Crunching the data from seven years of School Workforce Census let us identify the best ways that trusts can support career progression, says David Carter

Does the answer to the recruitment and retention crisis lie in workforce development? The research suggests that it’s a strong place for trust chief executives to start.

At the Ambition Institute, we undertook some in-depth analysis into this area with our partners the Education Policy Institute and Cambridge Assessment – and it revealed some interesting nuggets for the sector to ponder.

Currently employing 44 per cent of the school workforce, trusts are now the major player in the schools system and have the power and potential to improve pupil outcomes and revolutionise workforce development. Not only that – the balance has now tipped and more than 50 per cent of pupils attend an academy.

But up to this point we have had little robust evidence covering the experiences of the 200,000 teachers employed in academies, or the contribution that trusts are making to the development of the school workforce

How trusts can improve their development offer to staff

So we examined seven years of the School Workforce Census (up to 2016) to understand how teachers and leaders are moving in the school system and to see if there are patterns of movement within trusts that are not seen in the local authority-maintained system.

And there are: trust workforces have a higher number of new entrants to the profession and higher rates of promotion; there are also interesting statistics on the number of teachers and school leaders leaving the education system after working in a trust.

Whatever the reason for this, we know that the education system as a whole would benefit from trusts improving their development practices and their retention rates. But how?

We identified ten trusts with strong workforce outcomes and asked them to tell us about the activities and pathways that they put in place to develop, progress and retain staff.

We uncovered six ways that trusts can improve their development offer to staff and increase progression and retention rates in the process:

1. Support upward progression. With multiple schools following one strategy, trusts can offer promotion opportunities to staff from across the entire group when they are ready to progress. They can build career ladders that help to “grow their own” and they can provide support with succession planning, underpinning this by offering secondments or placements to more senior roles.

2. Develop specialist expertise. Trusts can broaden staff experience and develop specialist knowledge by moving staff to fill a role at the same level in another school. More informal approaches include establishing cross-trust working groups.

3. Prioritise the working culture. Trusts can provide support services to schools to reduce workload and let staff focus on teaching and learning.

4. Create an attractive development offer.

Trusts can ask staff to feed back on the support and progression they want, to help shape their development offer and ensure it appeals to staff as well as meeting organisational needs.

5. Reduce barriers to development.

Trusts can minimise direct and indirect costs of development to make it more accessible. This is especially important where trusts are geographically dispersed. This could include budgeting to pay for additional staff travel costs and investing in video conferencing equipment to limit the need for travel and time out of the classroom.

6. Manage talent.

Trusts can use their regional directors or heads of school to oversee talent in their local school or area, or create a central service that matches staff to school-improvement projects.

Crucially, trusts said that they had prioritised building a “one trust” culture for staff. This was essential for successful delivery of all of these approaches.

Given the power they have in developing the future workforce, it’s clear that it has never been a more exciting time to be a trust leader. But, as the saying goes: with great power comes great responsibility. With this research, we hope to spark a crucial conversation, asking, “How can we make England the best place in the world to be a teacher or school leader?”