Recruitment and retention advice

Written by: Alex Collinson | Published:
Image: iStock

As new survey findings highlight the challenge of teacher mobility between schools, Alex Collinson offers three steps that school leaders can take to retain their teachers and recruit effectively

The latest State of Education report from The Key, based on a survey of more than 2,000 school leaders and governors, provides an insight into some of the big challenges, concerns and priorities for schools today.

It may not come as a surprise that one of the main findings of this year’s survey is that school leaders are concerned about teacher recruitment and retention.

Just over a third of schools overall said they face a shortage of teachers – and in secondary schools the problem seems more acute, affecting just under half. Some regions also seem to be suffering more than others, with half of schools in the South East and nearly six in 10 schools in London reporting teacher shortages.

Our survey also found that schools are struggling with retaining teachers, and are typically losing them to other schools.

When asked to list the three main reasons why their teachers are leaving, almost half of school leaders cited “job offer at another school”. Again, this seems more of a challenge in the secondary phase, where almost two-thirds of leaders say that teachers leave to take up a post at another school.

So, what can school leaders do to boost teacher retention and improve recruitment? We give three top tips below.

Positive culture

Why Teach? – a survey report from LKMco, published last year – looks at why teachers teach where they teach. The survey found that, outside of practical factors such as the commute, one of the main reasons is a school’s culture and ethos.

As part of The Key’s work on staff retention, we spoke to a recruitment specialist about how establishing the values and aims of your school can help both recruitment and retention.

He told us that retention follows good recruitment, and schools should therefore ensure that their recruitment processes find staff members who are a strong fit for the school as a whole, and not just those who simply meet the skill requirements.

Those involved in the recruitment process should look at what applicants have done previously to see if they may be a good fit, as well as to ensure they have the right skills and values. Try to avoid hiring candidates who may fall within the budget but are not a good match for the school.

It is also useful to make applicants aware of the school’s history, values and aims, so they know what they are buying in to. A simple technique for establishing a clear way to communicate your school’s values and aims is to ask each member of the senior leadership team to write down:

  • What the school does.
  • How the school does this.
  • Why it does this.

You can use the answers to reach a consensus, which should then inform recruitment and be articulated to applicants throughout the process. Having a strong sense of purpose also helps a school to build a reputation, which itself helps in finding the right staff.

The school offer

Let candidates know what the school can offer them. A recurrent theme in case studies and expert advice we have gathered on effective recruitment and recruiting outstanding teachers, has been that schools should focus less on what they expect from candidates, and more on what candidates can expect from them.

One expert explained to us that the best teachers now have a greater choice of job opportunities, so are likely to have expectations that a school must meet before they will accept a job offer.

The deputy director of one Teaching School described how the school emphasises its comprehensive CPD offer when advertising vacancies. Teachers are attracted to the school because they know that its opportunities for CPD will help with career development. Having a strong CPD programme also shows that the school values its staff.

The headteacher of another school told us about how important it is to have a unique selling point (USP) when recruiting and retaining staff. His school has created a clear vision based on its USP of investing in staff, and clearly and consistently communicates this to current and potential staff.

Make staff feel valued

This naturally links to the tips above, but schools should ensure that current staff feel valued. In particular, a number of schools we have worked with have told us that the key to this has been to proactively find out what staff value and then offer it to them.

The deputy headteacher of one Teaching School told us that staff members’ views will differ in every school. Schools should therefore directly ask their staff what they value and how they would like to be treated and rewarded where appropriate.

Suggestions might include encouraging more informal feedback, allowing time off for family events, or introducing a more formal rewards system.

The headteacher of another school told us that you don’t have to make big gestures to make staff feel valued. Small things, such as showing an interest in employees’ lives or simply remembering names and personal interests, can often be enough if applied sincerely and consistently to all staff.

  • Alex Collinson is a researcher specialising in school staffing at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools. Visit

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