Oh, won't you stay just a little bit longer?

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Retention is the neglected half of the staffing equation. Margaret Adams offers 10 tips on stopping people leaving

If you are a head or a senior manager, you may have tried 1001 ways to find new staff, but how much effort do you put into keeping those you already have? Sometimes, getting staff in front of the class in the first place is not the problem - keeping them there is.

School managers usually have most success when they think in the broadest context, looking at a problem's job-related and individual-related aspects.

If a school develops a systematic approach to teacher retention, it can have a significant impact. The following 10 steps can help you define a staff retention strategy that will work.

1. Why do teachers come and go?

Find out why they join and leave your school. Some reasons are work-related; others relate to people's lives outside work. Ask people at interview and again shortly after they join what has brought them to your school. Their responses may surprise you.

Look out for patterns because these can tell you what staff value most. Ask people why they are leaving, and look for the "reason behind the reason".

They may have a partner moving to another part of the country, but bear in mind that an unhappy teacher might have had a strong influence on that partner's decision. Why?

2. Counting the costs

A common argument against having a staff recruitment strategy is that it costs money that schools don't have. But work out how much it costs you every time you lose a teacher - that is the cost of doing nothing. And what about the disruption to learning, the loss of expertise and the direct costs of recruitment? With a staff recruitment strategy, you'll have a better understanding of the problem and the possible savings.

3. Invest in your staff

When you have worked out the cost of losing staff, think about how much you are prepared to spend to keep them. Tell governors that keeping staff will cost money, but replacing them will cost more. Create a budget for staff retention and be prepared to show the governors how you are saving money.

If you can show that your outlay is less than the cost of recruiting new teachers, your strategy will have proved beneficial.

4. Which retention strategy?

There are many approaches to improving staff retention. Think laterally.

Think about the things you can do to improve teachers' jobs and working environments, and about strategies you can use to help them deal with issues of work-life balance - because teachers' lives outside work have a big impact on their performance in school.

The most popular retention strategies are drawn from the work-life balance agenda - for example, career breaks in which people take time out without pay to do something that is of interest to them. Or you could offer additional benefits over and above statutory entitlements: maternity, paternity, parental and adoption leave, for example. Other extras could include employee helplines (other than those supplied by the unions), debt and relationship counselling, or programmes to help staff deal with stress.

Resourcing teachers adequately is also very important. And so is making sure that they have plenty of opportunities for professional development.

5. Flexible working

You have been obliged to have a flexible working strategy in place since last month. From April, parents with a child under the age of six have the right to ask their employer to allow them to work flexibly. Grounds for refusal are limited. Why can't teachers spend their non-contact time away from school? Can timetables enable people to work flexibly? Can you accommodate full-time staff who wish to adopt varied attendance patterns, late starts, early finishes? Think about how you would justify a No to an employment tribunal, but also about how you could accommodate people. Doing so will help you to retain staff.

6. Housing

A crucial issue for teachers, which clearly affects work. Some schools buy or lease properties to rent to teachers, or establish relationships with housing associations to help staff, especially those at the beginning of their careers.

7. Workload

Professional people believe too often that working harder and longer is the answer. Challenge this belief because people's personal resources are finite and should be used carefully. Help people to prioritise and fit their job into their working hours (which are almost always more than their contractual obligations).

Encourage teachers to delegate tasks to helpers where appropriate. Managers should make sure workload does not become a burden to staff. This problem is one of the main causes of high staff turnover - people too often leave because they find another job or because of poor health brought on by long hours.

8. Work-life training

Train your managers to help their staff manage the relationship between their lives inside and outside work. Managers need the skills to help members of staff resolve work-life tensions. In the long run, it does not help your school if teachers work long hours and regularly come to work exhausted. Nor does it help if staff are anxious about managing their work and home lives. Recognise that there are limits to teachers'

responsibilities to your school.

9. Reward, recognise and value

Never take people for granted. A word of thanks goes a long way. A note commending excellence in a school newsletter is always appreciated. Finding time to value success and ensure governors and parents appreciate teachers'

worth pays back the effort expended many times over. Such gestures help to create the right culture in school and help people feel valued. If staff feel valued, they are more likely to stay.

10. You are not alone

Schools do not exist in isolation - they form networked learning communities. Neighbouring schools and your local authority and learning and skills council can work with you to refine and develop your approach to staff retention, especially where you are using the work-life balance agenda as part of the strategy. Write down how you intend to use work-life solutions to help keep staff. It will give you something to share with colleagues and a strategy for keeping staff for longer.

* Margaret Adams is a work-life balance consultant and former teacherl Retention in Schools: Strategies for Keeping Your Staff is a one-day conference next Tuesday (May 20). For details, see www.neilstewartassociates.comja118

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