Mary-Jo Hill

08 Feb 2019
Staff retention rates have, and always will be, an issue in such volatile and complex environments such as schools.

Staff retention rates have, and always will be, an issue in such volatile and complex environments such as schools. And it seems that there are now more entry and exit points than ever. But how do schools keep a handle on the right level of retention with their staff to ensure vibrancy and meaning; alongside camaraderie and real strength as a high-functioning growing and learning team?

So retention is key and the schools that I have the pleasure to work within Norfolk again and again, value all of their staff enormously. It is the school’s greatest asset after all. Or as Duncan Spalding, headteacher of Aylsham High School states “a school is only as good as the staff within it”.

When coaching teachers and TAs and wider educational staff, it is with a mixed feeling of sadness and joy that “another one bites the dust” and comes to the conclusion that teaching is no longer for them.

That is why the recent DfE Recruitment and Retention Strategy has been welcomed with such a warm embrace by many. There are some crucial insights shared; for example, although “workload is quoted as the number one reason for leaving that it is not simply about the number of hours worked; it is also about teachers feeling in control of their work.”  The opportunity to work more flexibly and for that to be publicly supported for the first time is phenomenal progress.  Yet, still, an absolute headache for timetabling, and I have to admit that the subject of how ‘to manage a job share successfully’ is arising more so in coaching sessions. Of course, we also have the fact that if all teachers that would like to go part-time, do so, then there is also a major gap to fill, highlighted by Laura McInerney here. 

There are, however, some glaring gaps in this strategy, and namely addressing the issue of retention. Yes, there is a noble intention to support the right ‘culture’ of a school: to support the effective growth and development of staff but I am still not convinced that the three major retention strategies namely reducing bureaucracy; removing barriers to entry and phased bursaries; albeit all welcomed, really hit any of the deeper and real retention issues for staff.

The experienced teachers that I coach, more than ever, seriously consider where their future lies. An experienced and savvy professional that I coached recently is nervous about his future. Nineteen years of experience and expertise and he sees his colleagues being replaced for obvious financial reasons by NQTs, who demand more of his time as their limited experience in behaviour and standards impact greatly on him and the staff. The new dependent conformers are team players, faithful followers that will greatly benefit from the Early Career Framework’s commitment to mentoring: seeking direction and aligning themselves with others. Yet, these dependent early careerists do have real problems managing conflict. They avoid it, feel torn, and seek to respect the authority in charge. A school environment really is a changing–volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. How long will they last?  We know that 33% leave within five years.

Perhaps we also need to consider the more mature teacher right here, right now, or what we may call the Independent Achievers; those who are self-directed, actively taking on wider leadership and guided by their internal compass. They understand the mechanics of change and are able to think from others’ perspective yet they are still at critical points of growth and having regular and timetabled access to quality and external coaching can provide this need. 

And again, we still need the yet more experienced Interdependent Thinker too. The longer-term thinker who holds the multi-frame perspective and can hold the contradictions and the grey picture and who accepts uncertainty as the norm. Professional growth and understanding is just as important for this lot.