England's teacher job market is in trouble. We know that. As more teachers leave, posts go unfilled. Clearly, we need to change the shape of the recruitment and retention system.
We need to make much more information available to teachers to inform their decision-making process when applying or accepting positions. The more information the teacher has, the more sure they can be of their decision – and the more likely they are to stick about.
There are a number of ways this can happen:
Exit interviews should be conducted, transcribed and anonymised whenever any member of staff leaves a school. Every year, the Department for Education should request the transcripts and have them anonymised and digitised for simple download. The downloads should be made available to any applicant for any job or perhaps even any interested teacher, who can prove they are a registered/qualified teacher.
This process, as long as it’s easy and quick to access, will provide the prospective teacher with a wealth of information about the school, especially if the exit interview questions are the same for every school for use as comparison. Questions around workload, accountability and general wellbeing would surely be imperative and very revealing.
Teacher retention stats
Schools should be asked to publish their retention stats for the past five years. A digital tool should make comparisons on this from school to school easy, while also allowing the schools themselves to contextualise any data with “explanations” or commentary.
How this “extra” information or justification might be given would be one to consider carefully, but to see the numbers of teachers staying or going would be a highly powerful tool in determining whether there might be any kind of toxicity at play.
My views on the inspectorate are well documented. I strongly believe that many of its powers should be stripped away, most notably its power to judge schools. Nevertheless, it would seem that, with the new inspection framework on the horizon, any hopes that Ofsted in its current form might be demolished are just that: hopeful, at best.
So, in the interim, the inspectorate should get serious about teacher wellbeing and workload by making it a separate strand on any framework, contributing to any judgement that’s being made. It should have central place, due to the critical point we have reached on teacher recruitment and retention. The judgement can take into account things like how many scheduled meetings the school employs, how many data drops it instigates, how much periphery paperwork there is to complete and what workload-reducing and wellbeing-enhancing strategies have been employed.
This one is for the average teacher. Visit the school in advance. Don’t just stick to the standard tour and the beaten track. Go off-piste whenever possible: try and eat lunch in the staffroom, chat to anyone and everyone, given the chance. Look at how many cars are in the car park and stay after the bell to see how many teachers are able to leave pronto. Intercepting a few in the car park to ask how their day had been might be too ambitious but not impossible.
Ask difficult questions
If you can’t visit, ask the difficult questions at interview. One possible point of interest might be the school's performance management policy or the focus of it (to ascertain how results-driven things are) or what accountability devices the school uses.
I want to preface this article with some hefty caveats – and make sure that this isn't seen as just an attack on school leadership.
The first is that teachers must remember that in some schools the leadership team may be new, and may have arrived to discover a toxic environment that they are attempting to fix. They must surely be given the time, trust and support to change things and there also need to be practical strategies to support that process.
Secondly, giving teachers more power over their career trajectory is always positive, but we must still accept and understand that the accountability system around schools can choke leadership teams and groups of teachers much more than any internal policy decision. Again, it depends on context.
One thing’s for sure: I believe something has to be done to give teachers more control over their destinies and prevent them leaving the profession. I believe these tools could do just that.
For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue