Diary of a headteacher: Recruitment and retention

Written by: Headteacher diarist | Published:
Image: iStock

The recruitment and retention crisis is taking its toll and our headteacher diarist would like to see some honest pragmatism from the government

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a teacher. I had some great teachers throughout my school life, but also some pretty dodgy ones, like most people. However it was the great ones who inspired me to become a teacher.

Whatever the public perception of the teaching profession, the stark reality is that it is a profession in crisis. The unprecedented level of reform within the education sector in the past few years has taken its toll and there is a genuine concern across the profession about two key issues – recruitment and retention.

The retention issue is worrying, increased workload has got teachers creaking under the pressure and as a headteacher I have to ensure I strike the right balance between allowing my staff to be able to achieve a healthy work/life balance while at the same time “raising standards”.

A recent survey by the ATL found that 83 per cent of teachers have considered leaving the profession and almost nine in 10 of those said that this was due to workload.

We have to face up to the fact that we are not retaining teachers. The biggest issue for teachers is the demands placed on them which are not classroom focused. While the government claims it is working to reduce this, in reality, the only way of achieving a reduction in workload would be to employ more staff – and schools simply cannot do this with the current financial constraints.

If retention is a problem, recruitment is becoming a crisis. In secondary education, it is increasingly difficult to find good teachers in shortage subjects. Despite what the government tell us about more graduates entering teacher training, we are simply not seeing this on the ground. In subjects such as physics, chemistry and maths it is extremely challenging to recruit anyone, let alone a good teacher.

But the shortage is not restricted to maths and science. Modern foreign languages and geography teachers are increasingly difficult to come by and this at a time when the government is introducing a target of 90 per cent of students studying the EBacc suite of subjects. Just how many more languages teachers are we going to need across the country to achieve this aspiration? Research by Datalab in 2015 put this figure at 2,000!

Also adding to our troubles is the primary bulge in terms of pupil numbers. In a few years this will turn into a secondary bulge. Will we have the teachers required to deliver the curriculum to higher numbers of students? If we believe the government’s assertion that more graduates are taking up teacher training then maybe we won’t have a problem.

Personally, I would welcome some humility and pragmatism from the government on these two key issues. The recruitment rhetoric needs to stop and there needs to be some acknowledgement that there is a problem. Only then, and through genuine collaboration and consultation with the profession, will we perhaps be able to find a way forward in addressing the recruitment and retention crisis in teaching.

But the profession itself has a role to play too. School leaders like myself can do more to listen to the concerns of teachers and be reasonable with their demands on the workforce. Yes, we have to be relentlessly aspirational in our ambitions and expectations of our young people, but we can flog our workforce to death in pursuit of this.

I also believe that as teachers, we have a pivotal role to play in inspiring the next generation of teachers. We need to speak highly of teaching as a profession and a career choice and present it as an aspirational career option for the young people in our schools. The government has a role to play in ensuring salaries are competitive, but the profession itself can do more to make teaching an attractive career choice.

Next year I am offering a pathways into teaching programme to students in year 13. This involves taking a year out of education, deferring a university place for a year, and working in our school in an apprentice-style role. This is just a small step but it is a demonstration that we can be part of the solution and not just complain about the problem.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his second year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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