Retention: Keeping your teachers

Written by: Liam Donnison | Published:
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The engagement and retention of teachers is becoming more critical each year. Gallup research over ...

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Retaining talented teachers is a major concern for schools. Liam Donnison finds out about one school’s approach – the creation of an ‘academy improvement group’

It is clear that our schools are crammed full of talented and ambitious teachers. What is also very apparent is that unfortunately as a system we still have much to learn when it comes to nurturing and retaining that talent, with plenty of evidence that too many teachers are leaving the profession early.

Sirius Academy West is an outstanding 1,650-pupil, 11 to 19 academy serving a deprived catchment area in Hull. The school leads a cross-phase multi-academy trust (MAT) and the Blueprint Teaching School Alliance. The academy has developed an impressive approach to the issue of developing and retaining talent, centred around its academy improvement group (AIG). This autonomous body has become a motor for promotion and improvements in teaching and learning by providing talented staff opportunities for training and development and to trial new ideas.

Chris Fletcher, head of teaching school, outlined the principles behind the Sirius approach to talent identification and retention.

Identify talent from the off

“We established an early principle relating to staffing which was that we would only appoint candidates if the applicant truly had the potential to become a strong teacher,” Mr Fletcher explained. “This was essential if we were to give our pupils the best standards of teaching and learning. Many establishments enter into recruitment with this intention, but the pressure to fill a vacancy no matter what can be overwhelming and as a result the extra work needed to support poor appointments often outweighs the benefit. To address the shortfall created by this principle our existing staff shared the load. The key benefit of this was that it fostered an extremely supportive and close team.

“As a relatively young academy, talented and committed staff could be rewarded with internal promotion but eventually a point is reached where this can no longer be accommodated. An increase in salaries is not sustainable and leads to a wage bill increase across all staff for parity.

“The solution in this case was to identify staff with leadership potential and give them the opportunity to be involved in whole-school developments, and then have their abilities externally verified. This approach produces a pool from which we can promote when the need arises as well as giving our staff opportunities to develop and challenge themselves.”

A focus on development and retention

“Our AIG was established to identify and trial improvement strategies that could be used across the academy. The group was led by a member of the senior leadership team and participants – staff who showed potential for future promotion or leadership roles, or those who had actively sought progression – were either invited or encouraged to apply.

“The group’s remit was wide ranging and allowed individual interests to emerge, such as teaching and learning, assessment and data analysis. It provided us with a retention and recruitment structure that gave its members tailored professional development and provided the academy, and later the MAT, a pool from which to draw future leaders.

“Any leader looking to establish a similar group in their school or trust should ensure that it has autonomy from the senior leadership team to trial new systems and approaches. Senior leaders also need to give the group full support and allow its work to support the school’s strategic needs.”

Financial reward isn’t everything

“Staff seek promotion for a number of reasons, not all financial,” Mr Fletcher continued. “Regionally, financial incentives for retention and recruitment had reached unsustainable levels, and therefore another approach was required to prevent large losses of internally developed staff.

“We had a number of conversations with staff looking for promotion and it became evident that following the academy’s period of rapid expansion they feared that they would be left behind as promotion opportunities diminished as the structure was established and filled.

“However, the rationale for seeking promotion was linked to having an input to the wider workings of the academy. The AIG was the vehicle that allowed this to be implemented. Members had a real input into whole-school development and were accountable to both management and the teaching body. In this respect, the role was like middle leadership.”
Give talented staff a real improvement role

“The AIG became an established part of the academy structure, driving forward initiatives and changes in practice. It also accommodated its members’ needs for more responsibility.

“The AIG also developed internal CPD, with members planning, leading, delivering and assessing the impact of the CPD. This was of obvious benefit to the academy (and the future MAT) as it could respond quickly to emerging needs, delivering training that was cost-effective and tailored to staff needs.

“Further professional development opportunities were earmarked for members of the AIG. It became natural to view the AIG as the pool from which to draw staff for further development. Examples of this are programmes such as Lead Practitioner Accreditation, run by the SSAT, which formalises and accredits the impact made by teaching staff. The process requires the submission of evidence of practice and the impact it has made. The AIG was an excellent vehicle to enable the participants to meet the requirements of lead practitioner accreditation.

“As the Teaching School developed, opportunities arose for staff to be developed to deliver external CPD. Once again, the AIG was the first port of call, with interested members trained in facilitation techniques. As the external training was commercially funded, the trainers were compensated for their time.”

Analysing professional development needs

“Membership of the AIG was a requirement for those who had teaching and learning responsibilities across the academy. At first the AIG had to be ‘sold’ to new and prospective members but as its reputation grew staff began to see it as one of the key ways that they could develop their career within the academy – and wider.” 

  • Liam Donnison is director of Best Practice Network, a DfE-licensed provider of National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) for school leaders. Chris Fletcher’s insights form part of the new NPQs, developed and delivered by Outstanding Leaders Partnership with Best Practice Network. Visit

The engagement and retention of teachers is becoming more critical each year. Gallup research over many years the crux of employee engagement is a) a chance to use our strengths daily b) to work interdependently and c) to know our efforts are making a difference.
Great to see this initiative in Hull and I would like to know if the school has considered making itself a 'strengths workplace' based on the Clifton Strengths Assessment and secondly what scope there is for 'job crafting' (eg instead of the usual fixation on weakness fixing, can elements of the teachers' roles be allocated based on their natural strengths, which is energising for all concerned). My view is that coaching (which is non judgmental and confidential) is critical to help a teacher to 'name, claim and aim' their talents in the short and long term.

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