Three keys to recruitment and retention

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Reprioritise – stop doing good stuff to do even better stuff; make teaching in your school intellectually attractive; and ensure teacher wellbeing, suggests Sylvia Paddock, director of operations, SSAT

School leaders have a critical role to play in teacher recruitment, retention and wellbeing. They are the role models – the talent spotters and nurturers. At SSAT, we’ve made a commitment to support the development of the next generation of system leaders and have given a group of 124 high-potential future leaders from around the SSAT Secondary Network the opportunity to take part in an exclusive year-long initiative to help them to:

  • develop their vision for education and shape their educational principles
  • gain an in-depth understanding of the current education system
  • look at different leadership models and the skills needed to succeed.

One of the major issues they will be looking at is recruitment and retention, and here are three elements that can help.


Teachers new to the profession need to focus on teaching and learning – to get their practice right. So school culture and support are vital to retention. Professor Dylan Wiliam, who SSAT is proud to work with, speaks about ‘stopping doing the good stuff to give staff time to do even better stuff’. He uses the example of marking and how if we agreed that that we weren’t going to mark everything in a school that we could use that time in a more productive way. He says we need to stop thinking that if we don’t do everything, we are being lazy in some way; instead we should think about what we do with our time that improves the education for every child in the school. Watch Dylan William on Workload.

Making teaching intellectually attractive

OECD’s Andreas Schleicher captured the mood when he argued during World Teachers Day last year that it was important to make teaching in England ‘intellectually attractive’ again. For this to happen, he said, teachers should spend less time working directly with pupils in the classroom, not he stressed to do more admin, but to use the time to work with other colleagues, observe other teachers and prepare lessons. Something of a dream maybe for many in our system.

Teachers should spend less time working directly with pupils in the classroom, to work with other colleagues, observe other teachers and prepare lessons. Andreas Schleicher

We know from reports from the likes of the Education Policy Institute that teachers in England are working longer hours than in most other countries. Their report released in October 2016 showed that fulltime teachers work an average of 48.2 hours per week, with around a fifth of teachers saying they had worked 60 hours in some weeks. The report shows this is principally a result of additional time spent marking and carrying out other admin tasks. The NUT maintains this is unacceptable and is exacerbating teacher shortages.

So the role of school leaders to reduce paperwork and allow teachers to focus on what is really important – teaching and learning – is crucial.

Recruitment needs national strategist

Recruiting teachers is a national issue and needs to have someone nationally that has a strategic role in the numbers and subject areas. At SSAT we believe the best teacher training is through partnerships with schools of education and schools themselves – teachers need theory as well as practice.
We also think we need to review fast-track schemes. It is great that Teach First recruit outstanding teachers, but do we need longer to prepare them and, of course, we want them to stay longer than they do on average.

So it makes it even sadder when we see surveys such as the YouGov one finding that most education professionals have faced physical and mental health issues which they attribute to their work. In that survey:

  • nearly a third reported high levels of stress
  • 45% said they did not achieve the right work/life balance
  • 53% said they have considered leaving the profession
  • 49% said their work had suffered through psychological, physical or behavioural problems.


Various organisations have issued a plethora of initiatives and recommendations to help, such as:

  • A measurable health and wellbeing policy introduced in every education organisation to find ways to manage workplace stress and strains.
  • Initial teacher and NQT training as well as workplace induction which aims to ensure all new staff are properly prepared for key teaching challenges, including managing workload as a key source of work-related physical and mental health problems.
  • An accountability framework that supports and empowers the profession; inspection and regulation should inspire and help promote a healthier culture.
  • More focused and better early career support.

However, we must guard against short term or even entirely inappropriate fixes. One example: a recent TES investigation found an explosion of assistant HTs in the system, with schools offering leadership positions to secure talented teachers. Commenters pointed out this leads to too many generals and not enough soldiers in the system. And of course It doesn’t really tackle the problem.

Teachers make lives, so it is vital that they are trained and treated as professionals.

So, to end: as a school leader, it might be worth considering:

  1. What good stuff you might stop happening to give your staff time to do even better stuff.
  2. How you can make your school more intellectually attractive.
  3. Whether your staff have a good work/life balance to help maintain their mental health and overall wellbeing.
Do you have a strategy which has helped ease the recruitment and retention challenge? Write on the SSAT blog by getting in touch with your relationship manager by email:

Read more on the SSAT blog: A low cost, high impact strategy to maintain morale and high performance

 Follow Sylvia Paddock on Twitter

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