Motivation stations

More creative use of incentives is the way forward in the battle to retain staff, writes Stephen Hoare

There's a new form of disciplinary offence at one Newham school: working too hard. If headteacher Dame Sharon Hollows catches staff still at their desks at 4.30pm, she's likely to take them to task.

"We've got to break the excessive hours culture in schools," says Hollows, who was awarded a damehood last year for her work at Calverton primary school, Custom House.

She says the key to working shorter hours is admin software, time-limited meetings and a will to cut bureaucracy and endless memos from the Department for Education and Skills.

"Unless something has a positive impact on pupils, we bin it," she says. It's as simple as that.

Many young women have been lost to the profession through leaving to have children, but through early years development and childcare partnerships, the DFES is making start-up funding available to schools that want to build a creche on the school site.

Such a facility can boost a school's income, especially if the creche is open in term-time and holidays. Eltham Green secondary in Greenwich, London, has set up a creche with about 30 children to give a helping hand to teachers in the borough.

Such family-friendly policies can help to hold on to staff - and this is an area in which the head's leadership can really make a difference.

But the most obvious way of keeping good staff is to reward them financially. Many inner-city schools are using the leadership spine and the post of advanced skills teacher (AST), which can add an additional pound;5,000 to a teacher's salary.

This route, financed by the DFES school standards fund, has offered valuable motivation for bright young staff to stay on in the profession.

"I have an assistant head who's only been teaching for five years - she's excellent," says Dame Sharon. "And my deputy has seven years' experience. We disregard people's length of service - if they're good enough to do the job, then we promote them accordingly."

Many heads are finding that early promotion is a particularly effective strategy where there is a young staff and a high turnover.

Shahed Ahmed, head of nearby Hallsville primary school, says: "If you have a good teacher and they're thinking of applying for a point three management post in another school, then you could say: 'Why not stay here and become an AST?'" Calverton also has a budget set aside for rewarding performance - the flexibility is part of national pay and conditions and is an option available to any school.

"We have money available from the schools budget - up to pound;1,000 per teacher. If someone's very clearly a high performer, we reflect that in their pay," says Dame Sharon.

Meanwhile, South Dartmoor College in Ashburton, Devon, is trying to prevent its best staff from leaving early on in their careers to find professional advancement. As in many rural schools, the average age in the staffroom is rising as mature staff are tempted to set down roots and pursue the good life.

Headteacher Ray Tarleton says: "We have gone for a flatter management structure. When a deputy leaves, we unpack the job and parcel out responsibilities at one or two salary points. It gives staff experience and gets them thinking about promotion."

Since Tarleton took over 12 years ago, his efforts have succeeded in taking a down-at-heel secondary modern with 600 on roll to becoming a rural community college with a sixth-form at nearly double the original size. Two years ago, the school achieved specialist sports college status and now hopes to become a beacon school.

Tarleton says: "When you are going for growth, you can create new jobs within the school. The sixth-form was important as it helped us hang on to better qualified teachers. Being a specialist college means that staff can enjoy the variety of doing outreach work with local schools."

And the annual performance management appraisal is more than a cosmetic exercise, he says.

"We've created dynamic opportunities for professional development," says Tarleton.

These include a research link with two universities, a member of staff who has been seconded to the DFES for two days a week, and the chance to mentor and observe student teachers through a training school venture with the College of St Mark and St John in Plymouth.

Increasingly, headteachers are having to re-write the rule book on incentives for staff, and it seems likely that the most innovative will be the ones to thrive.

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