Retaining our new and experienced teachers

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With more teachers leaving the profession than joining, improving retention rates is crucial to tackling the on-going supply challenges. The government has recently announced new plans to boost teacher retention, particularly with additional support for new teachers. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

In January, the Department for Education (DfE) published its long-awaited Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy.

A central focus of the new government strategy is teacher retention. Among the report’s four key strategic priorities, it listed the need for high quality support for early career teachers – a move welcomed by school leaders and the wider education community as a step in the right direction.

It promises to transform support for early career teachers – teachers in the first two or three years in the job – with the “most significant reforms to teaching since it became a graduate-only profession”. This is to be backed by “substantial investment” including the launch of an Early Career Framework (ECF), with an entitlement to two years of structured support for early career teachers linked to research evidence and funded time off timetable in the second year of teaching to access additional support.

There will also be new incentives for early career teachers in the form of phased bursaries in shortage subjects, with staged retention payments to encourage more teachers to remain in the profession.

Two of the other three key points also relate to early career teachers. Ministers are proposing “clear pathways” for career development for those who seek promotion to leadership and teachers who want to remain in the classroom, and reforms to the accountability system to try and tackle excessive workload.

In recent years, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has helped inform the discussion around teacher retention and the development of the government’s strategy by exploring the factors and challenges that result in thousands of teachers quitting every year.

The NFER’s report, Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England, published last year, found that rates of teachers leaving the state sector have increased since 2010, particularly among early career teachers. Its research showed that it is getting harder to retain early career teachers in the profession, especially in key subjects such as maths, science and modern foreign languages.

Why are our teachers leaving the profession?

When teachers leave the profession, it affects our schools and students so it is important to understand the factors influencing teacher retention. The report highlighted that a lack of job satisfaction was a key reason for teachers leaving the profession, and that this was influenced by how supported and valued they felt by colleagues and senior leaders, whether workload expectations were manageable, and how supportive the culture was of tackling and alleviating those challenges in their school.

Long working hours and a lack of work/life balance, frequent policy changes and the impact of accountability, such as Ofsted inspections, also had negative effects on teacher health and wellbeing. It found that many teachers left the profession and took on lower-paid jobs because the demands were less, and they offered a better work/life balance and increased job satisfaction.

The report suggested that more and better flexible and part-time working opportunities may help to support some teachers to stay in teaching for longer.
At the same time, salary increases needed to be structured and targeted at those groups within the profession likely to be most responsive – such as early career teachers and those teaching shortage subjects.

What support new teachers need to stay

The research emphasises that engagement underpins retention, especially for new teachers. The NFER’s Early Career Continuing Professional Development Exploratory Research, published in November, and commissioned by the DfE, examined how CPD can support, develop and retain teachers in the early stages of their careers.

Researchers found that in the first year of teaching, NQTs needed support in developing knowledge and skills in behaviour management, pupil assessment, pedagogy and supporting children with learning needs.

The reality of work in schools can lead to “practice shock” for early career teachers, so support from colleagues to help them settle into their new roles and to adjust to the school environment is critical.

Teachers who felt supported and had a positive experience of induction included those who had had a balanced package of support (which personalised opportunity), who had worked in supportive whole-school cultures and who could access guidance from a range of colleagues, including senior leaders and mentors.

In the second and third year, however, teachers needed training and development to support progression in their subject or key stage, or into middle leadership or other specialist roles.

Researchers found that as teachers progressed in their careers, they needed to broaden their skill-set, to reflect the fact they were encountering new challenges, such as teaching pupils in examination years and with different support needs.

However, dedicated CPD for them was found to be limited, even though many continued to receive support from a senior colleague and to access CPD available to all staff. There is currently no statutory requirement for schools to provide training and support for recently qualified teachers (RQTs), and in most schools involved in this study, there was no formal mentoring support (though informally this was still available from senior colleagues).

The study also found that many RQTs were keen to take on progression opportunities, and that these were essential to ensuring they maintained levels of job satisfaction. However, such opportunities often did not exist, or there was a lack of recognition of the RQT as being able to fulfil the role.

The proposed Early Career Framework

It is evident that improving the retention of new teachers is an important issue for current and future teacher supply. The government has set out the first steps to improve the offer of support new teachers receive through the ECF.

Published in January alongside the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, the ECF has been designed to support early career teachers in the key areas of behaviour management, pedagogy, curriculum, assessment and professional behaviours – as highlighted in NFER’s findings for the DfE.

However, it is also crucial that we retain our experienced teachers so new teachers can gain experience and support from more experienced teachers, which is important to their professional development.

Carole Willis, NFER’s chief executive, agreed that while more teachers did need to be recruited, retaining those already in post was just as important.

“Our current teachers have already been recruited, trained, and have gained valuable experience in the classroom. If more of them stay that will reduce the number of new recruits that need to be found and trained; it will ensure that experienced teachers can continue to contribute their expertise, and it will secure the pipeline of future leaders.”

  • Dorothy Lepkowska is a freelance education journalist.

Further information

Research Insights

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