Workforce study offers tips to boost teacher retention

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Boosting job satisfaction and promoting part-time working opportunities have been identified as among the most effective teacher retention strategies. Pete Henshaw reports

Teachers are moving more often between schools and increasing numbers are leaving the profession altogether, a major education workforce study has confirmed.

Furthermore, schools are losing out on valuable experience due to a notable drop in the number of staff aged 50 or over.

The study – Teacher Workforce Dynamics in England – has been published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) with funding from the Nuffield Foundation.

Other important findings in the report include the potential of part-time working to tackle retention problems – an area where the NFER says primary schools are leading the way.

The report, published earlier this month, contains a series of recommendations for school leaders, government and Ofsted.

Earlier this year, education secretary Damian Hinds said he would make tackling recruitment and retention issues a “top priority”. However, he failed to address the crisis in his first Conservative party conference speech last month.

The NFER report calls on ministers not to lose focus on their pledge and to make teacher retention in particular a priority. Chief executive Carole Willis said: “The retention and recruitment of teachers is one of the most important policy issues facing England’s education system today. As pupil numbers continue to rise and teacher numbers do not grow sufficiently to meet increased demand, retaining teachers in the profession must remain a top priority, particularly at a time when government recruitment targets are not being met. This is an issue the government cannot afford to ignore.”

The report finds that while the number of full-time equivalent teachers in England’s state-funded schools has increased from 441,800 in 2010 to 457,300 in 2016 (3.5 per cent), this is masking retention problems and significant issues with increasing numbers of teachers moving between schools.

At the same time, more teachers are needed as pupil numbers continue to rise. Department for Education (DfE) figures (January 2018) show 8,74 million pupils across all schools in England (up from 8.1 million in 2010). This includes 4.7 million primary pupils (up from 4.1 million).

The report confirms that rates of teachers leaving the profession and moving school have risen since 2010. Between 2010 and 2015, the proportion of working-age teachers quitting increased from 8.9 to 10.3 per cent in primary schools.

Over the same period, the proportion of teachers moving school has risen more rapidly, from 5.3 to 8.5 per cent for primary teachers.

The report also warns that we are losing more experienced teachers with the proportion of full-time teachers older than 50 in primary and secondary schools falling by 23 per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2016.

In terms of why teachers quit or move, a key finding was dissatisfaction among teachers about the amount of leisure time they have and long working hours.

The report states: “Teachers have the lowest satisfaction with their amount of leisure time, compared to nurses and police officers. Because of the peaks and troughs of the school year, teachers work more intensively across fewer weeks in the year. Working long hours over prolonged periods, as teachers are doing, can create pressure and stress, with potential negative effects on health and wellbeing.”

It adds: “Unmanageable workload is consistently the most cited reason teachers give for why they leave the profession.”

The report also highlights that job satisfaction may play a more important role than pay in teacher retention. It finds that the average teacher who has quit takes a 10 per cent pay cut in their new job but cites other benefits including “improved job satisfaction or the opportunity to work part-time”.

The report finds that job satisfaction often declines in the years before teachers quit. As such, it urges schools to focus on ways of building teacher autonomy and wellbeing and ensuring staff feel valued.

It states: “NFER research has identified that the quality of school leadership and management, including teacher autonomy and whether staff feel they are supported and valued by managers, and whether or not teachers feel their workload is manageable, are important determinants of job satisfaction.”

The report says that policy responses that aim to increase teacher retention need to “consider pay alongside other factors affecting the trade-offs that teachers make, such as their workload, working hours and job satisfaction”.

The report urges schools to consider appointing a governor or trustee responsible for staff welfare and to “regularly monitor” the job satisfaction of their staff in order to identify potential retention problems. Meanwhile, it asks ministers and Ofsted to consider the impact of their policies on workload.

One solution that seems to stand out from the report is part-time working, where primary schools have been leading the way.

In 2016, one in four teachers (26 per cent) in the primary sector worked part-time compared to about one in six (18 per cent) in secondary (this gap is significant even when taking into account the higher proportion of female staff in primary schools and the report urges secondaries to follow primary schools’ example).

It adds: “Improved part-time opportunities would help to retain full-time teachers who would have left without being able to go part-time, better retain existing part-time teachers and encourage more former teachers who want to return to part-time roles to do so. NFER research found that a lack of part-time and flexible working opportunities is one of the key barriers facing teachers who want to return to teaching.”

The report also discusses other types of flexible working, including job shares – currently around five per cent of teachers job share – and the less popular approaches of flexi-time, working compressed hours (longer hours but fewer days) or regular working from home.

Another notable finding in the study is that a school’s Ofsted rating has a role to play. The report states: “The rate of teachers leaving the profession and moving school are highest when the school has been rated as being inadequate in successive inspections.”

Ms Willis added: “We have thoroughly researched the factors associated with teacher supply, which are crucial in assisting policy-makers and system leaders formulate effective responses to this complex issue. For example, our evidence indicates that lack of job satisfaction is a key reason why teachers leave the profession. Focusing on improving job satisfaction, and tackling workload and long working hours could be vital for improving teacher retention and to make teaching an attractive and rewarding profession to enter as well as to stay in.”

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