3 key changes needed to keep new teachers in education

Fears of a post-pandemic exodus of new teachers underline why real change is needed to help keep new recruits in the profession for longer, explains Professor Geraint Jones

Geraint Jones

Behaviour in schools: How new teachers can claim their classroom space

For those of us on the front line of teacher training, it was no surprise to see concerns being raised last week around teacher recruitment and retention.

Specifically, Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, warned that the pandemic “surge” of applications was likely at an end – and with it a likely return to the same difficulties keeping new teachers in the profession.

According to recent government data, almost one in six teachers in England quits after just a year in the classroom – the highest figure on record. A quarter leave within three years of starting, and a third leave within six years.

In my role as executive director at Coventry University’s National School of Education and Teaching, I spend considerable time in schools listening to staff, from trainees to school leaders, about why this happens.

One thing they all agree on is that while teaching is incredibly rewarding it is equally tough – especially for new entrants to the profession.

So what steps can the government take to attract great people to the profession and help them stay the course and avoid the "exodus" of new teachers that may otherwise occur?

1. More time to train

All children are entitled to an outstanding education – something that can only be delivered by first-rate teachers.

But you won’t attract them with policies like "golden hellos" such as the recent £3,000 to plug gaps in parts of the country. Such inducements have been around for over twenty years, and so it is time to admit they do not work.

Short-term money will buy short-term commitment. Instead, we need meaningful reform to raise the status of teaching, so it is considered a professional and worthwhile career.

Core to this is how we train teachers and a career-long commitment within the sector to professional development.

The rigour of initial teacher training sits at the heart of this.

It takes most teachers around 37 weeks to become qualified – a superficial amount of time compared to the training demanded by other professions like medicine and law. 

From my conversations with recruits, top graduates do not want meagre training – they want training that is rigorous, challenging, professional and enables them to do the job well.

To this end, initial teacher training should take at least two years and continue to master's level to raise the profession’s profile; with pay increments linked to ongoing training and professional development. It’s what they do in Ireland, and it works.

Furthermore, if we give more attention to policing the gateway into teaching, and improving training, the less we need a stick-wielding watchdog. I know from time spent in schools, this applies much of the stress to new teachers – and it’s something we can ease.

2. More respect for CPD 

Once in the classroom, it’s vital we offer high quality mentoring and support to Early Career Teachers through the new framework.

This includes giving mentors protected time to deliver dedicated meeting slots, investment in building the relationship, channels to share knowledge of the craft, opportunities for observation and plenty of practical advice.

And this focus on development needs to extend to experienced teachers too. As a teacher, there was a cap on my training allowance of £130 a year, which stretched to a half-day course on GCSE specification changes in my subject.

Ongoing training is rarely prioritised and is often the first budget to be culled when the purse strings are tight.

The lack of respect and importance placed on continuous training in teaching denigrates our status as a profession – a key reason why too many top-quality graduates do not join or decide to leave it early. 

Ongoing training should be mandatory, with ring-fenced budgets for CPD for every member of staff. It pays to invest and build schools full of expertise.

I know from the trainee teachers and school leaders on our courses at the National School of Education and Teaching that a schools’ attitude to the professional development of its staff is one of the main reasons why they continue in the job.

3. Rewarding long service

And finally, pay. While short-term cash incentives are damaging – they attract the wrong people, for the wrong reasons – rewarding teachers who remain in the classroom is critical.

While starting salaries for teachers are okay (around £25,000 outside London), the maximum achieved without any management responsibility is around £41,000, after nine years.

This needs to be upwards of £50,000 and should be linked to expertise and a commitment to CPD, rather than tenure.

It is time for the government to admit that what has been done over the last 25 years has not worked and more of the same will heed no better results.

Instead, invest the money in training to create a profession that respects its own worth and demands expertise.

Only when we aspire for more in our teaching ability, will we attract the required numbers of new teachers who can do the job really well and also intend to stay.

Geraint Jones is the executive director and associate pro-vice-chancellor of the National School of Education and Teaching, Coventry University

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