Teacher wellbeing charity Education Support has put forward a list of proposals to boost retention in the sector, as schools continue to face huge shortages.
Findings from its Commission on Teacher Retention show that one in five (21 per cent) secondary teachers surveyed said they were unlikely to be in the profession in five years’ time.
It comes as the latest school workforce figures are due to be published this week. Last year’s workforce census showed teacher retention worsening again after a short-lived Covid lull.
The Education Select Committee has also opened a recruitment and retention inquiry, with government set to recruit less than half of the required secondary teachers this year.
Here are the key findings from Education Support’s report, published in partnership with Public First.
1. Consider replacing undirected hours
The report notes that any suggestion salary rises alone would stem retention issues is “overly simplistic”.
In a poll of over 1,000 state secondary teachers, 78 per cent said they would be likely to leave the profession if they were offered a job in another sector which promised a better work-life balance. This polled higher than better pay (64 per cent).
It recommends a government-commissioned independent review of the current statutory guidance on pay and conditions for teachers in England, in consultation with the sector.
Areas suggested for consideration include ‘undirected’ hours, after the Commission heard “the uncapped potential of what ‘reasonable additional hours’ of undirected time looks like in practice is eroding teachers’ work-life balance'”.
A review should consider if directed and undirected hours should be replaced with contractual working hours that are “more reflective of…the modern workplace” while giving schools the ability to grant allowances where teachers’ work outside those patterns.
Other suggestions include the development of a promotion pathway rooted in classroom teaching, for example by tying financial rewards to the successful completion of NPQ pathways.
It also recommended that teachers working in educational investment areas (EIAs) should be offered incentive payments to stay.
2. DfE: Be clear on ‘pointless’ tasks
Another way to curb workloads, says the report, is through minimising what focus groups described as “pointless” tasks such as “manual overly regular” data gathering, excessive marking and preparing for Ofsted.
The report recommends the DfE should codify what “poor practice” around workloads looks like, including by publishing “a list of things that schools must stop doing” on its website.
It adds that school leaders should commit to reviewing their own workload practices on a yearly, “or more regular”, basis – including via consulting with staff over what could be scaled back.
With a growing number of schools also taking on frontline duties, such as offering foodbanks, it also asks the government to clarify “what is schools’ responsibility and what isn’t”.
“Depending on the goodwill of the school workforce to fill the gap in local services in not sustainable,” the report adds.
3. Set teacher retention targets
Just as the DfE publishes targets for the number of initial teacher trainees needed each year, the report recommends new retention targets should be one of its Key Performance Indicators.
This would ensure it is “held accountable for, and demonstrate the effectiveness of its policies to tackle the retention crisis in schools”.
The DfE should also “re-double its efforts” to consider the impact of policy changes on staff wellbeing, as part of its commitment to integrate wellbeing into the school workload policy test through the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter.
“In doing so, any potential intensification of workload resulting from proposed policy changes that might hamper the DfE’s efforts to meet its retention targets would
be flagged during the policymaking process for consideration,” the report adds.
4. Give heads paid sabbaticals every five years
It also suggests a month-long, paid sabbatical for headteachers every five years, during which they would complete a new ‘NPQH+’ qualification designed to develop people management skills.
This would have a “laser focus on the current context in schools”, and see heads visit comparative schools with “leading cultures and retention rates”.
The qualification should be an entitlement built into the terms and conditions of headship, the report states.
5. Recognise behaviour issues ‘exceeding’ schools’ capacity
Teachers in focus groups for the commission “described a worsening of pupil behaviour since the pandemic, an apathy towards learning, and a decline in respect for teachers”.
Nearly two-thirds of teachers (64 per cent) in EIAs surveyed as part of the research said it was an issue ‘if not the biggest’ in their school. Evidence “suggested that it is hampering teachers’ enjoyment of teaching, and driving them out altogether”.
The report suggests school policies to mitigate pupil behaviour can only go so far, and points to the need for a “national conversation” around the issue.
This would coincide with a “recognition at a political level that the complexity of children and young people’s needs is becoming more challenging in such a way that exceeds schools’ capacity to resolve alone.”
6. HR advisory service to promote flexible working
It also calls for a fully-funded human resources advisory service for schools, tasked with promoting and supporting them with boosting flexible working policies.
This should be available to all school leaders, the report says, with the service working with them on a “case-by-case basis to understand the barriers or particular challenges around facilitating flexible working”.
It comes after polling found a flexible working offer in another sector would make 64 cent of secondary teachers more likely to leave the profession.
7. Urgently review ECF and NPQs
The government should commit to an urgent review of the deployment and content of the early career framework (ECF) and the frameworks underpinning National Professional Qualifications (NPQs), the report says.
It comes as early careers teachers warned the commission of repeated material in the ECF from initial teacher training, while others warned that training was not subject-specific and added to high workloads.
A review should consider how the content and delivery of both frameworks should be “reframed so that they are truly grounded in the realities of teachers’ working lives”.
Individuals should be able to select courses best suited to their experience and local context, while the review should also consider an expansion of NPQs “to ensure they are tailored and truly relevant” to subject specialisms.
8. ‘Holistical’ review of accountability measures
The report notes that the “fear of” Ofsted inspections or poor ratings “trickles down into workload” and “inflexible working patterns” for staff.
It adds that the current school accountability system is “unbalanced and the negative impact on the profession is troubling”.
Accountability components, including the “pressure experienced by heads and teachers” as a result of inspections, should be reviewed “holistically”.
The aim should be to ensure schools remain accountable without driving up workloads.
“In truth, it is hard to plot a route to a substantive improvement in teacher retention without a reduction in accountability pressure,” it adds.
In response to the report, a DfE spokesperson said:
“Almost 9 in 10 teachers who qualified in 2020 were still teaching one year after qualification, and just over two thirds of teachers who started teaching five years ago are still teaching.
“We are listening to teachers and leaders and working with them to address workload and wellbeing issues. These include development of the workload reduction toolkit, funding wellbeing support for leaders and launching the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter.”