Talking point

2nd October 2015 at 01:00
leaving so soon: exit interviews

Making a staff member who is leaving sit in a formal setting and tell a line manager exactly why is not ubiquitous in schools, but it is fairly common.

In the business world they call it an “exit interview”. The employee has announced that they are leaving. Goodbyes have been tearfully said and presents received. Then they are led to a dark room where they are quizzed on their reasons for abandoning the company (in not so blunt terms, but you get the picture).

Exit interviews can glean useful information to help employers address issues such as high staff turnover, equal opportunities and effectiveness of recruitment. But how best should you go about them? We asked three headteachers for their views.

Susan Cousin, principal, Yewlands Academy, Sheffield

We introduced exit interviews last year but have never used that label. They are quite informal. I do them and I find them invaluable; I sometimes change people’s minds.

Before introducing our Energy Index (we start every year with a test on the school climate, after which we put in place the necessary strategies to keep staff motivated), people were quite emotional in leaving interviews because no one had spoken to them before that point. By speaking to staff before they decide to leave, you can say: “I can fix this, you don’t have to leave.” Or you can at least improve things for the next person – sometimes it’s right that people move on.

It’s important not to wait until staff leave to find out how they feel, and to keep them highly motivated so they don’t leave.

Simon Spry, headteacher, Prince Rock Primary School, Plymouth

We have no policy, but I do have informal meetings before staff leave. I try to avoid people leaving by being honest about the nature and intensity of working here when they visit the school before applying. I tell them that it will be challenging; people either step up, relish it and cope, or are deterred. It’s tougher at Prince Rock, so we support staff from the beginning.

Debra Rutley, headteacher, Wycombe Grange Pupil Referral Unit, Buckinghamshire

Despite the challenging nature of teaching here, we have an extremely low staff turnover. Rather than holding exit interviews just before people leave, I make it my business to know how we can support staff and work to satisfy their needs and talents.

I want to make sure staff love coming to work. I look at their roles and try to refresh and develop them. Hardly any of my staff are in the job they came for: everyone has progression routes all the way through the organisation, and because they can see ways to grow they don’t need to leave.

It’s crucial to get feedback before people want to leave, not after. I have an open-door policy and frank conversations with staff. People do things because they value your vision, not because of procedure.

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