Retention: ‘Look after the people and the percentage will look after themselves’ by Helena Marsh (@HelenaMarsh81)

One of my first forays into blogging was entitled: People not percentages ( Written around the fateful August publication of GCSE results, it warned about losing sight of the ‘main thing’ in education or being hoodwinked into believing that statistics serving the latest accountability measure were ‘the main thing’.

My first published article in the TES recently picked up this theme on the subject of teacher retention. The essential premise of my piece was the need to prioritise staff engagement to create a positive, productive and rewarding climate in order to quell number of teachers leaving the profession.

Depressingly, many of the responses to my article via Twitter indicate that a pervading culture fuelled by fear and accountability judgements prevents school leaders from creating such conditions. A number of respondents painted a grim picture of schools driven by data and a desire to please the inspectorate more deserving of a dystopian plot line than to characterise institutions that serve the next generation of our country.

Ask teachers at any level what motivated them to join the profession and I suspect the vast majority will answer with something akin to ‘to make a difference’. I doubt that many of us entered to achieve a positive value added residual, to exceed floor targets or obtain a respectable Progress 8 score, and yet this is how we have come to judge our impact and worth.

The seductive standards rhetoric has taken an unhealthy grip on the education sector and lost sight of what and who really matter: learning and people.

I am a big believer in aspiration and of the transformational power of education. However, I am saddened by the unpleasant and inhumane unintended consequences that have been inflicted on the teaching profession as a result of the peddling of a particularly narrow progress agenda in our schools.

I don’t recognise myself as a member of the ‘blob’ or an ‘enemy of promise’. I don’t make excuses for underachievement or permit sub-standard teaching. I do, however, have an issue with unrealistic, unachievable and unsustainable expectations that prioritise percentages (or Progress 8 scores) over people.

While desperate diktats to raise results and please external visitors may lead to incremental gains and accolades in the short-term, unfeasible practices risk irrevocably damaging schools’ most important resource in the medium-long term: their workforce.

I don’t accept that achieving high standards of education necessitates the levels of exhaustion and workload that is currently crippling the profession. Creating husks of teachers through overly-demanding, pressurising working conditions that remove professional trust and autonomy is the antithesis of what I proposed in my article.

I appreciate that teaching has become intoxicated by inhumane accountability but am optimistic that school leaders have the power and ability to influence our own microclimates and shift the culture for the benefit of everyone in the education system.

The greatest way that school leaders can ‘make a difference’ is by creating a legacy of wholesome teaching and learning that puts people at the heart of schooling.

Helena Marsh –



One thought on “Retention: ‘Look after the people and the percentage will look after themselves’ by Helena Marsh (@HelenaMarsh81)

  1. kristianstill December 31, 2016 at 10:42 am Reply

    The unhealthy standards rhetoric is propped up by a sickly PM and PRP process swiftly being ditched by more responsive organisations and companies.

    Is it possible to accurately assess the contribution of an individual teachers?

    Is the time invested in PRP a shrewd investment? I am yet to be convinced rather positive intentions on PRP outlined by Ofsted is having a very detrimental impact.

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