Recruitment and retention

The Knowledge. What works to improve recruitment and retention?

Becky Francis sets out key findings from today's new EEF review of international evidence on successful measures to recruit and retain teachers

Becky Francis sets out key findings from today's new EEF review of international evidence on successful measures to recruit and retain teachers

8 Jun 2023, 5:00

Teachers are the beating heart of our school system. No matter the age group, subject area, or school context, it’s high-quality teaching that makes the biggest difference to pupil outcomes, particularly for children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

And yet, one of the biggest challenges facing our schools is staffing; we know that many are struggling to fill vacancies and that levels of teacher churn are unsustainably high.

This recruitment and retention challenge is an urgent cause for concern. Simply put, when schools are understaffed, pupil learning and teacher wellbeing suffer. We cannot let this continue, especially in light of the hugely damaging, far-reaching impacts of the pandemic. 

As ever, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) looks to the research for solutions. Today, we’ve published a new evidence review authored by a team from UCL’s Institute of Education that summarises findings from international research about how to attract teachers to – and crucially, keep them in – the profession.

By commissioning this new review, we wanted to find out what has and hasn’t worked in the past for improving recruitment and retention. Our aim was to signpost promising avenues for future research to explore.

The first step was identifying relevant studies from the global evidence base, making sure that they were conducted appropriately and that their findings were robust and worthy of inclusion. The research team then dug into the findings to draw out recurring themes to inform our conclusions.

One of the most well-evidenced findings from the review was that financial incentives, such as offering higher salaries or recruitment bonuses, could help to attract teachers to roles – particularly those in challenging schools. Rewards given directly to teachers, rather than allocating extra funds to their school of employment, showed particular promise.

Rewards given directly to teachers showed particular promise

With regards to retention, there is evidence in support of reducing workload and improving teachers’ working conditions. Heavier workloads were consistently associated with higher staff turnover, with factors such as working hours and leave entitlement strongly influencing teachers’ decision-making.

And importantly, making sure teachers have proper access to good quality professional development, proper support during their induction period and effective school leadership also show potential in supporting recruitment and retention.

This evidence review is a significant step in our understanding of how to approach fixing staffing issues in our schools.

But it’s a first step, there’s more work to be done.

One of the major issues that the review identified was that there’s been a real lack of research conducted in England on this topic. As a result, this review relied heavily on findings from international studies.

If we’re serious about improving recruitment and retention, we need to better understand which approaches are likely to work in English schools and for those working in them.

One of our top priorities at the EEF is to supercharge the evidence base in this area, through a multi-year research plan which aims to uncover the most effective strategies for improving recruitment and retention. We’re especially interested in those that could be effective in more challenging schools.

We’ve therefore recently commissioned further evidence reviews, each of which will focus on specific practices that have shown promise in supporting teacher recruitment and retention in English schools, including school leadership, flexible working, and workload management.

One of these reviews will look specifically at practices in schools serving socio-economically disadvantaged communities, so that we can look to bolster numbers of high-quality teachers where pupils need them most.

These reviews will explore the evidence base and current practice using a range of methods, including analysing school policies and teacher job descriptions, as well as gathering perspectives from teachers and leaders using surveys and interviews.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of getting our approach to recruitment and retention right, not just in terms of securing the best academic outcomes for our children but for making sure teaching staff feel valued and see longevity in their roles.

Today’s findings will be hugely helpful in sharpening the focus of our future research, making sure we put our resources behind trialling strategies with the greatest potential to make a difference in this crucial area.

The full report, Teacher quality, recruitment and retention can be read here: bit.ly/3J2kfJQ

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