Give them a reason to stay

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Answers your leadership questions

A talented, successful young teacher in my department has told me that she wants to leave teaching. She has real potential but wants to return to the world of business as teaching has become too bureaucratic and she wants a life outside school. What should I do?

Despite the best efforts made through workforce remodelling nationally, this is far too common a problem in the profession. Reforming the school workforce is intended, among other things, to reduce teacher workload, increase job satisfaction and improve the profile of the profession. It is an attempt to attract and retain teachers like your team member so that standards can continue to rise for all students. It sounds as though the next phase of the national agreement - guaranteed planning, preparation and assessment time - will come too late for your colleague.

I am sure that you will use all your powers of persuasion in talking to this member of your team. If she feels that the job is still too bureaucratic, you need to:

* check what effect the removal of the "24 tasks" has had on her and how it has been implemented in your school;

* make sure that she stops doing unnecessary tasks;

* ensure that she redesigns the way she works to ensure that tasks are done efficiently, effectively and no more often than necessary;

* ensure that she makes best use of ICT.

What your concern illustrates is that cutting unnecessary burdens on teachers is essential if teachers are to feel valued and motivated.

One thing some team leaders do in these situations is to help the teacher keep a diary of their activities over a fortnight. They get them to list all the things that they do in school and outline activities that they do out of school. Be prepared to hear: "I'm complaining about not having enough time to do my job and to get a life and you come along and suggest I keep a daily diary adding to the bureaucracy that already exists!"

If you can get them over this response then you will have some very rich evidence upon which to base a profitable discussion about the causes of why they feel the way they do. You may uncover the activities that occupy their time and the amount of time they spend on each activity. You will then be in a position to determine whether they should be doing these things or whether someone else should be.

Some young teachers, such as your colleague, do not regard the profession as a job for life but as a temporary step on the way to somewhere else. It is less of a vocation and more of a means to an end; the end often being outside teaching. It is extremely disappointing and frustrating when, after investing resources, time and the sharing of expertise, a young person throws in the mark book because they want a life outside school. This is particularly hard to accept for those who have made sacrifices in their personal lives for the sake of their professional lives.

Ultimately, if your colleague is determined and has made up her mind, then there is little you can do except to thank her for what she has done and wish her well. You must try to persuade her to stay, as no doubt you have done, but if she goes then you must not blame yourself, unless, of course, what she means by "bureaucratic" refers to the demands that you have placed on her!

Talk to this member of your team, take advice from members of your leadership team and your headteacher, and take this opportunity to reassess the demands on you and your team so that you do not lose another valued and talented member.

Finally, find out the details of this "business" that they are going to and determine why they perceive this to be an easier option than teaching.

Above all, if she does go, don't take it personally.

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email

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