Trusts should avoid one-size-fits-all approach to retention, report warns

Academy trusts should avoid a “one-size-fits-all” policy for improving retention across their schools, new research suggests, after finding staff satisfaction varied more widely between individual schools than trusts.

Forty per cent of 10,530 staff who took the Edurio Staff Wellbeing and Working Conditions Survey, published today, are at risk of resigning – with the quality of leadership the key factor.

The research found staff satisfaction levels with working conditions varied considerably between the 322 schools surveyed, including among schools belonging to the same trust.

Whereas across all schools, the proportion of staff considering resigning ranged from zero per cent to 84 per cent, that range was much less pronounced between trusts, ranging from just 29 to 51 per cent.

Now authors of the research, which was designed with the UCL Institute of Education, have recommended that academy trust top teams “adapt any interventions” to improve retention to the “different conditions in each of their schools”.

“As the variance in scores across the schools within a multi-academy trust is much wider than that between different trusts, a one-size-fits all solution for the schools within a trust is unlikely to help them retain staff.”

The survey reveals two-thirds of teachers feel “constantly” or “often” overworked, and only four per cent say “rarely” or “never”. Meanwhile 46 per cent of classroom teachers are considering resigning, compared with 27 per cent of senior leaders.

However the research, carried out between October 2018 and April 2019, found the percentage of staff at risk of resigning ranged from zero per cent in some schools to a “staggering” 84 per cent in others.

“This suggests that improving retention is within the control of each individual school.”

Among the six factors for resigning explored in the survey, including workload, career development, professional support, staff relationships, pupil behaviour and leadership dynamics, the latter showed the strongest correlation with staff risk of resigning, researchers found.

“Leadership dynamics” measured whether relationships with school leaders are based on fairness, respect and staff engagement.

Leaders scored highly among staff for making them feel fairly treated and respected – two-thirds of staff felt this – but less than a fifth (19 per cent) felt leaders understood their “professional challenges”.

Improving retention is within the control of each individual school

“School leaders’ understanding of staff members’ professional challenges is worth particular attention within each school,” said the report, noting there was also a wide range in how schools scored on that particular problem, showing some are doing it very well and some poorly.

The report recommends a “clear focus on building a culture of engagement for staff members, where their feedback is heard and seen to be taken into account”.

Staff members with up to one year of experience demonstrated the lowest risk of resigning, but that rapidly deteriorated as they gain experience – peaking at half of staff at risk of resigning by their fifth year.

The report also found a notable difference between primary and secondary schools likely to resign, with 47 per cent of secondary school staff at risk of resigning compared to 35 per cent of primary school staff.

About the same proportion of staff were at risk of resigning in good or outstanding schools at 38 per cent – but it was higher for RI and inadequate schools at 47 per cent.

The size of the school and its proportion of free school meal pupils was found to have no effect.