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It’s official. We’ve hit the highest teacher leaving rate in a decade and there still doesn’t seem to be a solution to the problem of teacher retention.

Four in ten teachers quit within a year, while almost half of UK teaching staff plan to leave the sector in the coming five years. Just over 23% of teachers who qualified since 2011 have left teaching driven, in part, by the stress of an ever-increasing workload.

Add to this the complexities surrounding Brexit and the uncertainties as to how this may affect educational staffing levels and we may be approaching crisis point.

Why Do Staff Want to Leave?

Before we look at the ways in which you can retain your staff, it’s important to first consider some of the main reasons they may be thinking of leaving you in the first place. Here are some of the most common reasons staff leave:

  • don’t fit in with the school culture or working environment.
  • feel undervalued in a professional or personal manner.
  • lack support or working conditions that will allow them to do a good job or improve.
  • want a better career or opportunities to develop their skills.
  • can’t cope with the pressure and stress of the job.

Once you have reflected on why they may want to leave, the next steps become somewhat easier to work out and, hopefully, implement. Here are a few ways you can keep your staff with you.

Provide emotional support

Of the diverse types of support they received from their mentors, they most valued emotional support. It is suggested that teacher mentoring may reduce the early attrition of beginning teachers.

Notably the snippet of research above is from 1992 – since which time the pressures, strains and stresses on teachers have only become all the more difficult to manage.

Teaching is a tougher and more challenging job than ever before, and teachers need emotional support. Yet being open and honest about emotions is not always easy. We teach emotional literacy in children, maybe we should practice what we preach.

Anonymity could be a good way to discuss emotions – you could create an area of discussion on your intranet – a place to openly talk about problems and worries that are being faced by your staff.

By making it open but anonymous, your teachers can support one another and also gain a feeling that they’re far from alone.

Continuing professional development can help with teacher retention

The majority of teachers do not want to become school leaders. But they will want to advance in other ways.

If you provide them with opportunities that can result in a additional qualifications and, potentially, professional advancement, you should find their motivation greatly improved.

Consider offering a range of continuing professional development initiatives:

  • Mentoring
  • Academic coaching
  • Curriculum planning
  • Technology integration
  • Professional leadership development

School funding is at a critical level but it is essential that you do not ignore CPD for your staff – the cost of recruiting and training replacements will probably be much greater than the cost to train and retain your current staff.

Create a mental health initiative

Shockingly 93% of teachers report feeling stressed, while one in ten teachers have been prescribed anti-depressant drugs, 22% have increased their alcohol intake and 7% have either used or increased their reliance on prescription drugs (BBC).

A mental health initiative is not optional for the modern school. However, this really needn’t be time consuming or complex. The following suggestions are simple ways in which you can foster a focus on health and wellbeing amongst your teachers:

  • Encourage exercise and social events, such as organising a daily or weekly yoga meet, walking sessions before work or monthly staff nights out.
  • Contact local gyms or exercise groups to see whether they will offer a group discount for your teachers. 
  • Nurture a better work/life balance. Continually look for innovative ideas for driving down workloads and try to reduce excessive reporting requirements.
  • Ensure your staff feel valued by providing positive feedback publicly.
  • Introduce mindfulness for those who want to try this approach to stress reduction.

Understand and connect with your teachers

Knowing exactly what your staff are experiencing ‘on the shop floor’ can be difficult when your management role demands so much of you. When removed from the classroom it can be all too easy to lose track of the current concerns and worries of your teachers.

To counter this you should foster open and honest conversations about the problems that exist in the school, and create a staff feedback scheme.

Ask your staff how you can help their well-being, overcome their current challenges and improve the school in a wider sense. You can even ask them directly how to improve teacher retention in your setting. After all, if you don’t ask…..

You should also feedback as to what changes have been put in place and what results they’ve consequently achieved – this completes the loop and helps the entire team feel united in working towards your school goals.

89% were most concerned over workload, followed by pay (45%), inspection (44%), curriculum reform (42%) and pupil behaviour (40%).

Create a healthy environment for teacher progression

Senior teachers often flourish in an environment where they can continue their path for growing, evolving and improving their performance. Unfortunately performance related pay has very much focused on ratcheting up the pay of entry level teachers.

Whilst this focus helps teachers in reaching a reasonable level of pay in what should be a reasonable amount of time, teachers with a significant number of years’ experience often receive very limited pay rises.

In these instances clear advice should be given for moving forward – including the explanation of potential promotions. Be open about the future goals of the school and how your senior teachers can help achieve them.

Where there are opportunities for progression, be clear about what they need to achieve to be considered for the role, and work with them to reach the required standards.