DfE’s new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy: Redemption for the teaching profession?

Recent recruitment and retention statistics present the teaching profession as a profession in crisis. It is estimated that, in 2017, nearly 35,000 teachers left the profession for reasons other than retirement, with four in 10 teachers leaving within their first year of qualification[1].

The Education Support Partnership (2017), highlighted that pressures of workload and a lack of work-life balance were the two top cited reasons for teacher attrition. Most worryingly, the Office for National Statistics (2017) reports that suicide rates among primary school teachers in England is now nearly double the national average.

A proposed panacea for this deepening crisis has been launched in the guise of the Department for Education’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy, which seeks to address four key barriers.

Barrier 1: The wider context in which headteachers operate can create pressure that leads to excessive workload that distracts teachers from teaching.

There is no doubt that leadership will be key in overcoming this barrier to recruitment and retention. Leaders have a responsibility to implement reforms that readdress the work-life balance of their staff, not to add to it out of a misguided belief that behaviour such as staying on the school site until 6pm every day, or taking 120+ books home every night to mark will improve their next Ofsted rating. Such behaviours do not define teacher effectiveness nor do they guarantee pupil progress, but are a sure fire way to perpetuate stress in an already beleaguered profession.

Barrier 2: Not enough early career teachers receive the high quality support they need to build the foundation for a successful career.

Learning to teach is a life-long process. While key content can be covered in year-long training programmes, it is when you have gained your own class that you really start to develop as a teaching profession. For many NQTs, the quality of the support they have received throughout their first year has been variable and, for some, poor. The move to a two-year framework throughout which quality mentoring, CPD, and funded non-contact time, is key to the success of this strategy.

Embedded within the aims to address this barrier is the implementation of staggered bursaries. These may be viewed as a positive response to reduce the number of ‘bursary tourists’ – those individuals having what is tantamount to a financial fling, using pupils as stepping stones out of debt accrued as a student.

These historical quick fix financial incentives in the form of golden handshakes for shortage subjects have thus far proven largely unsuccessful as the panacea for the recruitment and retention crisis. The introduction of staggered bursaries does shift the focus from recruitment to retention, which should be applauded, however these bursaries remain to be secondary and subject focused. Is this just the case of again throwing money at the problem without addressing the underlying issues?