Report offers eight easy ideas to boost science teacher retention

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Increased specialisation, stable teaching assignments, and regular access to more experienced teachers could all help boost retention rates among new science teachers.

A report published by the The Gatsby Foundation has outlined eight evidence-based interventions that secondary schools can implement to help retain and recruit high-quality teachers in their science departments.

England’s teacher recruitment crisis is particularly acute in science, especially given that the secondary age pupil population is set to rise by 19 per cent by 2026 with associated increases in pupils entering the single science GCSEs.

Department for Education (DfE) initial teacher training recruitment figures show that physics has missed its recruitment targets for the last three years (2016/17 to 2018/19), meaning only 2,105 teachers have been recruited against a target of 3,329. A shortfall of 1,224.

Chemistry meanwhile recruited 2,710 teachers against a target of 3,159 across the same period, a shortfall of 449. Only biology has hit its targets, with 4,150 recruited against a target of 3,554.

The Gatsby report sets out eight cost-effective strategies to boost retention that schools can implement now. The eight strategies include:

  • Increase specialisation: “Teaching multiple subjects increases workload, especially when outside of a teacher’s degree specialism. Teachers improve as they accumulate experience in a specific area and specialisation enables them to do this faster.”
  • Provide stable teaching assignments: “Teachers can focus on teaching specific key stages or types of pupils. This is also likely to reduce workload because teachers are more likely to reteach lessons. Indeed, research has shown that teachers who specialise in specific year groups are more likely to remain in their school.”
  • Give new science teachers access to your best science teachers: “Teachers can learn and improve through watching, talking to, and selectively borrowing from other, more skilled teachers. Indeed, around a fifth of the skills that any one teacher has can be explained by the quality of teachers they have worked with in the past.”

The five other strategies listed in the paper are:

  • Provide science-specific professional development.
  • Provide instructional coaching (an expert teacher working with another teacher in an individualised, classroom-based, observation-feedback-practice cycle).
  • Flatten the pay gradient (younger teachers’ decisions to stay at their current school are more sensitive to their pay).
  • Set salaries with regard to outside earnings potential.
  • Provide autonomy-supportive leadership (low levels of autonomy are associated with increased risk that teachers leave).

Sam Sims, researcher and author of the paper, said: “Despite various initiatives, for the past three years we have seen a worrying decline in the number of physics and chemistry trainees. This paper provides school leaders with research-backed, pragmatic solutions to the current retention and recruitment challenges faced by science departments.”


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