Recruitment and retention

Enticing teachers to stay works better with underwear than handcuffs

Teachers need confidence-building and support to flourish – not tying down in questionable environments

Teachers need confidence-building and support to flourish – not tying down in questionable environments

22 Jan 2024, 5:00

We can’t recruit our way out of this crisis. I don’t need to rehearse the figures. Secondary recruitment is at best 71 per cent of target. There were 93 per cent more vacancies advertised last year than before Covid. As well as recruiting, we have to retain. We need to keep the 92 per cent of the 15,000-20,000 teacher who leave for reasons other than retirement, every year. We have to value, keep and build up the teachers we have. 

There are two inextricably linked ways of doing this: One is quality CPD, the other is a quality workplace. 

The PTI was set up by the former Prince of Wales twenty-one years ago. We support teachers in hundreds of schools every year at all stages of their career. Our focus is specific and simple: subject expertise and subject teaching. Using academics, public experts, practitioners and experts we enable thousands of teachers every year to rediscover and reinforce their passion.

The link between good CPD and teacher retention is well established, from Education Support’s 2023 report on workload to Ofsted’s review of teacher professional development in schools to the Welcome Trust’s 2022 CPD Challenge recommendation that government should embed an entitlement to high-quality CPD for all teachers. 

The PTI commissioned the ProBono Economics 2022 report Learning to Save to specify the investment needed. Their detailed findings said a 35-hour annual entitlement to teacher CPD could retain 12,000 more teachers a year – neatly matching the need for new teachers we’ll have in secondary next year. 

So what is quality CPD? Ofsted say it shares insights, sets goals, teaches techniques, embeds practice, focuses on outcomes, evidence and expertise and makes teachers more expert. That’s some workload in itself – and surprisingly easy to do badly. Whose insights? What goals? Which techniques? What outcomes and evidence? To what end? 

Perhaps that’s why so many teachers told the workload report that they try to do other things during training: planning, marking – anything rather than sink beneath shifting, impenetrable jargon. 

No amount of quick fixes can rescue our profession

Quality training is a bit like top-notch underwear: it holds and supports teachers and gives them confidence to face the world. It’s not jerry-built on short-term goals to big up the school and it’s not shackled to someone else’s Ofsted agenda. It’s authentic, deep and meaningful. 

Quality training makes you want to rush back to school to try it out and tell everyone about it. It helps you make sense of your world and reconnects you with your deepest purpose and motivations for being a teacher.

Last year, the PTI hosted a virtual event emphasizing the crucial role of CPD in enhancing educational standards. Professor Becky Francis CBE, CEO of the Education Endowment Foundation, highlighted the importance of quality teaching for significant impact on learning, underscoring the need for effective professional development.

This kind of training has to be specific to be useful, deeply rooted in the signature pedagogies of subjects, their rhythms and integrities. Leaders have to trust teachers to dig deeply into their shared knowledge and expertise: it can’t be done generically. Maths teachers need maths, geographers, geography. 

Experienced teachers are revitalised this way and – the PTI knows – are more likely to stay for the long term. Meanwhile, new teachers are encouraged by their vocation and feel equally valued as whole professionals embarking on career-long thinking, collaboration, planning and evaluation. 

But this kind of quality professional development can only be fully effective in a quality workplace, one that places high trust in teachers. Viviane Robinson says that leaders need courage, integrity, respect and honesty. The Framework for Ethical Leadership in Education goes further. We need selflessness, trust, wisdom and openness too to support teachers in their collaborative professionalism and set them free to nourish themselves as experts.

No amount of quick-fix bursaries, workload hacks or divisive pay differentials can rescue our profession. Five-year golden handcuffs are still handcuffs. Who wouldn’t run for the hills when they’re taken off? 

No, the key to retention is in all our hands: collaborative expertise and professional trust. Give teachers their 35 hours, and make them good.

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