The ‘significant challenge’ of teacher recruitment and retention

Recruiting and retaining quality staff is key to providing the best education for students. According to the Education Select Committee, for schools – as well as the next government – teacher recruitment will remain a ‘significant challenge’. Michael Pain, director and consultant at Forum Education, considers the ins and outs of recruitment and shares some valuable pointers

There is no greater factor in the success of any school or academy trust than the quality of its staff. Indeed, we know from years of research into school improvement that if we can attract and hold onto well-qualified, passionate, and committed people in the profession, then we have secured the first fundamental building block for achieving great outcomes for pupils.

Yet, as the education sector finds itself distracted by peripheral discussions around issues such as grammar schools or universal free school meals, it is failing to provide a strategic plan for recruiting and retaining the very best people to serve children. School leaders tell us of how they are increasingly struggling to fill vacancies and it was confirmed late last year that almost a third of the new teachers who started jobs in English state schools in 2010 had left the sector five years later.

It’s time to look for solutions and to invest in recruitment and retention

In failing to address the recruitment and retention challenge head on we are not only losing sight of the greatest lever for school improvement, but we are doing so at the worst possible time.

The perfect storm

Here’s why. Schools are currently facing a ‘perfect storm’ of lagging pay, rising pupil numbers – particularly in the secondary sector, a steady decline in the population of new graduates between now and 2022, a relatively healthy wider economy – and therefore competition from other sectors for top graduates, and a generally poor perception of both workload and accountability within the profession.

This all comes at a time when the premium on innovation and creativity in education is growing further still – not least because of the influence of factors such as technology, flexible employment, and globalization. As such, our education sector must draw upon the very best talent available to prepare children for a fast-changing world. It’s time to look for solutions and to invest in recruitment and retention.

Today’s young graduates generally want to be ‘agents of change’ and work for organisations that demonstrate purpose and where work has meaning

Recruit to retain

Whilst there is more that government can do – and a more strategic response is needed, we are urging leaders to think carefully about how – within the challenging parameters they face – they can do their best to not only meet the recruitment and retention challenge, but attract the very best talent available – anywhere.

We believe that rather than relying on ad hoc support from recruitment agencies – which can also be expensive – or waiting for solutions from government, school leaders should be less reactive and more strategic in developing and marketing their organisations’ reputation as ‘employers of choice’.

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Employers of choice

Where do schools begin? We strongly encourage leaders (and governors) to consider the research around what factors attract and retain talented people and then use this to inform organisational strategy. These factors are wide ranging.

First and foremost – and encouragingly for schools – today’s young graduates generally want to be ‘agents of change’ and work for organisations that demonstrate purpose and where work has meaning. That means developing an organisational vision that truly inspires and engages others in how our schools are preparing children to thrive, both now and in the future.

Room for development

Today’s graduates are also very attracted by organisations that are able to articulate clear career pathways from the outset – reinforced by wide ranging talent management and professional development opportunities; they want access to credible coaches and mentors to inform their ongoing growth and development; and they want to work for organisations where they can readily experience different contexts and challenges (rather than being confined to one role for too long).

Because they do have the benefit of scale and a degree of internal flexibility, academy trusts must be looking hard at how they can provide and articulate a wide-range of opportunities

Invested interests

Finally, they want to feel invested in, which – yes – does mean good remuneration where possible, but also means benefiting from initiatives such as (but not limited to) subsidised childcare, health insurance or a degree of flexible working.

The time is right

I believe that many academy trusts and other schools working in deep partnerships are in a strong position to offer many of these elements that are so attractive to this new and talented generation of employees.

Indeed, many trusts are already doing a great deal to put in place some or all of these factors – not least in terms of their CPD offers through teaching school alliances. However, because they do have the benefit of scale and a degree of internal flexibility, academy trusts must be looking hard at how they can provide and articulate a wide-range of opportunities for secondments and job-swaps, coaching and mentoring, and membership of professional networks.

How do we truly become an ‘employer of choice’?

They must also be better at articulating employee benefits, as well as how they can and do spread the workload (and therefore support work life balance and wellbeing) through partnership working.

When opportunity knocks

It’s my view that many trusts and schools are not yet fully capitalising on this opportunity or being strategic enough in how they inspire a new generation of graduates with the opportunities (including the chance to make a difference) and advantages that a career in education can provide.

There is more work to be done to compete with other sectors. As the ‘perfect storm’ approaches, the time has never been more critical for leaders, governing boards and others to fully engage with the question – how do we truly become an ‘employer of choice’?

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