Teacher retention commission: 8 proposals to stem exodus

Report calls for review of teacher hours, retention targets and sabbaticals for headteachers every five years

Report calls for review of teacher hours, retention targets and sabbaticals for headteachers every five years

Recruitment and retention

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.”

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  1. What I see here underpins the tragedy: a focus on only two groups: the most expensive (Heads) and the least expensive (NQTs/ECTs).

    The latter are dangled the lonely carrot of becoming the former; the former the prospect of teenagers and children educated by the people least likely to have families, or much life experience, of their own. Yes some “teach second”: join the teaching profession after a career elsewhere; but they are rare and owe a duty to those who have not arrived with near-paid-off mortgages, not begin with well-built pensions and not started with children who have already graduated if not already had their weddings paid for.

    “It’s the experienced majority middle, stupid”: white, straight, married, parents, multiple-generations English and once approaching socio-economic middle-class… and, yes, minister, their spouse might be a teacher (or a nurse) too!

    Check the numbers.

  2. Patrick Obikwu

    Teacher recruitment and retention has been a problem for many years, possibly decades. The signs were there even when joined the profession in 2002. Constant denigration, blame, criticism, low pay, excessive workload, unruly and very disrespectful students, career stagnation, and bullying among others does not make teaching an attractive profession for new teachers and pushes away experienced teachers. Something needs to be done urgently to arrest the recruitment and retention crises before it is too late.
    A major part of the problem is due to an acute shortage of competent compassionate leadership. Many in education leadership and management are bereft of requisite knowledge, skills, and understanding about education, cognitive science and the learning process. Most damaging of all is they lack human empathy. As a consequence they are blind and mute to the critical and diverse roles beyond just teaching that teachers play in the educational ecosystem, successful learning outcomes, and the health of society as a whole. The wellbeing of teachers is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of students and their education (academic achievement and holistic development), and society.
    The inability of successive governments to address the problem once and for all reflects a clear lack of commitment, willingness, capacity, and competence. In essence no one has thought it necessary to ask the fundamental questions WHY is teacher recruitment such a problem and WHY is there a high rate of teacher attrition? Failure to ask these questions shows that no one in government actually cares. And you do not need constitute a panel to arrive at meaningful solutions.
    Cash inducements will not solve the teacher recruitment and retention crises. Below are some of the factors I feel are directly or indirectly responsible for teacher shortages in schools (secondary in particular).
    1. Here-today-gone-tomorrow government interference: endless raft of initiatives, meddling with school curricula, changing education policy with every new minister of education many/most of who do not have a background in education and were last in a classroom when they sat their GCSE.
    2. Schemes of Work and Curriculum: ditto 1.
    3. Teacher Wellbeing (or lack of): ditto 1 – 30
    4. Lack of human and material resources
    5. School Day
    6. Lesson Schedule and Timings
    7. Delivery of lessons: (over prescriptive hence restrictive) upload, offload, reload, download, platforms, programs, videos, worksheets etc meanwhile foundational learning skills – basic literacy, numeracy, reading, writing, and attention span, executive function skills – are declining as fast as technology is expanding and being embraced.
    8. Student Wellbeing (or lack of): ditto 9, 27, 30
    9. Students’ negative attitude and laziness towards learning (passing exams): ditto 27
    10. Government Policy: ditto 1.
    11. Hidden Curriculum: ditto 1.
    12. Very incompetent and ineffective school leadership and management
    13. School operations – ineffective deployment of inadequate human resources: ditto 12
    14. Socio-cultural influences: Ofsted; ditto 1, 11
    15. School culture: ditto 12
    16. Total lack of discipline and respect for teachers: Unruly disrespectful behaviour of students, parents: Society giving the impression that students’ learning is of particular benefit to teachers and that students have an entitlement regardless of how rude, disruptive and violent they are towards teachers
    17. Undervalue and constant (overt and covert) denigration of teachers and the teaching profession
    18. Low pay
    19. Bullying of teachers: ditto 12; and head teachers/principals: ditto 14
    20. Incompetent teachers on becoming senior leaders or head teachers and principals acting like tin gods
    21. Teacher workload: ditto 1-30
    22. Introducing into teaching every fad by every self-proclaimed expert from every other profession
    23. Lack of teacher support
    24. Expectation that every teacher MUST also be proficient jack of all trades: IT and technology expert, data analyst, examiner, marker, futurist, assessment specialist, curriculum developer, strategist, researcher, child psychologists, instructor, multi-linguist, EAL specialist, SEND specialist, guardian or parent (even if you do not have a child of your own), encyclopaedia, role model, mentor, communicator, lesson planner, pedagogue, diplomat, gifted and talented genius, organiser, advisor, counsellor, email vanguard, PG and PD student, letter writer, time keeper, first aid specialist, break-time supervisor, end-of-school usher, child monitor, psychic, comedian, actor/actress/, UN peace-maker/peace-keeper, translator, photocopier, telephone receptionist, child-minder/baby-sitter, social worker, behaviour specialist, prison warden, police officer, psychiatrist, mental health specialist, attendance officer, administrative officers, psychologist, zoo keeper, nurse, cover supervisor, learning facilitator, and of course scapegoat.
    25. Cronyism, nepotism, favouritism and prejudice of inept principals and head teachers towards their servile favourite teachers promotes sycophancy
    26. Career stagnation
    27. Over-testing of students/focus on certification rather than education: ditto 8
    28. Marketisation of education
    29. Endless and mostly useless PD
    30. Technology/Social media/Instagram/TikTok/anything for attention syndrome etc
    No one goes into a profession to be insulted, assaulted, abused, disrespected, denigrated, bullied, oppressed, harassed, humiliated, or underpaid. But this is the daily experience of many teachers. Indeed, teaching in the UK is a form of modern slavery.
    From the above listed issues it is obvious that financial inducements and/or hike in salary alone will not solve the problem of attracting more committed people into the teaching profession, nor stop highly experienced others from leaving.
    I have left education and teaching due to the above and disillusionment, lack of opportunity, and career stagnation.
    In my opinion, the education system needs a complete overhaul by those who actually know what education is all about.

    Anyone who truly cares about the education of our children and the future of our society should please read the following books:
    1. Good Education by I. Pritchard
    2. Who Cares About Education?…going in the wrong by E. Macfarlane
    3. How We Learn: The New Science of Education and the Brain by S. Dehaene
    4. Why Do I Need A Teacher When I’ve Got Google by I. Gilbert
    5. The Nine Pillars Of Great Schools by D. Woods, R. Macfarlane, D. McBeath
    6. An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Education by T. Little

  3. Rachel

    It would be very useful to me if my Principal had some better advice than “have you thought about working smarter?” and “have you considered making lists of the tasks you have to do?”. It is, as yet, unclear as to how ‘smart’ I may need to work in order to find time to use the toilet during the school day.

  4. David

    I am worried that applying a target for teacher retention to schools in the most challenging areas who are haemorrhaging staff due to poor pupil behaviour will just be yet another target that those schools fail to meet, putting additional pressure on leadership without any obvious benefit. I would have favoured teacher well-being and workload being recognised as worthy of inclusion in the OFSTED criteria for a good school. If a ‘requires improvement’ is given on the way a school values and supports its staff led to a ‘required improvement’ overall, teacher workload would suddenly matter even to academies. This should include provision of training, non contact hours, support staff, and by removal of pointless but time consuming prettification and accountability tasks (like double backing display work and putting a photograph of a primary school teacher on every single piece of every child’s work so the child remembers who marked it, even though they only have one teacher).

    As a complete alternative, removal of one word gradings of all a school is and does, as successfully implemented in Wales, would be a huge improvement and reduce the suicide rate amongst head teachers.

  5. ‘It is hard to plot a route to substantive improvement in teacher retention without a reduction in accountability pressure’.

    This therefore requires unpicking. What is meant by ‘accountability pressure’? Is it the same thing as ‘accountability’? Does ‘accountability’ mean punishment and humiliation (perhaps called things like ‘challenge’ and ‘improvement’) for not meeting ill thought out targets that have a negative impact on the wider curriculum? Is there a better way to encourage improvement than ‘accountability’ – for instance continuing professional development, and retention of experienced teachers?

    In Wales, one word assessments of schools have been abandoned. Parents will now be expected to find out what their child’s school is like by actually reading their ESTYN report. After all, we don’t issue one word school reports on their children. There will be reluctance to look over the border towards Wales, which scores lower than its richer neighbour in the PISA tests. Wales is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean England does everything better.

    People must surely notice a discrepancy between a government that states 90% of its schools are ‘good’, and an anonymised survey which shows (in education initiative areas) that over 60% of teachers cite pupil behaviour as a real issue in their schools. Why not just tell parents what the school is like as at the date of inspection? Bad at maths, amazing at art, kind pupils generally, disruptive pupils in year 9, incredible English department, superb sports facilities etc. etc. What is the need or purpose for reducing all that to a single word, other than to give politicians some snappy but meaningless statistics to parade before the public?

    The current accountability behemoth is driving down true standards by driving experienced teachers out of the profession. There must be an inspection system, because in its absence some teachers and school leaders in some schools will choose not to care sufficiently about important things. Removing one word gradings may create a need to replace fear of humiliation as the main plan for maintaining education standards, with other existing approaches such as school improvement partnerships and continuing professional development.