A new approach to keeping your teachers

Written by: HTU | Published:

A new approach to coaching and mentoring, including assigning Career Champions for every NQT, could provide the answer to the growing challenge of teachers leaving the profession. Executive headteacher Chris Wheatley explains.

It is plain for everyone to see that we have an issue of keeping teachers in the profession. 

Recent Department for Education (DfE) figures show that nearly half of teachers leave the maintained sector within five years of qualifying. The pressures of the job today are significant and for me are the main reason why we have this challenge. For many new teachers the level of work required can sometimes be a shock to the system.

The responsibilities and accountability that teachers have today contribute to that pressure. Along with the number one priority – children’s attainment – there’s also school performance tables, internal performance management and Ofsted. 

The day-to-day realities of a teacher’s job are different too. For example, when I became a primary teacher back in the 1990s the recommended approach to marking children’s work was the “bubble and block” approach. A tick and a simple comment with a learning point was the norm. 

Today we expect a much more detailed approach, with responses from each child proving their learning. Then there is personalisation of each child’s learning and a greater emphasis on the planning, checking and marking of children’s homework. This can be difficult to keep on top of in classes of more than 30 children.

When I ask heads and teachers that I work with about these responsibilities and pressures, most tell me that they do nothing in their working lives that they feel is just for the sake of it. Everything they do has a role. But the cumulative effect of all this can be to make the job too big for some people.

This is affecting the morale of some teachers. If a recent IpsosMori survey is to be believed, more than 80 per cent of headteachers believe staff morale has become worse in the past four years, while six in 10 said a job in teaching was “unattractive” to people considering their careers, with more than 70 per cent warning the role of headship had become unappealing to senior leaders.

I believe that schools can play a major role in tackling these issues and give teachers the support they need to stay in the profession and continue making an enormous difference to children’s lives.

I hope that the approach taken by me and my colleagues in schools across the East Midlands will change things and provide a national model that will lead to new – and established – teachers staying in the profession where they can continue making a difference to children’s lives.

Inspiring Leaders, our training partnership made up from Candleby Lane Teaching School Alliance based in Nottinghamshire, and Affinity Teaching School Alliance in Leicestershire, has recently been awarded school centred initial teacher training (SCITT) status. In September 2015, we will be welcoming our first 60 students into our schools to start their one year School Direct course.

When they successfully complete their course in the summer of 2016 many will be starting their teaching careers in one of the 106 schools across our partnership.

The first benefit of this approach for teacher retention is that our schools won’t be trying to fill their vacancies in a reactive, knee-jerk way. By drawing NQTs from a programme that they themselves have helped develop – they may even have hosted the teacher as a trainee – they will be able to choose exactly the right teacher for them in their context. It will be a decision based on close knowledge of that trainee. It is an approach which removes the guesswork and risk associated with recruiting a new teacher after a teaching demonstration and some interviews.

Most importantly, we plan to heavily invest our time and resources in their career, with a particular emphasis on the first three years. 

When they join their school, our NQTs will each be assigned a “career champion”. For the first three years of their career they will have a weekly session with their champion. It will be an opportunity for them to discuss any concerns they have about their teaching. 

They can ask their champion for help and advice. They will get quick hints and tips from an experienced teacher who will also be able to identify more formal training to help them with a development need. 

The champions will come from within the school or the wider partnership and will be on the middle or senior leadership development courses that we offer in our Inspiring Leaders training partnership. Working as a champion will be developmental for them too. They will get valuable experience of developing and supporting staff which will be vital in their development as school leaders. There might be one or two of these career champions in the school.

This approach is a significant step on from what we currently have in most schools, certainly primaries. In most primaries, for example, an NQT will have a career coach or mentor. In a lot of cases this will be the headteacher because no-one else has the time or inclination to take on the responsibility. It is very much based on the performance management model. Meetings might be termly or even annual. The support is based on performance management objectives. It is driven by process rather than a desire to nurture an NQT’s career development.

The aim of all schools should be to support the retention of that teacher and to maximise their potential. In our partnership we will also identify whether they could become leaders for the future. Through the middle and senior leadership development programmes offered through Inspiring Leaders they will have the chance to develop from a classroom teacher through to headteacher if they have the ability and desire. 

We think it is really important that new teachers have a career flight path clearly set out for them. Clear career development and progression is a great motivator and morale builder, but until now new and trainee teachers have not been given a clear enough view of the career possibilities open to them.

This is not a loose set of aspirations. It will become a reality in September 2015 when the first 60 students start their teacher training with Inspiring Leaders. These students will know that when they successfully complete the one-year course in the summer of 2016 they will have a job with a high level of career support.

I see no reason why this approach would not work on a national basis, but there needs to be a statutory approach. As an NQT you get one day a week planning, preparation and assessment time as it is. Work with a career champion could fit into this time.

By using middle leaders and doing it once a week this would be a new and different approach. This would be about reciprocity and mutual development. For me, it points to the great need to develop professional teaching teams in our schools. This is something we already do well in our group of schools. It’s about developing an ethos in which teaching staff rely on each other, carving up tasks and sharing overall responsibility. 

Granted, our approach will not address the level of work that teachers now have to do but giving them the close, nurturing support of a more experienced teacher and aspiring leader will make the role easier, help them greatly in their development, and keep them in the profession where they can continue to make an enormous difference to children’s lives. 

  • Chris Wheatley is executive headteacher at Cotgrave Candleby Lane School, Nottinghamshire. Candleby Lane and Kibworth CE Primary School in Leicestershire have jointly established Inspiring Leaders, a partnership offering training and development programmes for teachers and school leaders. Inspiring Leaders has just become a SCITT (school centred initial teacher training provider) and will welcome its first School Direct trainees in September 2015. Visit: www.inspiringleaderstoday.com/teacher-training

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