Little things matter: Improving teacher retention in every school

21st November 2018

Alix Robertson – Junior Researcher at LKMco

Earlier this year the government proclaimed that ensuring “there are sufficient high-quality teachers in our schools for the long term” was a top priority.

This was a welcome announcement given that LKMco has highlighted the issue of recruitment and retention time and again, first in Why Teach, then in Building the Leadership Pool and recently in The Talent Challenge.

While there are big national issues that need to be addressed (like unnecessary workload, which we are exploring in “Making Waves”), most teachers know that little things can make a real difference day-to-day.

Last week, Anna therefore decided to ask: ‘What are the seemingly small but actually significant things that help a school hang onto teachers?’

There were five main areas that came through in teachers’ responses:

  1. Parking and travel
  2. Performance-related pay
  3. Childcare and flexible working
  4. I.T. (and cups of tea!)
  5. Feeling valued

1. Parking and travel

While some teachers have access to ample free parking, for others that’s not the case.

It came as a shock to many in the discussion that some teachers are having to pay to park at their own schools.

This seems to be an increasing problem in larger cities. For example, a Schools Week investigation in September  found that Nottingham City Council is running a workplace parking levy, with employers paying £400 for each parking space.

More than 100 schools in Nottingham fall within the scheme and the tax has been passed down to teachers who have had to shell out up to £500 a year to park at work. Similar proposals are on the table for Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Reading councils.

Meanwhile, teachers in the capital and those with long commutes told us that loans for annual travel-cards would make a big difference, something we explore further in our upcoming report on recruitment and retention in London.

2. Performance-related pay

If you lead a school that directly links staff pay to pupil grades you might want to think again.

If you lead a school that directly links staff pay to pupil grades you might want to think again. Share on X

A recent teacher workload advisory group cautioned against the approach, noting that the only outcome it really guarantees is gaming the system.

Teachers told us that moving away from performance-related pay would help younger teachers in particular to focus on developing their skills, rather than devoting hours to jumping through hoops.

Stephen Tierney, Chief Executive of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust told us this was precisely why he had already taken “pay off the table” to encourage teachers to focus more on their own personal improvement.

3. Childcare and flexible working

Are you able to offer free breakfast clubs and after-school clubs at your school? This can be a real lifeline for the many teachers who need to be in work early, or who struggle to get away in time to meet their children at the school gate. One teacher said that wraparound care for her child was costing her as much as £900 a month!

Flexible hours and part-time work could help keep teachers in the profession but many are still looking for schools willing to offer such options.

At a recent LKMco event we explored a range of strategies that might help make flexible working a success, including allowing a small number of ‘personal days’ across the year.

If you missed it, you can catch up on the messages on this blog or the livesteam. Our Talent Challenge report also provides advice on making flexible working work.

It often comes down to simple things that might be taken for granted in many other professions. Things like wanting to be there when your child is in a school play or a relative has a term-time wedding. Teachers explained that basics like being able to use PPA time off-site could therefore be transformative.

Basics like being able to use PPA time off-site could be transformative. Share on X

4. I.T. and cups of tea

Even the smallest details can make a difference to everyday life and simply covering the cost of tea and coffee (and maybe a hobnob or two) demonstrates that a school values its staff. A warming cup of tea at break-time is always welcome, particularly when teachers don’t have to worry about who is buying the milk.

Functioning tech matters too – does the photocopier jam every five copies? Is there always a queue to use it? Access to printers, computers and photocopiers really matters, and a decent reprographics department can take a lot of pressure off teachers.

Does the photocopier jam every five copies? Functioning tech matter for teachers! Share on X

Laura McInerney once pleaded with corporates to stop sending in inspirational mentors and volunteers to paint classrooms – paying for an extra photocopying machine or classroom blinds that work is far more helpful!

5. Feeling valued

Sadly, some teachers we heard from felt that even some very basic support was lacking.

Many teachers do not have their own classroom and are therefore forced to dash around the school with a pile of books all day, something that is both exhausting and dispiriting. Others are missing out on the chance to take part in shared planning with colleagues, or to get out of school and learn from good teaching elsewhere.

The need for supportive leadership was a recurring theme, with teachers calling for managers to be responsive, provide advice and back-up when needed.

Requests for basic praise and appreciation came up many times, and really matter in an environment of tight funding and onerous workloads that leave teachers constantly having to go above and beyond.

So remember…

Even if your school can’t make some of the bigger changes that might help staff, small steps can help create a positive and supportive environment. If in doubt, start with the hobnobs and go forward from there!

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