key role to ensure classroom sizes don't swell but as more children enter school head teachers must also prioritise retention.

Reasons teachers leave.

Between January and March 2017, the Department for Education (DfE) carried out an online survey targeted at former teachers. It focused on discovering the range of reasons for leaving teaching and exploring the current employment status of ex-teachers.

 More than 3,500 respondents replied saying workload, government policy and lack of support from leadership were the three main reasons for leaving teaching. Not only this, but 85% of respondents said that they didn’t plan to go back into teaching, or were undecided about returning to the profession.

Following on from this initial survey, the DfE commissioned CooperGibson Research (CGR) to conduct further in-depth research into understanding teacher retention: why are teachers leaving, and what would encourage them to return to the classroom?

Teacher workload.

Their research found that workload remains the most important factor in influencing teachers to leave the profession, but that decisions to leave were generally driven by the accumulation of a number of factors building up over time.

However, for some of the teachers interviewed there was a specific moment that triggered them to choose to leave, such as involvement from their school’s senior leadership team in reaction to their teaching performance, feeling undervalued after a performance issue was addressed, or due to a behavioural incident involving pupils and parents/carers.  

It was also found that early career teachers (those who have been in the profession for fewer than five years) made the decision to leave teaching typically within three months of first considering going.

On the other hand more experienced teachers were more likely to spend longer considering their decision: over one to two years. These findings suggest that more may need to be done to support teachers who are beginning their careers in education.

Retaining quality teachers.

With figures released by UCAS last year showing that 6,510 less people had applied for teaching by 18th December 2017 than by 19th December 2016, it’s important to take steps to keep teachers already in the profession committed to staying in it. 

When discussing what changes could be put in place by schools to encourage retention, the responses from both primary and secondary teachers involved in CGR’s research highlighted that most weren't looking for a fundamental change to their roles.

However, they suggested solutions be centred on reducing workload, consideration of wellbeing, and for effective support at school level to be available. Some more detailed ideas for encouraging teachers to stay in the profession included:

  • improving in-school support for teachers. This could come from schools’ SLTs, by providing greater support in managing pupil behaviour and building stronger relationships between teacher and SLT members. The teachers interviewed suggested that by building these relationships, feelings of pressure around accountability and workload may be reduced.
  • greater focus on progression opportunities. By giving teachers the opportunity to see where their career could take them, it may encourage them to plan to stay in the profession for longer. This could be supported by looking at examples of how multi-academy trusts develop alternative subject progression pathways, or considering job role swaps within schools.
  • reducing workload at a school level. As expected, for most teachers interviewed, a significant reduction in workload would have made them reconsider leaving. This could be tackled by providing support to schools to implement the recommendations of the Workload Review Group, and supporting teachers to plan and mark work efficiently. 
  • improved working conditions. Interviewed teachers viewed flexible working and part time contracts positively in encouraging teacher retention. It was also suggested that pay levels were not reflective of teachers’ expertise and experience - so, grants/funding for teacher training and better pay incentives could encourage teachers to stay.
  • professional recognition and greater autonomy. Teachers felt that if they were given greater respect and trust by senior leaders, they would feel more valued in the profession. 

Will they return to teaching? 

Of the 80 teachers interviewed in phase two of CGR’s research, half said they would never consider returning to the profession, mainly as they felt that the issues that caused them to leave in the first place were still there.

However, nearly one-fifth were actually still working in education, for example, by supply teaching and many had not ruled out returning to the education sector in some context.

This result suggests that although more needs to be done to retain teachers, there are educators who are still committed to working in the sector.

As an employer, we know how important it is for you to fill your vacancies with staff who are dedicated to working in your school. That’s why we’re here to provide you with an extensive database of top class talent, and advise you on how you can keep your teachers engaged and enthusiastic.

As a recruitment agency, we are also here to ensure that your staff remain motivated in their roles, by making sure that they are fully equipped to do their roles. One of the ways we do this is through our blend of practical and online training courses.

Our candidates have access to training on first aid, manual handling, team teach, prevent training, safeguarding children in education and much more. Click here to view the full list of courses on offer.
By working with us, you can focus on what you do best: making sure that your students are receiving the best education possible.


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