Recruitment and retention

The ‘Tripadvisor for schools’ government should be creating

Too many toxic schools have been affecting retention and wellbeing for too long, writes Tom Rogers, but we can rethink incentives that reward such leadership

Too many toxic schools have been affecting retention and wellbeing for too long, writes Tom Rogers, but we can rethink incentives that reward such leadership

12 Jul 2022, 12:30

For far too long, teachers who leave toxic schools have been on the back foot. They endure torrid times – in the form of awful student behaviour, damaging workload or putrid work politics – only to be signed off sick before leaving their place of employment concerned about whether they will get a reference that reflects their character and service. Many are forced to sign gagging orders in exchange for a decent reference. This is completely wrong, and feeds retention statistics that should be deeply worrying to ministers.

But the solution to this whole torrid situation isn’t all that complicated. We need to give power back to teachers, and I have a low-cost solution that could deliver that revolution: a government-backed exit interview portal.

Let me outline how this would work.

First, once a teacher had officially left their school, they would log into the government-backed exit interview portal to answer an extensive survey about their experience of their previous employer. Their DFE number and other evidence would be collected to ‘verify’ these reviews as genuine.

The survey questions would be detailed and nuanced to provide a level of insight befitting the importance of the questionnaire. Ofsted might like the analogy of Trip advisor, but these reviews would go well beyond a star rating and 280 characters. There would be plenty of opportunities for long-form answers, and the teacher would be encouraged to be as honest as possible while providing context too. Questions could easily be packaged cleverly to ensure that context was evident. For example, ‘Is behaviour good in the school?’ could be followed by ‘Are leaders supportive on behaviour?’ and ‘Is the school trying to improve behaviour?’ and ‘Why is behaviour a challenge?’ and so on.

But, and this is crucial, whatever answers are gathered would not be accessible to the school or the general public. After all, it isn’t the job of the departing teacher to help that school improve. That should be the job of other very well-funded bodies like Ofsted. They shouldn’t just inspect, grade and leave. They should offer much more support than they currently do.

The real point of the exercise is to empower new applicants

A school could request the interview results as an anonymised package. But even stripped of names, dates and other identifiers, such data has the potential to make it obvious which former colleagues wrote the reviews. So there would need to be unanimous agreement by all concerned before access was granted. Teachers would be guided at the time of filling in the survey to omit names and so on, but the anonymised review packages would still need redacting.

But the real point of the exercise is to empower new applicants. When they get selected for interview, they will be able to request anonymous versions of all these surveys. The information would come with necessary disclaimers about using their own discretion, and of course with a signed agreement not to share them.

Some will worry that what I’m describing is more a platform for sour grapes than a job information platform. But really, if 20 teachers leave a school all at once and all express concerns in their exit interview answers, it’s highly unlikely that every single one could be experiencing so-called ‘sour grapes’! Teachers, even new ones, understand the challenges schools face and appreciate that no school is perfect. And we’ve all purchased items in spite of one-star Amazon reviews. The key is to encourage all teachers to complete the exit interviews and provide their answers alongside statistics that provide useful context.

Ofsted have started to ask teachers about their wellbeing during inspections, but let’s be realistic: Toxic schools are exactly the type where the walls have ears and teachers are least likely to answer truthfully – least of all to an Ofsted inspector. I’ve worked in one such toxic environment and I would have feared being honest with anyone without guarantees about how the information I disclosed would be used and reviewed.

So we need another way, and that’s what the exit interview portal (or some variation thereof) is designed to put right. It’s time to reset the perverse incentives that allow some leaders to grind teachers down and get rewarded for it.

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  1. Of course a school or trust (and in particularly perhaps its Governors?) should be very interested in doing exit interviews themselves. But when I did a survey a couple of years ago with TeacherTapp (for my book Recruiting Teachers) only 22% of schools did them. So this would be a good idea, with the caveats you add!

  2. Mandyj

    Think this could be really valuable fir the profession.This needs to extend to leaders to as they too can suffer the same under the leadership of a local authority or academy chain.