Teacher retention is worse than ever. What are the solutions?

School Recruitment Process Outsourcing

The latest studies on teacher retention and attrition have shown that more than 40% of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years, and government ministers have failed to hit their recruitment targets for four consecutive years – despite £700m being spent on efforts to boost the number of NQTs entering the profession. In January, the Department for Education released a landmark report aimed at tackling the crisis, showing just how seriously Westminster is taking the problem. Retention strategies clearly need to improve. Here’s some tried and tested methods to ensure staff aren’t rushing to the doors.

Encouraging Leadership

Encouraging staff leadership is a proven method to boost retention. In a ComRes poll, 49% of teachers said they would be interested in taking a more senior position at their school, with an overwhelming 88% saying that they would be more likely to remain with an employer that offered excellent leadership opportunities. The desire is clearly there. With this in mind, school leaders need to offer and promote clearly defined routes for progression, and provide adequate support to enable people to achieve their career aspirations. The most effective teachers are often the most ambitious ones, who will want opportunities to expand their skills and grow throughout their careers. Providing such scope for development recognises teachers for the professionals they are and values their individual contributions, preventing them from becoming complacent or disillusioned.

Managing Workload

Workload is a major cause driving staff to quit the profession.The National Union of Teachers surveyed over 16,000 teachers and found that 90% had considered changing jobs during the last two years because of the workload, 87% knew one or more colleague who had given up because of it, and 96% said that it had a negative impact on their personal life. With numbers like that, it’s clear that schools need to take a different approach.   Schools that offer non-typical working arrangements, such as job-sharing and flexible working, will be the ones that succeed in this area. Thankfully, this is something on the government’s radar. In the recent retention report, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the ASCL, stated that ‘the next generation will expect flexible working as the norm. This is, ultimately, an issue that only school leaders can and must address. Put simply – if we don’t, it is our institutions that will suffer.’ However, while the DfE has put forward useful long-term strategies to help schools manage workloads of their staff, there are still methods that leaders can implement right now. For instance, setting limits on after-school meetings, ensuring that only relevant staff are present, making sure employees take their breaks and lunch times, and not setting expectations for immediate email responses will all go some way towards easing the burden.

Mental Health Support

Studies have shown that 40% of newly qualified teachers experience mental health problems, and 51% have considered leaving due to health and wellbeing pressures. With almost one in three people struck by mental health problems while in employment, schools can increase retention through more accessible emotional support. The state of teacher mental health has rightly been described as a crisis and, in order to tackle it head on, school leaders need to build open and supportive wellbeing cultures.  By adopting ‘open-door’ policies, challenges can be appropriately aired and addressed. Other initiatives such as wellbeing surveys, training staff as mental health first aiders, and specialist guidance during teacher training are also ways to achieve this. Making methods like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or mindfulness meditation freely available are also effective options. CBT has been identified as an extremely effective treatment for mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. One study found that mindfulness techniques significantly reduced the stress of participants when practiced over three months. By offering these options, or other activities such as yoga, and physical exercise classes, schools can provide easy to implement, powerful methods of improving mental health.

Personal Development and Training

Higher levels of effective training have been proven to reduce desire the to move schools. In fact, improving professional development by just one standard deviation shows a 63% reductionin the chance that a teacher will leave. Extra opportunities to grow will not only make employees more positively inclined to their school, but also allow organisations to improve their effectiveness by upskilling their existing workforce.  This is best achieved through regular, personalised job-related CPD which allows individuals to develop and share professional expertise.

Employer Brand

Research shows that 63% of employees admit that a trusted employer brand positively impacts job enjoyment. However, this is often overlooked by organisations, with only 30% of large companies harnessing employer brand to aid retention. With this in mind, in order to position their school as a ‘destination of choice’, head teachers and business managers must ensure that they promote a consistent and compelling brand proposition across every channel. Through an effective integrated marketing strategy, schools and academies should aim to cultivate a message that their organisation is an exciting, aspirational place to be. Whether that be through sharing sporting achievements, school trips and exam results through its website, newsletters or local media, communications should always invoke pride in existing employees reinforce the vision of what a career in the school could look like. While once it was commonplace for teachers to stick with the employer they joined as an NQT right through to retiring as a senior leader, linear career paths are no longer the norm. That’s not to say schools can’t offer individuals exciting opportunities to achieve their professional ambitions. However, school leaders must actively promote how they are able to do this if they are to attract and retain the brightest talent.


It is worth noting that due to the scarcity of teachers, and the abundance of options available to jobseekers, the interview stage of the recruitment process is often where great talent is won or lost. Against the current landscape, hiring managers must forget the outdated idea of a face-to-face meeting being a forum to test suitability of the candidate. Instead, it should be viewed as an open forum for both parties to get to know each other – and a platform to sell the establishment as one in which teachers can maximise their full potential. Through this approach, school leaders can ensure that they bring on board staff who have the motivation to stick around and grow and develop with the organisation. Furthermore, theprocess to become a teacher is often too complicated and burdensome and may need to be simplified, with applications streamlined so that they are more user-friendly.


Pairing teachers up with mentors to give them someone to turn to for guidance is strongly associated with having a positive impact on attrition levels. According to an article published in Politics & Policy, high-quality induction and mentoring programs are the best method for increasing retention. An American study of 2000 teachers over a five year period showed that 86% of new teachers with first-year mentors were still teaching at the end of the period, compared with 71% without. Mentoring in the classroom has been demonstrated to promote quality in teaching and also in motivation to make education a life-long career. This can be introduced in a number of ways, for instance,pairing a veteran teacher with a novice one. The experienced teachers can then provide support through model lessons, assistance in lesson planning and classroom management, and observation and formative feedback of lessons.

Onboarding and support for new teachers

NQT’s often don’t get the support they need to build a successful career, and many end up leaving within the first five years, with drop-out within the first two years particularly sharp. Furthermore, added financial incentives are focused solely on recruitment and do not encourage early career retention. Currently, we spend around £250 million a year attracting high quality graduates and career changers into the profession with tax-free bursaries of up to £26,000 and other financial perks. This is an important investment, but is too squarely focused on getting talent through the door. Early career teachers are also too often expected to plan and resource lessons from scratch. The recent news that the government is launching the Early Career Framework, a fully-funded, two-year package of structured support for all– alongside funded time off-timetable in the second year of teaching – is very encouraging in this regard.

Strategic workforce planning

School leaders can help safeguard against external factors through strategic workforce planning. A method commonly used across the private sector, this practice starts with an assessment of internal capability and serves as a mechanism to identify critical roles and future demand. Plans can then be put in place to ensure that existing talent is deployed in the most effective way within an organisation – and that skills are pipelined for the coming months and years. Creating a workforce plan requires little more than effectively utilising existing HR and pupil data. For example, by mapping when senior teachers are likely to retire, plans can be put in place to pass on their skills before they disappear with them. Of course, the education sector does not generally benefit from the heathy HR budgets and access to talent that many private sector organisations enjoy, but that doesn’t mean leaders can’t take lessons from business to build efficient and productive teams with the right mix of skills and experience.

Change is possible

While there is, of course, no easy solution to the current staffing crisis that schools and academies are facing, actively implementing strategies to engage and retain existing staff will certainly help to ease the burden. The staffing shortages within the education sector have been critical for some time, and the fact that the Department for Education has recently made such a strong attempt to identify and address the challenges it is causing it is truly commendable. However, what the report fails to identify is that effective workforce planning is key to success, and that schools and academies may need support in this area. Unless school leaders have the time, resources and expertise to implement the suggested strategies, they won’t be successful. Many schools and academies are trapped in a vicious cycle where understaffing means they do not have the means to enact the DfEs recommendations. However, with a dedicated workforce planning strategy, which deploys existing skills effectively, education leaders can begin boosting retention today, and free up time to focus on long term approaches.


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