Teacher recruitment and retention – the role of governors

Written by: Oliver Kean | Published:
Photo: iStock

As statistics about the difficulty of recruiting and retaining teachers continue to emerge, Oliver Kean looks at what governors can do to tackle the supply challenge

Figures from the Department for Education show that nearly 50,000 teachers left the profession in 2013/14 and that there is a 10 per cent shortfall in the numbers entering initial teacher training this year.

It has also been reported that more teachers are leaving to teach abroad than are joining university training courses in England.

It is unsurprising, then, that 63 per cent of school leaders and 42 per cent of governors surveyed by The Key this spring said they had found teacher recruitment challenging to manage over the previous 12 months. The situation has become so serious that Parliament’s Education Select Committee is to explore the issue later this year.

But while the wider debate about causes and solutions continues, school leaders up and down the country still have to try to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Governors, aware that this is just one of many pressures for the leadership team, have a fine line to tread between supporting their school and offering real challenge. With this in mind, here are some practical tips on five key areas where governors can make an impact.

Tackling the workload issue

Ask any teacher or school leader and it is likely that they will mention workload as a significant factor in the current crisis. It is not uncommon to hear of 60-hour weeks, excessive paperwork and inspection-related pressures driving good people out of the profession, as well as putting off potential recruits.

The survey also found that more governors considered teacher workload and morale challenging to manage (62 and 49 per cent respectively) than any other area we asked about – ahead of changes such as managing the introduction of the new national curriculum and preparing for new performance measures.

The wider “accountability culture” and high expectations are unlikely to dissipate any time soon, and governors do not directly manage teachers, but there are things they can do to remove or improve some of the factors that contribute to the problem (for an overview of these factors, see the government’s response to its Workload Challenge earlier this year):

  • Consider work/life balance in every discussion and decision – in particular, check that school policies and processes are free from unnecessary tasks and duplication of effort.
  • Encourage “smart” marking and assessment procedures. For example, prevent teachers from taking marking home, use approaches such as more peer and self-assessment or sparing use of written feedback, use software effectively.
  • Keep a close eye on pupil behaviour and follow up any persistent concerns with senior leaders.

Recruitment and induction

Working alongside their senior leadership teams, governors should be planning ahead when it comes to recruitment, identifying opportunities and encouraging school leaders to experiment with new and bold approaches to attract staff.

For example, the governing body could help the school to establish links with local training institutions – this can help to raise awareness of vacancies when they arise. They could also think about how the school advertises different posts, and whether it is maximising opportunities to attract potential recruits locally.

Governors should also monitor the level of support given to new staff, particularly NQTs. In January this year, it was reported by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers that 73 per cent of teacher trainees and NQTs had considered leaving the profession, so it is important to make sure that valuable forms of support such as mentoring and tutorial time are given priority in NQTs’ timetables. A governor could be designated to help gather information from new staff that would help with such monitoring.

CPD and progression

Governors will want to see that the school’s approach to CPD offers real pathways for development, linked to both the school’s priorities and the needs of individual teachers. Leaders should be alert to and acting on requests for specific training or development.

Governors should also make sure that the performance management system is supportive as well as challenging, with clear and realistic objectives that are personalised to the teacher. The school’s pay policy should be kept under review to ensure it meets changing needs and rewards staff fairly.

A link governor for staff could have specific responsibility for monitoring the school’s CPD provision. Governors can also use school visits for this purpose, or ask to receive an annual report from the member of staff responsible for CPD.

Collaboration with other schools

Collaborative arrangements with other schools, formal or informal, can open up interesting opportunities for staff and be a helpful way to share the costs of CPD. In particular, they can provide valuable experience and mentoring opportunities for middle leaders.

Collaborations and federations can be difficult to negotiate, however, and should have the support of everyone involved. Governors considering this arrangement will need to be open minded about the positive benefits that may come from it, but should be careful not to force their school into unworkable or unsustainable relationships.

An appealing ethos

Of course, governors will not be able to solve this crisis themselves and should be careful that in their desire to make a positive difference, they do not end up piling more pressure on leadership teams.

As ever, the most fundamental thing governors can do is ensure that they maintain a confident and positive vision for their school (see below for an example from Bolton), and ensure that this is reflected in the school’s work and achievements. In turn, this will help ensure that the school is regarded as an appealing place to work and somewhere staff want to continue working.

  • Oliver Kean is a senior researcher at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools.

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