Teaching: recruitment, retention and workload

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We’ve seen enough headlines to be aware that teacher recruitment, retention and workload are key areas of concern for education policy makers, schools and Multi-Academy Trusts.

With secondary pupil numbers forecast to rise by close to one million by 2024, the current teacher labour figures reveal a real tension with falling initial teacher training numbers and 26% of teachers leaving the professional after three years.

Teaching: in numbers

The 2016 School Workforce Survey (published June 2017) provides some interesting insights into labour trends within the teaching profession, which, if taken in isolation, seem largely positive. Teacher numbers overall have increased this year – albeit by a small 0.4% – although Secondary schools have experienced a 1.3% drop. 

However, when considered in the broader climate, the picture is a little less rosy. The Government has missed its targets for initial teacher education for the last five years and is struggling to attract candidates, particularly within the maths, physics and computing subjects. In order to meet the 2014/15 targets, the government would have needed to attract 1 in every 5 graduates in maths and physics.

By 2024, it’s estimated that the the secondary school system will need to support an additional 900,000 pupils. While Primary teacher numbers have kept pace with rising pupil numbers, Secondary have not. If teacher-to-pupil ratios are to be maintained, the workforce needs to grow substantially.

Attracting new teachers

On a more positive note, the latest Initial Teacher Training performance statistics report on the 2015/2016 academic year and show that that number of trainees has risen for the first time since 2009/10. A cause for this uptake is due, in part, to the inclusion of Teach First trainee data. The current number of trainees, however, is 13 per cent lower than in 2009/10.

The number of graduates entering teaching is higher than ever, and the government’s keen to keep growing the teacher workforce from the graduate pool - so in 2015, they announced a series of new incentives to help attract more graduates. These included increased bursaries for the EBacc subjects, with an added incentive for graduates with a first class degree training to teach physics, as well as teacher training scholarships schemes.

However, the figures report that there’s a significant leave-rate happening three-to-five years down the line. In 2011, 80% of new teachers remained in the profession after three years. In 2016 this figure dropped to 74%. With only three-quarters of newly qualified teachers staying in the profession after the three-year mark, there are some serious questions to be answered around why.

Teacher retention

Schools and MATs are also facing pressures around teacher retention, especially at secondary level. According to the NFER’s ‘should I stay or should I go?’ analysis of teacher recruitment and retention data, there’s a strong link between teacher engagement and their intentions to remain in the post, with 90% of ‘engaged’ teachers not considering leaving.

A key influencer here is - perhaps unsurprisingly - workload. In October 2014, the Department for Education launched a month-long consultation asking teachers for their views on teacher workload and how to reduce unnecessary aspects. More than 44,00 people responded. The findings from the consultation reported that:

  • classroom teachers and middle learners are working an average 54-hour week, with an average of 33 hours spent on non-teaching tasks
  • senior leaders are working an average 60-hour week

Three main areas were identified as the largest contributors to unnecessary workloads: planning; marking; and data management. If we consider the figures released by the Department of Education in June 2017 - which report a 26% rise in teacher vacancies in the past year - then workload as a cause of exiting the profession can’t be discarded.

Trends according to school type

The top-line figures also conceal some important trends according to school-type (e.g. Multi-Academy Trust or maintained), region and subject. Research by the NFER into various aspects of teacher recruitment and retention over the past year show several things that are of note to school leaders:

Staff turnover higher within Multi-Academy Trusts

Staff turnover within MATs was 10% in 2016, compared to 7% in maintained schools. On the plus side, 1% of that movement was to another school within the Trust, whereas within maintained schools there’s minimal movement within schools in the same geographical area.

Recruitment & retention is particularly difficult within EBacc subjects

Recruitment of teachers for the STEM subjects and an increased proportion of teachers of those subjects leaving the profession is a double whammy. A possible cause is that industry salaries and working hours are more appealing. Whatever the reason, it does cause problems for schools trying to fulfil their EBacc requirements.

With projected cuts of £8.9bn in education funding by 2022, there’s a good chance that life as a teacher is going to get harder, not easier. The National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers estimate that the average cut to Secondary school budgets will be £370,298.

What are the specific take-homes for MATs?

Multi-Academy Trusts are potentially better placed to manage their response to all of the issues that negatively impact teachers’ lives. While per-pupil funding is no different between Academies and maintained schools, there is scope, within the guidelines, to take a centralised approach to funding. Although currently most MATs do not operate this way, experts believe that more and more will move in this direction. Particularly given the projected cuts, this enables them to be more strategic about where funding is directed and flatten out financial risk.

The self-legislation that MATs are afforded also gives leaders more freedom to make strategic decisions on issues such as salary and hours. What’s more, the dynamics of teacher movements are slightly different within MATs. There’s the potential to create an internal job market – directing resource where it is most needed for the greater good, but more importantly in terms of retention, creating career progression pipelines – and therefore job satisfaction and loyalty.

Your experience

What’s your experience of teacher workload within your MAT? Have you found recruitment and retention a particular challenge, or does being part of a Trust help to ease the pressure?

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