A school retention crisis – 8 steps to improve yours

How much time does your school spend on improving employee retention?

Chances are, not enough.

In UK schools, the cost of staff makes up 80% of the total budget. So why not invest to maintain your most valuable resource?

In the UK, the total number of vacant teaching posts has increased between 2015 and 2016 from 730 to 920. This is particularly evident in the arts subjects. (School Workforce Census 2016)

As the direct costs of the teacher shortage and workload crisis push many schools to breaking point, it’s time to place a new weighting on the importance of proactively focusing on your staff retention strategy.

Once you have the right team on board, their voices must be heard.  Their view on how to keep the job sustainable and how to best motivate them is your ticket to making your school thrive.

Top teaching talent is in high demand. If you’re not making genuine changes to keep your staff happy, they have a lot of opportunities to move to a competitor.

One way to make sure key workers remain employed while maintaining teaching and learning quality is implementing an employee retention program.  Here are 8 points to consider when improving your own retention strategy.

Step #1

Are we getting it right from the start?

The single biggest influence on your staff retention is the quality of your recruitment process. After all, if you attract the right people in the first place, they are simply less likely to leave.

When you’re screening candidates, look for someone who is interested in growing with your school rather than getting experience to take somewhere else.

Step #2

Do we conduct ‘stay’ & ‘exit’ interviews in ALL cases?

Exit interviews are a grossly underused tool in the school recruitment armoury.

Unfortunately, the real reasons your teachers leave can be difficult to draw out because the nature of the school system is such that teachers often feel unable to give honest criticism of your leadership or school.

To overcome this, ask an external professional such as Eteach’s HR Advisory Service to conduct the interview or ask your leavers to take an anonymous survey.  Your Local Authority or a panel of governors can also conduct the interviews in an impartial and non-judgemental way.

2.2 million

Step #3

How exactly are we listening?

What opportunities do your staff have to share their concerns and ideas anonymously? If your school has suffered high levels of attrition in the last few years, it may be worthwhile looking at what routes a staff member may have to really make an impact when they feel a change to the system is needed.

You could also conduct ‘stay’ interviews to learn why people want to work for your organisation. Ask questions such as: Why did you come to work here? Why have you stayed? What would make you leave? What would you change or improve?

Not only will ‘stay’ interviews tell you what to keep doing in terms of recruitment, you can use this priceless information for your next vacancy advert.

teachers leaving jobs

Step #4

How well are we using job sharing to keep our staff long term?

There are thousands of unemployed teachers in the UK today looking for work… they want to work part time.

Our industry relies heavily on women (75%), particularly those of childbearing age. As a result, you can recruit some of the most talented teachers in the country… if you can solve a few problems creatively.

Schools often shy away from allowing job shares because of the risk or cost of lost continuity. In reality, this has been well dealt with by many schools using strategies such as additional synchronised PPA sessions for the handover (ultimately of benefit to the learners) covered by another staff member.

Other schools have utterly re-written the curriculum so children learn entirely different subjects on different days of the week.

By investing in part time posts that work, you allow teachers to stay with your school for many years, returning after maternity/paternity leave or if they wish to wind down towards retirement.  A little innovation can reap incredibly valuable rewards.

Step #5

How do we foster professional development opportunities? 

Our FE professionals surveyed in 2017 told us that the main reasons they would think about leaving their current job were: lack of progression (32.2%), excessive workload (33.1%), low morale (33.5%) and current pay (35.1%).

Ensure you have a rigorous CPD process in place for everyone. As school budgets can now rarely stretch to a regular programme of paid-for workshops, it’s time to sit down and craft a robust programme of other development opportunities which must be adhered to and discussed in appraisals. Include:

– Arranging a monthly exchange to a subject specialist in a partner school
– Shadowing senior staff members
– Supporting subject leaders in school-wide curriculum planning and policy creation
– Free speakers and corporate-sponsored inset sessions
– Innovative planning for class cover

Development could be as simple as training to learn a relevant skill, getting involved with additional projects or support towards training and qualifications.

Give a career road map e.g. starting as an English teacher and retiring as a Head teacher.

Step #6

Do we support NQTs in the right ways?

Nearly 1/3 of NQTs leave after 5 years and that percentage has risen over recent years (School Workforce Survey 2016)

NQTs do not simply require an extra 10% non-contact time because they’re less efficient at marking. As an industry, we need to drill down into what is causing them to leave and nip it in the bud.

Peter Sellen of the Education Policy Institute proposes that a significant influencer of NQT retention will be how well we prepare them in the first place – pointing out that leaver rates drop as years of teaching experience increase.  His hope is that NQTs can understand pedagogical evidence enough that they stop doing ineffective tasks.

However, a teacher can only control their workload in this way if they have complete freedom over their planning and marking – do you encourage this autonomy?

teachers leaving in firsrt 3 years

Step #7

Are we open to change – really?

A true culture shift is needed in schools now if they want to survive. Workload must be halved and it’s down to the head to orchestrate it. The misconceptions of what Ofsted allegedly needs to see result in incredibly dangerous habits and expectations being pressed upon the teachers.

Using the latest Ofsted guidelines, a school could run a valuable workshop with all staff with the aim of establishing ‘What do we actually need to do?’.

Only heads that implement real change in response to their teachers’ feedback will find that their staff stay and that their school survives the budget cuts.

The latest Schools Workforce Policy update from the DfE gives valuable insights into the real workload situation in schools and what heads should be doing about it. It states that targetted support on teacher workload should:

– Use evidence about drivers and factors affecting workload from the Workload Challenge and Teacher Workload Survey 2016.
– Target those teachers highlighted in the Teacher Workload Survey as having the highest workload. Focus on teachers in the first five years of their careers.
– Target the areas of highest need to make the biggest impact on retention rates.
– Be based on evidence of what works. Where there are gaps in the evidence, pilot approaches would be used to measure impact.

Step #8

Could we outsource to an HR expert?

An outsourced HR professional or support from an external consultancy such as Eteach can relieve pressure on senior management, leaving more time to focus on strategic HR planning… not to mention the teaching and learning!

There is no specific time to use an HR professional. Each school will have its own reasons to reach outside for expert help, such as an urgent hire or need for a new policy that supports growth.

Eteach HR Advisory Services provide quick and efficient support with:

– Leadership recruitment
– Employee relations casework
– Any employee issues your school may encounter
– Advice on teachers’ pay and conditions of service and employment law
– Professional guidance concerning any support staff conditions of employment and employment law issues
– The leadership recruitment process, from beginning to end
– Safeguarding and child protection issues, including the single central register in readiness for an Ofsted inspection


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