Detoxifying our profession by dealing with the root causes of the current recruitment and retention crisis

As Ros McMullen, founding member of the Head teachers’ Roundtable, articulates in SchoolsWeek’s feature launching our doorstep manifesto: ‘It is the interplay between (factors) that creates the crisis’. Employment practices affect recruitment and retention but ultimately it is working conditions that affect staff motivation and morale that attract and keep teachers in the profession.

Incentives contained within the HTRT manifesto are key to investing in our teachers and enticing them to train and remain. Suggestions such as government-funded long-term bursaries, guaranteed access to career-long training and development opportunities and flexible working arrangements would sustain teachers, financially and professionally, for the long game.

Recent workforce research outcomes demonstrate that a third of entrants leave the profession after just 5 years of teaching, an estimated 250,000 trained teachers are currently not working in our schools and that women aged 30-39 make up over a quarter of teachers leaving each year.

We simply cannot afford to lose such vast volumes of teachers – urgent action needs to take place to tackle the causes of this exodus from the profession.

Allowing teachers to adapt to changes in their personal circumstances, responsibilities and lifestyle choices is essential if we are to curb the rate of attrition. Case studies released by WomenEd and the Chartered College of Teaching exemplify how flexible working practices can prevent wasting professional talent. However, allowing employees to work part time in order to cope with teaching demands is not the answer.

Factors such as realistic and humane workloads, manageable behaviour, access to essential resources and supportive and trusting leadership are all necessary for teachers to feel successful and effective in their roles and to make teaching an achievable and rewarding vocation.

Years of insufficient school funding, diminishing access to specialist resources and increasingly pernicious and divisive accountability measures have contributed to toxic teaching environments. School leaders are expected to achieve more with less and task teachers to drive up standards in a backdrop of increasingly demanding circumstances.

The pressure cooker conditions have taken their toll on the health of the teaching workforce; years of ‘boiling the frog’ has contributed to the current recruitment and retention crisis.

The toxic triangle that school leaders are operating within (insufficient funding, high-stakes accountability and a severe lack of teachers) is fuelling perverse decision-making and eroding our ability to retain our teachers.

Pay and conditions are undermined in an environment in which schools can’t afford to treat their staff in the way in which they would wish to. Mission creep is commonplace as specialist services and support staff ratios are in decline at a time when our student population warrants even greater SEND, mental health and behavioural expertise. Schools are unable to invest in salaries, training and non-contact time to enable their teachers to feel valued and supported in addressing centrally-derived curriculum, assessment, pastoral and inspection changes.

Challenges in recruiting subject specialists and staffing schools is causing many teachers to take on additional responsibilities, often without time or money. Growing class sizes and teaching allocations weigh heavily on teachers in a climate where measuring impact at pace has become prized over broader, holistic educational outcomes.

Instead of blaming the school leaders who are being driven by fear and a damaging cocktail of external factors to be complicit in unethical behaviours and inhumane expectations, the government needs to properly invest in education for the benefit of current and future generations of teachers and school children.

All children deserve to benefit from talented and committed teachers. Only when the root causes of the pervasive toxicity in our profession are properly addressed will we provide teachers with the necessary conditions to help all students to thrive and flourish, regardless of personal circumstances and postcode.

As Stephen Tierney, Chair of the Head teachers’ Roundtable, states: “At some point, we will need to stop pulling people out of the river and go upstream to find out why they are falling in”. Reversing the damage caused by a lack of funding and our pernicious accountability system needs to be the first step to ensure proper investment in education for our young people. Now is the time for the government to look up stream and take real action to stem the tide of casualties from the profession.

by Helena Marsh, Executive Principal, Linton Village College

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