The Knowledge

How can schools in poor areas attract more teachers?

New research by the National Institute of Teaching shows a mismatch between what schools offer candidates and what teachers value when looking for a job

New research by the National Institute of Teaching shows a mismatch between what schools offer candidates and what teachers value when looking for a job

11 Mar 2024, 5:00

The National Institute of Teaching has been working to research different recruitment and retention strategies that schools are using to attract teachers. To do this, we analysed more than 500 job adverts in socio-economically challenging areas and ran a questionnaire with a small sample of teachers.

We found five broad strategies that schools in Education Investment Areas (EIAs) use to attract and retain teaching talents: working environment, career development, staff welfare, financial incentives, and work-life balance. Working environment was most frequently mentioned in the job advertisements, focusing on positive ethos and school cultures that support teacher wellbeing. 

This research, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation, helps us to better understand the recruitment strategies these schools are using as an important first step towards finding ways to improve them. Trust and school leaders can use these findings to inform their own recruitment activity, and consider how they might prioritise the practices that are most effective in recruiting and retaining staff.

Over two-thirds of the job advertisements underscored the supportive school community that potential candidates would be a part of. Teachers indicated that they preferred to work in schools where they are respected for their professional judgement and there is recognition for their teaching performance. This finding supports earlier studies such as the Teaching and Learning International Survey in England that found that the relationship aspect of working environment is crucial in teacher recruitment and retention.

Our study found contrasting views with regards to financial incentives. The analysis of job advertisements suggested that just under one-third (30.6 per cent) mentioned financial incentives, mostly in the forms of free or discounted goods and services (e.g. healthcare and childcare) instead of lump sum and cash bonuses or rewards (e.g. government bursaries).

Financial incentives alone may be insufficient

While cash-related rewards linked to teaching performance and retention bonuses were perceived by some teachers who completed the online questionnaire as important for recruitment and retention, a larger proportion of teachers had other non-financial considerations as their top priorities. These include features such as work culture of the school and the effectiveness of the school’s leadership.

The findings suggest that, in socio-economically challenging areas, financial incentives alone may be insufficient in attracting and retaining teachers in the long term. Teachers are more willing to work in these schools when there are flexible working conditions, opportunities for career progression, and continuous professional development (CPD).

In particular, teachers appreciated more informal CPD opportunities such as the chance to work with other teams across the school and having some kind of training before they start the new role.

Moreover, the questionnaire data suggested that strategies that are successful in attracting potential candidates to schools are often the same as those influencing teachers’ decisions to remain in the profession. 

The open responses in the questionnaire shed preliminary light on teacher recruitment and retention strategies not mentioned in previous research, suggesting that these strategies may be specific to schools serving the socio-economically deprived communities. These include better preparation of new teachers, job security, ways to handle violence in schools,  protected time for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA), teachers’ own sense of purpose, and smaller class sizes.    

Based on the indicative findings from this relatively small-scale study, we encourage researchers to conduct further evaluate how best to recruit and retain teachers in socio-economically challenging regions. Potential areas for future research include the effectiveness of financial incentives, the influence of leadership and colleague support and flexible working arrangements.

Most importantly, it seems clear that we need a more nuanced understanding of the (mis)match between research evidence, the perceptions of school leaders, and those of teachers when it comes to what is valued in teacher recruitment and retention.

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