'The solution to the recruitment crisis is simple – make sure schools are permeated with happiness'

To recruit and retain brilliant teachers in our schools we need to make sure teachers are trusted and loved, and our schools are energised and motivated, writes one former headteacher

Colin Harris

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I travel around the country visiting university recruitment fairs and try to encourage students to come and teach in my local authority. Often, I'm dismayed at what I see.

Banners decorate the rooms and freebies and sweets are given to prospective teachers in an attempt to persuade them to join a certain authority or academy chain. Thanks to the recruitment and retention crisis, I see individual schools trying to do the same.

And now, there’s a new kid on the block – the agencies. They encourage the students with their talk of better pay and conditions on offer. The line they spin is so believable that I’ve been tempted to sign up myself in the past.

But why would any prospective teacher sign up for an agency when there are so many good schools in need of good teachers?

Recruitment confusion

The answer is a simple and depressing one: there is a negativity presented by the profession and the new wannabe teachers are only too aware of it. What was once a career for life is often now not thought as such. Too many are joining the profession for a few years before moving off into a new direction.

What a waste of resource.

The underlying reasons for this situation seem to be a complete and utter confusion in all aspects of the profession. There are the confusing routes we have into the profession – and then the confusing types of school they face when choosing a school to join.

What was once a joined-up profession is now anything but. Add to this the negative accountability system and the negative public perception of teachers and it’s obvious why we’re not a desirable choice. And I haven’t even mentioned pay, workload, and wellbeing.

Work-life balance

What happened to all schools feeling energised, motivated and valued? What happened to being trusted, loved and being allowed an element of freedom?

In 2015, a survey for the Guardian teacher network found that 98 per cent agreed with the statement: "If staff are happy, students learn better" – and only 37 per cent felt they were happy at work.

Ninety-seven per cent felt that with trust their teaching was better – and yet only 33 per cent felt they were trusted. Sadly only 39 per cent of headteachers felt they were.

The work-life balance debate is dependent on the need for schools to create an environment in which everyone wants to succeed ­– all successes and failures should be achieved as a team working together.

Happy and productive

For this to happen, all members of the school need to feel valued. There needs to be excellent communication enabling all staff members to be involved in everything that happens. Structures for the sake of it and oppressive hierarchical systems have little place in our schools. To achieve real ownership there needs to be real involvement from all staff at all levels.

It may sound impossible, but it isn't. Too many heads run their schools on performance outcomes and targets.

Why not embed a culture of high expectations and encourage everyone to aim for that with a big smile on their faces?

Happy schools are productive schools and this can be achieved with a lack of autonomy and hierarchy, by instead promoting ownership, delegation and trust.

Only then can both staff and children smile more and we can see youngsters once again aspiring to be teachers.

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were "outstanding" across all categories

To read more of Colin's articles, visit his back catalogue

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Colin Harris

Colin Harris

Colin Harris led a school in a deprived area of Portsmouth for more than two decades. His last two Ofsted reports were “outstanding” across all categories.

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