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Teacher Recruitment and Retention (plus a whole lot more)

Over my very varied and long teaching career I have been involved with many schools in wide ranging and successful roles and here are some of my thoughts about the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession. I have visited Hungary and Finland to observe teaching and learning and things are very different there.
I believe that in any school it is vitally important to “look after” all staff as they are the most important resource that the school has. The facilities and the buildings help but are nowhere near as important as the people who work there. From my experience, successful schools are those schools in which the Headteacher and members of leadership value and support the staff. This means all staff, developing and working with the most able practitioners, to those who may struggle a little. Too many schools are seemingly run as a business and somehow the human touch is missing.

Head teachers need to be more “hands on” to know and understand what is happening in their schools. They need to know their staff well and consider policies in place to reduce workload and make sure that they are consistently followed by all staff, including members of the leadership team.
Workload is an issue and is only compounded by some schools insisting on unnecessary paperwork and excessive planning. I am in no way advocating no planning or marking but all of the WWW, EBI etc are they really necessary? I think somewhere along the line we need to make the students take more responsibility for their own learning as in the past everything has been handed to them on a plate.
The new curriculum requires thinking skills that many students find difficult to manage at the moment, and the hasty way the government has put things in place hasn’t helped. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of raising attainment so that we produce more able students – mathematicians in particular but Trigonometry for foundation students when some higher tier students struggle with it? We need to get more practising teachers onto panels that decide these things. I for one would be prepared to get involved in those discussions.
Teachers often spend many additional hours a week, planning, preparing and marking that leads to a poor work-life balance – I know – I have always been one of them. My children always used to ask me why I spent so much “home time” working. It’s because I love what I do and always want to make it even better, but there comes a time when enough is enough. How could this be improved? There are loads of resources available, teachers can share the planning in departments (e.g. lesson study) paired observation that is non-threatening and there are some excellent courses to attend, but these days fewer people seem to be able to get leave to attend. Perhaps there should be a personal allowance for CPD for all teachers! Some courses such as STEM give bursaries too.
Some marking should be done by students at the time of learning so that problems can be addressed instantly and although this will not work in every instance, it will certainly cut down on teacher marking. Then the responsibility is being passed over to the students to find out why they have gone wrong. Peer marking and discussion of problems could also help understanding
Behaviour is one of the big issues – why should teachers have to put up with poor behaviour while trying to teach a lesson? Behaviour policies need to be firmer to deal with the poor behaviour in some classrooms so that teaching staff feel that they are going to be supported on instances of poor behaviour. Too often senior management teams walk past such behaviour and leave things for other staff to deal with. We should all be dealing with it.
Lack of parental support and poor parenting is also an issue and there are many support services to help with this but do we make too many excuses for children in our care? We are teaching them for life and this won’t help. they need to learn to fit into the school community and eventually into society in general. They certainly would not tolerate some of the behaviours that we see in school so why should we? It won’t be accepted in the workplace. How do we get parents on board? Keeping them informed of their child’s progress, inviting them into school in a slightly less formal and scary situation might help, but that requires communication and time. Planning parents evenings etc when there is no football or other event on TV could help too.
Getting parents to be more involved in their child’s education could improve many things in the classroom. Parents find their own children hard work at times and teachers are expected to cope with 30 plus in many classrooms which can be very draining! I often wonder how parents would cope with their own teenagers for 40 weeks of the year and how many would then not complain about the “long holidays”! Teachers need time to recuperate perhaps they need to be encouraged to take sufficient time out in the evenings – I used not to but now I have disciplined myself to do something for me at least once a week and feel better for it and able to tackle my workload more effectively.
Ofsted! I think past Ofsted inspections have a lot to answer for in the way that staff feel. I have never minded having Ofsted inspectors in my classroom but I know many teachers have a fear of this. Why? In most cases it is the pressure put on them by their own leadership teams to make sure that they get everything right on the day. It shouldn’t be like that. Staff should just be able to teach as they always do – no excessive planning, no seating plan- they may always have one but why do they need to write it out and add in all the SEN etc? – It isn’t necessary and Ofsted don’t want it! Parents think that because schools are categorised as RI and Special Measures that they are not good schools but within those schools there are some excellent practitioners. Perhaps Ofsted should be emphasising the good points more and instead of the current categories need to consider a category of “Needs Refinement” (or something of that sort) and then be able to send in the appropriate support for the school. We need to educate the media to report education in a much better light.
See the myths about Ofsted here:
Targets Are these realistic? Is the government setting the targets too high? Are we expecting too big a leap when introducing a new curriculum? Could we consider improving in small steps rather than in one giant leap? Are we trying to introduce too much at once? Despite the rise in achievement and from the recent raw national data, 61% of pupils have met the expected target in Mathematics, Reading, Writing and grammar which is an increase of 8% from last year, yet two fifths of primary schools have failed to reach the government targets. As teachers become familiar with what is expected this should only improve. Much the same could be said about the new GCSEs and in particular, from my experience the Mathematics. At the moment trying to support students through GCSE Maths is like playing a game of football with no goals to shoot at. How can we possibly achieve when we have no idea of what the boundaries are? Is that fair to the pupils and the staff teaching them? WE set the targets but actually don’t know how to reach them!!
How to support staff who need help? Who is responsible for supporting them in school? Is there a member of staff dedicated to look after them? Too often this role of support is just attached to someone on leadership who really doesn’t have the time to do it properly. Good support and help can make a huge difference to the teacher concerned.
Training of teachers is improving but are they really spending enough time learning on the job? Is teaching practice ever long enough? Is there too much time spent on theory rather that practice. I don’t know enough about current training but I do know that most NQTs are not really prepared for the shock of working in schools these days. Bring back the Box and Cox system! Having a good mentor in school could help the new teacher to discuss and resolve their problems. There used to be a time when local authorities had monthly training sessions for new teachers – is this still happening anywhere? I am aware that there are Hubs that support teaching and learning routinely but that isn’t the same as having someone available on a day to day basis even if only for a few months at the beginning.
To sum up I believe that teaching is a great career and still love every minute of it – including the hard times. It is always a challenge to overcome so that the children in our care have the best chances for their futures. If the staff are happy in their jobs they will want to stay and work in the school, so it’s up to the schools to keep them happy. If staff are leaving in their droves, what is NOT happening to make them want to stay?

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The author

Chris is a Freelance Education Consultant, and senior leader, with a Leadership and Mathematics Specialism. She support Leadership teams in Teacher training, accelerating attainment, behaviour management and Mathematics in primary and Secondary schools.

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