Issues and Answers: Teacher Recruitment and Retention

COVID 19 showed us more clearly than ever the importance of education and why we need to protect it. We have not only seen how hard it is when teachers and their pupils cannot be together but also how much it matters that we address the disruption to learning this has created. We have also been constantly reminded that an excellent education is the foundation for everything else in society. Let’s face it, without education, we would not have been able to navigate our way through the global crisis. We relied on our scientists and many other experts whose own education helped them to rise to the challenges of the pandemic so magnificently.

There are of course so many pressing issues in education I could talk about right now. But we can’t have great education without great teachers. Teachers have worked incredibly hard in the most challenging of circumstances. Now it matters more than ever that as a society we look after them. So, here are three pressing issues in teacher recruitment and retention that urgently need attention:

  1. Teacher recruitment – including Initial Teacher Training (ITE)

Teacher recruitment, both into ITE and beyond, has been a challenge for some time. As is so often the case, it’s a problem everywhere but a bigger problem both in impact and scale in the most disadvantaged areas. The schools with pupils who have the greatest need for the best teachers have the greatest challenge recruiting them.

ITE is clearly a very important factor in this – providing a pipeline of new teachers into the profession. It therefore matters a great deal that providers like the Sheffield Institute of Education have a clear mission to serve disadvantaged communities, and we are definitely part of the solution. However, as many people reading this will know all too well, ITE is not in a settled state, both in terms of recruitment and its future, and is a growing challenge nationally (see https://www.nfer.ac.uk/news-events/nfer-blogs/dfe-s-pay-proposals-are-not-enough-to-tackle-the-coming-teacher-supply-storm/). The changes to ITE provision through the DfE ITT Market Review have also raised questions about provision of ITE in all the right subjects, phases and places going forward (see https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/exclusive-itt-plan-risks-teacher-quality-dfe-adviser). We need to keep a close eye both on the supply and the provision side of ITE. This is a big deal.

  1. New teachers – we need to look after them more than ever

One of the reasons there is such a teacher recruitment challenge is because we have a teacher retention problem. As so many teachers leave (and so often very early in their career) we are constantly refilling a leaky bucket. We can’t have a great education system without great teachers, and we can’t have great teachers if we don’t hold onto them.

As I have said, we need to look after all teachers, but we need to give special and focused attention to our new teachers. They not only represent the future of the profession; they can play a central role in reformulating what happens now. They are also the ones most likely to leave, and this is a problem that is getting worse.

At the Sheffield Institute of Education, we have been focusing on how we support new teachers to help them develop, re-establish and nurture relationships with the children and colleagues they work with. Without those relationships, and without understanding the different factors that impact  children’s ability to learn, we cannot overcome all the barriers those children face: https://www.shu.ac.uk/news/all-articles/latest-news/specialist-learning-resources-created-to-support-children-and-families-during-coronavirus

However, it’s equally important that we understand and address the needs of the new teachers. The need to look after new teachers has become a welcome policy priority in recent years. This is mainly in the form of the Early Career Framework (ECF). The framework  has not been without its teething problems in its first year of national roll out (see https://schoolsweek.co.uk/what-next-for-an-ecf-that-is-already-failing-new-teachers-and-mentors/). It is certainly true that extra time demands on both early career teachers and their mentors has sometimes added to the pressures of teaching rather than eased them (though according to an independent evaluation not nearly as badly as the Schools Week article suggests: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1078234/ECF_evaluation_interim_research_brief_2022.pdf ). So, we need to learn from what has and hasn’t worked well in the early days of the ECF. Above all though, as financial constraints tighten, we must not abandon the need to look after new teachers as a policy priority. The answer to the challenges raised by time pressure is not to abandon the time needed for early career teachers and their mentors – it is to fund it properly.

  1. Teacher retention more broadly

While new teachers are a particular priority, we also need to pay attention to mid and later career members of the profession. The DfE has partly woken up to this problem and in publishing the recruitment and retention strategy (recruitment and retention strategy)  has started to build a sensible response. As a strategy, this response includes different moving parts which all need to work together. The National Professional Qualifications are a key part of this. However, research from my colleagues led by Professor Emily Perry shows that we need to do more: (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/352483644_Mid-Career_Teachers_A_Mixed_Methods_Scoping_Study_of_Professional_Development_Career_Progression_and_Retention)

Now more than ever we need to support all our teachers and ensure the teaching profession has a bright and secure future.

Professor Sam Twiselton, OBE

Director of the Sheffield Institute of Education