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NFER Sept 2020
NFER Sept 2020

How to hold onto your best staff

September 15, 2020, 14:11 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Want to improve your teacher retention rate? Simon Hepburn takes a look at the issue
How to hold onto your best staff

There’s no doubt that it’s getting harder to recruit teachers. While the problem has existed for longer and is more severe in secondary schools, an increasing number of primary heads are seeing fewer applications for jobs and more teachers pulling out of the recruitment process, even on the day of interview.

And while the COVID pandemic may eventually lead to more people considering teaching, in the short term it is causing significant disruption to teacher training as well as increasing stress levels for many teachers and heads.

With this in mind, it has never been more important for schools to consider how to keep their existing staff. But how can you ensure this?

The key is making your school a ‘great place to work’ – somewhere that people are happy and productive. And the knock-on effect will be that as word spreads round the teaching community, people will want to come and work for you – reducing future recruitment issues!

In the early 2000s a booming economy led to employers having difficulty recruiting employees across many sectors. At the time I wrote a report called ‘Why Don’t People Want to Work for Us’ following research with eight blue chip companies.

The report concluded that there were four key factors that companies needed to focus on to recruit and retain the best employees.

  • Values
    Are people ‘doing socially valuable work or given the opportunity to do this alongside other work’?
  • Culture
    Are employees ‘treated with honesty, fairness and trust?’
  • Organisational Health
    Is the school or trust ‘successful, growing and offering opportunities for the future’?
  • People Policies
    Are organisations ‘listening to employees and giving them the right support’ – from financial rewards to development, training and flexible working opportunities?

What can schools offer in each of these areas?

Values
Schools will score highly in this area by default because of the tremendous social impact every school makes! However, this can be lost in the day-to-day pressures of the job. Make sure you take time out to celebrate your achievements and the impact you are having on your local community – perhaps when you are celebrating the end of each term, take some time to look back at the great things that have happened! It’s been great to see many of these schools coming together to produce positive, celebratory staff videos during lockdown, for example.

Involving staff in setting your school’s vision and direction and creating and monitoring your values will also mean that they are likely to feel a greater sense of belonging to the school.

Culture
Creating a supportive and open culture contributes significantly to staff retention. This starts with listening to your staff – either formally through staff surveys, a staff council or focus groups, or informally by having a real ‘open-door’ policy where people can share their concerns.

Introducing ‘exit interviews’, ideally with an independent professional or perhaps a governor can also identify any common issues that can be addressed.

Schools might find teachers concerned about high workload, student behaviour and issues with the working environment – from concerns about health and safety to everyday issues such as lack of time or space to have a proper meal at lunchtime.

Once the school has received this feedback it’s so important to act on it to the extent that finance and time allows. To take one example, a school might introduce a policy where any additional activity that requires teachers to do more work must be balanced by removing the same amount of work. Or the school might set up a group to investigate the many schools who are reducing or eliminating extensive marking.

Finally, make sure that decisions are fed back and explained to staff. Even in a small school it is important not to assume that people will see changes!

Organisational Health
It’s important to realise that many teachers are looking for career development opportunities and will move school to find them, even if they are happy in their current roles.

What you can offer will depend somewhat on what type of school you are and the links you have within a local authority, multi-academy trust or other type of federation – but ensuring that all staff have access to high quality personal development and publicising internal promotions will help.

One trust that has a good record in this area is the Learning for Life Partnership in Cheshire, where ‘Staff Development for All’ is one of the stated aims of the trust. CEO Dan Thomas told me, “as we grow, we have already found many opportunities to draw on the strengths of our schools to develop staff in all roles and at all levels, helping us create a strong and stable team for the future.”

Examples of innovative development at the trust include holding a job open for a primary school teacher who had the opportunity to teach in Italy for a year, creating cross-MAT roles for teachers in CPD and school improvement roles, and helping admin staff through teacher training.

Another way to help retain staff in this area is to raise the profile of your school locally or nationally so that staff feel proud of teaching there. This might involve taking part in research projects with local universities, presenting at conferences such as ResearchED or entering competitions such as the EdTech50.

People policies
Schools are under severe financial pressure, and it might be difficult to see how you can make your school stand out from others in this area. However, there are a number of interesting schemes to investigate that might just make a real difference. These include:

  • Flexible working
    This is often seen as just meaning job-shares but there are other ways to see this including letting people take time off for family events, and even (if controversially) ‘duvet days’ where teachers can take time off at short notice!
  • Sabbaticals
    These are rarely offered in the UK but are common in other countries such as Israel, where teachers can take a year off for paid professional development after six or seven years.
  • Salary sacrifice
    Childcare voucher schemes were closed to new entrants from 2018 but bike-to-work schemes are still popular and from April 2020 there have been major savings available on electric car schemes.
  • Relaxation and wellbeing
    Can you offer your staff social events (e.g. theatre trips, book groups, walking clubs), access to school sporting facilities or changing facilities for those who cycle or run to work?

How do you know it’s working?

It is important to check the impact of your work on retention. The most important metric is your overall teacher turnover rate, although it’s important to make allowances for individual situations within that – for example a number of staff retiring at the same time.

You should also regularly repeat surveys or focus groups in order to see how your staff’s perceptions of the school are changing.

How to improve retention in your school

  • Celebrate your school’s work.
  • Listen to your staff.
  • Show you are dealing with their concerns.
  • Offer great CPD.
  • Raise your school’s profile locally and nationally.
  • Promote from within.
  • Be innovative with benefits.
  • Track turnover rates.

Simon Hepburn combines teaching with training, consulting for schools on marketing issues, including teacher recruitment, and is the author of Recruiting Teachers.

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