Teacher recruitment and retention is not a government problem – it’s schools that need to embrace new technologies and adopt a servant-manager mentality, says David Cobb

The debates rage on about grammar schools, free schools and funding, but without dealing with teacher recruitment and retention, those policy debates are largely irrelevant.

These are the facts: by 2025, pupil numbers will swell by half a million and we’ll need over 25,000 more teachers in our schools. Yet we are missing our teacher training targets year on year, and more teachers than ever are leaving the profession. Hardly anyone seems to want to teach anymore and many of those that do have a pitifully low impression of the status of the profession.

Pretty sobering stuff. We really do need to find ways to make this a better career choice.

And yet, considering the scale and urgency of this impending crisis, there are precious few solutions or innovations mooted.

What is needed is action. Action at a policy level? Yes. Action at a regional level? Yes. Schools, universities and government need to collaborate urgently to develop NEW ways to create a teaching workforce that is fit for purpose.

I’ve yet to see truly professional talent management processes

Most importantly, schools themselves must take responsibility for their talent management processes and stop looking to central government for solutions (or more money). Having worked alongside schools for the last 15 years supporting their recruitment efforts, I’ve yet to see a truly professional series of talent management processes anywhere in the sector.

We need to effect a paradigm shift in the way school leaders attract, retain and develop talent within their organisations. Schools must professionalise their recruitment processes and adapt to the more cost-effective strategies and technologies that are now common in other sectors. Financial services, tech, retail – even the NHS has seen the light and embraced new approaches to recruitment and retention.

Globally, the recruitment industry is under increasing pressure in many business sectors as hiring companies harness new technologies and social media to fill their internal vacancies, rather than turning again and again to the expensive options of recruiters or expensive press advertising.  And yet, in education, these are still our first ports of call when we have a vacancy. Collectively, UK schools spend a whopping £250m on a combination of advertising and recruitment fees. But this is just good money after bad. The answer is not more money, it is more innovation.

Changing practices in recruitment is one thing. Changing attitudes towards retention is another.

In order to keep the teachers we recruit, we need to raise the status of the profession to its rightful position and promote wellbeing in the job to unlock the creativity, passion and discretionary effort that undoubtedly exists in the teaching workforce.

Simply put, we need to put the needs of our teaching talent at the top of the agenda. They are the assets that execute the service delivery of a school – teaching and learning. That is why our institutions exist.

Leaders must put the needs of their teachers first

We need radical new thinking and transformational service design to re-shape the hierarchical and bureaucratic structures of our schools so that all teachers can get on with the job of teaching and reconnect with the thing that drew them into the profession in the first place. That can only happen when you invest in them. For too long the school system has exploited the social responsibility and passionate ‘calling’ of teachers and ignored their professional and personal development journeys.

Teachers need more time, variety, stretch, support, challenge, advice, learning and progress built in to their role. We know this because they’ve been telling us for more than a decade. We need to go back to the drawing board to work out how we can deploy the available resources to create a better balance for our teachers’ lives.  Leaders must now be courageous and make talent management and professional learning their first priority.

Whilst effective leadership is critical to the success of a school, leadership teams must always remember that their function is principally one of support. The servant-manager principle has been almost universally adopted by business, yet many schools that I visit still prioritise the head’s cup of coffee over the French teacher’s lack of white board markers!

Leaders must put the needs of their teachers first. We know that, in order to create trust and cooperation in the staff team, leaders must create a culture of safety and job security. Creating professional learning journeys for all, that have talent management at their heart, is an essential first step.

David Cobb is CEO of Oceanova. A new Oceanova study in partnership with LKMco focuses on managing talent within the teaching workforce. Read the report here