The numbers quitting teaching are becoming a full-blown crisis. David Weston presents five solutions that might stem the tide
As a basis for a strategy to attract and keep teachers in our schools, Professor Dylan Wiliam’s approach, “love the ones you’re with”, is bang on.
We certainly need some overarching strategy to deal with, what the Public Accounts Committee noted last week as the “growing sense of crisis” at schools struggling to retain and develop their teachers.
The government needs to create a “coherent plan” by April, they recommend, plus set out what represents an “acceptable” workload, say more about the teacher vacancy service, take a more “strategic” role on teacher housing, address regional differences in teacher quality, explain how CPD will improve, and give more detail on the opportunity areas.
The very best advocates for recruitment are teachers themselves
Some of this is easier said than done, but I believe there are five solutions that will support teacher retention and development:
Teachers will stay when a) the majority of their effort feels like it matters and b) they are recognised and developed in a meaningful way. In too many schools, teachers feel they are giving countless hours of overtime for activities that aren’t truly helpful for pupils. These activities flourish in an unforgiving system obsessed with back-covering.
Culture trickles down from the top. Government needs to rebalance school accountability systems to focus more on developing excellence and less on punishing failure. We need career routes that are not just about management, as suggested by the DfE in its latest consultation and supported by the excellent new Chartered College of Teaching programmes.
If you’re going to ask someone to give up some of their own time for the school, you’d better be sure that they feel the task is important. Far too much energy is expended on proving progress or documenting feedback and teachers resent the demands on their time for activities that aren’t student-focused.
However, it is somehow also seen as normal that teachers spend much of their evening and weekend marking and planning, and on a regular basis. I believe the job of a teacher should generally fit into the actual working week, or else we’ll continue to see talented teachers leaving to work elsewhere.
The very best advocates for recruitment are teachers themselves, but I keep meeting teachers who try and put off their own children from considering it.
When teachers themselves tell a story of professional respect, good management and minimal bureaucracy, we’ll have half a million advocates out there. Even the slickest advertising campaign can’t counter this absence. Get the culture and workload right and we’ll solve recruitment.
4. Quality and CPD
Teachers are much more likely to stay when they are being properly supported to develop.
CPD in schools doesn’t just need a tweak: it needs a massive overhaul. We must stop driving repeated one-off training based on superficial lesson observations and start providing regular job-embedded CPD to develop and share rich professional expertise. This requires a serious and systematic national investment in the leadership of teacher development, something which the government appears to acknowledge through its recent consultation on QTS and CPD.
5. Opportunity areas
It’s fantastic that the government is investing so much into these areas but it’s important that they guarantee longevity, with at least a decade of funding and consistent leadership.
Communities facing the greatest challenges should be supported with the most resources, but the last thing they need is multiple flash-in-the-pan opportunities that teach local schools that they must try and grab any resource going because it will rapidly vanish. I suspect that the DfE has the will but it’s hugely constrained by government rules that make long-term planning and resource allocation challenging.
If we get it right, the prize is huge.
A “love the ones you’re with” strategy is the only approach that works in both the short term and the long term. It reduces the need for bursaries, it reduces spending on recruitment and cover for long-term illness and it reduces the pressure on the initial teacher training pipeline.
David Weston is CEO of the Teacher Development Trust