Teacher Recruitment and Retention: Harnessing teachers’ professional satisfaction

10th May 2016

This morning I spoke about teacher recruitment and retention at the launch of The Key’s 2016 State of Education Report.

Here’s what I said:

I welcome this important, useful and worrying State of education report from The Key which provides us with incredibly useful data that will help us better understand what is going on in the sector.

Amongst other things, the report shows that

  • Half of secondaries are already facing shortages and that in some areas the proportion is even greater;
  • Two-thirds of leaders currently find recruitment and retention challenging.

Unfortunately the outlook going forwards is bleak. There will be less money in education and more money in other jobs, and this will be combined with rising pupil numbers.

So where are the answers? I would argue that the key lies in harnessing professional satisfaction. That means asking what draws teachers to teaching and fortunately, our work with Pearson on “Why Teach?” gives us two important answers.

Firstly, Why Teach showed that the most important motivation for people entering teaching is wanting to make a difference to pupils’ lives; it was cited by 93% of respondents.

The question therefore is what stands in the way of making a difference.


Today’s report shows that 84% leaders think workload is a challenge making it the most frequently cited issue. Yet I would argue that too much of this workload is associated with making schools ‘look good’ for Ofsted rather than impacting on pupils’ lives. In other words, it is a cosmetic exercise.

I see schools implementing complex systems of blue/green and red pen comments and double, or even triple-marking work and this is often not about  improving pupils’ lives but satisfying the perceived whims of a mythical accountability-beast.

This is the product of fear. However, as recruitment overtakes Ofsted as a source of fear, my hope is that schools will begin to recognise that their success depends most importantly on their ability to recruit and retain staff and thus, they will have no choice but to keep workload under control if they want to succeed.

At that point, my hope is that they’ll have the courage to say “stuff double marking”.

I’d also like to suggest a second way that schools can harness professional satisfaction to tackle recruitment and retention – again based on The Key’s report and our recent research.

When LKMco asked teachers why they had stayed in teaching, the most commonly given reason was “because I’m good at it” – it was cited by 94% of teachers. We therefore need to help more teachers experience the satisfaction of doing their job well.

So what does that mean for schools?

Half of governors surveyed by The Key said they were working with other schools to offer professional development opportunities for their staff.

That’s great for those schools, but only half? We found that three quarters of 25-34 year old teachers would consider moving area in order to access CPD.

Similarly 21% of governors say they offer teachers secondment opportunities to help them develop. That’s great for those teachers but why only 21%? Research for the GLA by my colleague Anna Trethewey showed that 76% of middle or senior leaders considering headship wanted access to secondment opportunities, yet only 17% had access to such opportunities.

There is therefore huge unmet appetite for schools that nurture talent beyond narrow CPD.

If we want to tackle the recruitment and retention crisis we therefore need to ensure that developing professional mastery doesn’t depend on pushy teachers who are willing to individually pursue their development, nor on getting lucky with a supportive head who champions your progress. Instead, harnessing professional motivation should become the norm. That means setting teachers free to make a difference and supporting them to excel.