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Teacher retention plans must include a variety of career paths

Stephen Steinhaus of Whitley Academy, Coventry, gives his reaction to Sir David Carter’s plan to tackle the ‘desperate’ teacher retention problems…

Having originally trained and taught in America, I guess this career path as laid out, which appears to assume all teachers in their fifth year will be “getting ready for a leadership role”, looks more familiar to me to an extent.

In the normal American public (ie state) system, there is an ‘administration’ pathway (ie into senior leadership, principal, superintendent) as well as a track into ‘guidance counselling’ (IAG, university applications, etc), both of which lead completely out of the classroom. Here, of course, senior leaders will normally have a teaching load (though we do now have non-teaching head of year/pastoral roles).

In the States, there are specific training and education routes into these positions (which can sometimes cohere). It’s not uncommon for principals to be younger, and have far more limited teaching careers (and very different postgraduate qualifications) than school heads over here.

So, for us in the UK I guess that does spread the recruitment net wider to reach more candidates who have no plans to be a lifelong classroom teacher, but will use classroom teaching as a springboard to a leadership position.

There seems to be more of a tradition of a ‘headteacher’ role here, in that you need to put the time in the classroom in order to progress, despite the different skill sets required. This has changed somewhat due to the academisation process, as we look to other industries for executive principals and heads, but it still seems prevalent.

A number of key things helps us attract staff to Whitley Academy: being an outstanding school and an RSA academy, and some of our curriculum innovation via Opening Minds. But also, both internally and via RSA initiatives, there are always leadership opportunities for both teaching and support staff. That is a definite draw, especially in a school with the pace as fast and the expectations as high as ours are.

I guess one of my questions, though, with the loss of initiatives like AST or specialist schools, is: where is the financial incentive for prospective teachers who do want a 25-year career in the classroom? We have solved that problem at Whitley through the promotion of SLEs, which takes the expertise previously focused on developing our staff internally and moves it to external schools.

In that way, the MAT approach would allow that expertise to stay more in-house, just with a much bigger and more complex house.


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