I have been a teacher for 30 years, a Headteacher for 15 years and, at the age of 53, this much I know about solving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.
For a long time now I have been articulating this very simple argument:
- We can take it as a given that we all want pupils to make good progress in their learning.
- It is generally accepted that the quality of teaching is the most influential factor in determining the rate at which pupils make progress in their learning – broadly speaking, the better the teaching, the more progress pupils make over time.
- The new curriculum at primary and the new specifications at GCSE & A level are significantly more academically challenging than their predecessors.
- It follows, logically, then, that the best thing for our pupils is to be taught by well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers.
- School leaders need to create a culture where the staff are looked after first, because that will give us the best chance to recruit and retain well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers, which is the best thing for our pupils.
If I am wrong, please someone correct me.
To attract well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers to join the profession, we have to create working conditions which are something like those articulated below by the American educator Roland S. Barth, a copy of which I was given by a colleague at Hove Park, Wayne Jones; I have had it posted on my office wall for the last 25 years:
A Personal Vision of an Idealised School Culture
Roland S Barth
‘I would welcome the chance to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions. I would become excited about life in a school where a climate of risk taking is deliberately fostered and where a safety net protects those who may risk and stumble. I would like to go each day to a school to be with other adults who genuinely wanted to be there, who really chose to be there because of the importance of their work to others and to themselves. I would not want to leave a school characterised by a profound respect for, and encouragement of, diversity, where important differences among children and adults were celebrated rather than seen as problems to remedy. For 190 days each year, I would like to attend an institution that accorded a special place to philosophers who constantly examine and question and frequently replace embedded practices by asking ‘why’ questions. And I could even reside for a while in a laundry dryer if accompanied by a great deal of humour that helps bond the community by assisting everyone through tough moments. I’d like to work in a school that constantly takes note of the stress and anxiety level on the one hand and standards on the other, all the while searching for the optimal relationship of low anxiety and high standards.’
At a time when there is a very real shortage of well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers, school leaders would do well to review their organisations’ policies and ask themselves whether their policies are conducive to recruiting and retaining well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers; if they are not, then they might change the policies until they are conducive to recruiting and retaining well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers.
Below are the first and last slides of a talk I am giving at the moment; at least some of the answers to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis are in school leaders’ hands.
As one who fell out of the system precisely because of the damage the absence of all those things did to me, I could not agree more.
That’s sorts retention. Wholly agree. But what about recruitment.
“The new curriculum at primary and the new specifications at GCSE & A level are significantly more academically challenging than their predecessors.”
And therefore, almost by definition, disenfranchise even more bell-curve “failures”. I would be very interested to hear how you see their best efforts celebrated?
“It follows, logically, then, that the best thing for (ALL) our pupils is to be taught by well qualified, highly motivated, hard-working, happy, healthy, well trained, expert teachers.”
Absolutely, and those working with the children significantly disenfranchised by the more academic focus need to be very skilled teachers to ensure they feel part of the community. Again, interested in your view of a research focussed institution ensures ALL students feel valued and their efforts appreciated?
Or, are they being slowly but surely edged out of a system geared towards examination outcomes.
The thing is, it is where we are. I have done more than my fair share since 2010 to cushion the negative impact of government reform upon our most vulnerable, both in our classrooms and on the national stage. At Huntington we have just launched a huge drive to support even more comprehensively those same vulnerable students and I am speaking at a social mobility conference in York next Friday where I will explain what we are doing.
Our vulnerable students did well last summer but they can do even better and we have to be better trained in order to support them to meet the huge challenge facing them when they embark upon the new curriculum. We unapologetically refuse to fob off our vulnerable students with meaningless qualifications like Microsoft Office in Schools. So, we can either protest and not change our approach, leaving our most vulnerable to flounder, or we get better at teaching them. I respond to the plight of our most vulnerable by enabling 111 teachers at Huntington to attempt to improve their teaching in a climate devoid of fear.
If you read our OFSTED report you will find that we were praised for doing the right thing for our students and you will also read just how well our vulnerable students are doing in the new academically challenging landscape. Every single one of our 232 Year 11 moved onto meaningful progression routes last summer. It can be done. But we need the very best teachers to do it.
This is such a eloquent statement of what schools need today, beautifully, cogently expressed. Would like this to be shared with millions. It is sanity in an insane world, wisdom in a crazyy times, enduring values in turbulent times of change, healing words when many teachers are hurting. Not only will this retain teachers but will attract. Thank you
I think you’re spot on John.
Hi, I wanted to let you know that I’ve included a link to this post in a recent blog post of my own about the pressures on teachers and the need for the summer break, from my perspective of having moved fro teaching in school to education outreach. You put things far better than I could have done.