Diary of a Headteacher: Boosting recruitment and retention

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Recruitment and retention challenges continue to face the sector, but what action as school leaders can we take? Our headteacher diarist began with a focus on behaviour and time…

It is well documented that teacher recruitment and retention continues to be a major issue for the English education system. The question is, what are we doing about it as headteachers?

We can point fingers at the government for creating the conditions that have made this profession so challenging for teachers. And it is important that school leaders continue to lobby for better pay, higher levels of funding and more sensible approaches to accountability and inspection.

However, we have a critical role to play too and leaders have a great responsibility in ensuring the conditions in their own school are making a positive contribution to recruitment and retention.

At my school, we talk a lot about creating the conditions in which everyone can thrive. I believe that if all of the adults are able to complete their tasks and responsibilities to a high standard then our school will become increasingly more effective, but in a sustainable and authentic way, with no gaming or clever tricks.

Schools are highly complex organisations and the role of the headteacher is incredibly diverse, requiring a huge range of knowledge and skills. One key skill a headteacher must master is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. Only by doing this can we take a broad view of the entire organisation and then begin to decipher the complexities before identifying priorities.

Let me give you one example. I asked my leadership team to identify the key factors that were a drain on teachers’ time, energy and workload. My challenge was that if we can identify the key barriers to teacher workload and then remove these, we can genuinely begin to create the conditions in which teachers can thrive. Essentially, we asked ourselves “what can we do to help our teachers become more effective?”.

The first barrier we identified was time. Time is precious to teachers and a full-on teaching day is physically and mentally draining. If we could give our teachers less teaching time then surely this would have a positive impact on recruitment and retention.

We looked at education systems from around the world that have recently been successful and noted that teachers in countries such as Finland and Estonia have a great deal more time to plan lessons, engage with research and CPD and collaborate with colleagues.

We quickly identified that we cannot really provide our teachers with more PPA time – we simply do not have the budget to do this. However, our solution was to use our directed time much more sensibly than we have done previously. We have stopped whole staff meetings and significantly reduced the number of briefings and duties, replacing these with additional time for teachers within subject teams to collaborate and plan together.

We are already starting to see the positive impact this is having on the cohesiveness of departments and the level of coherence we are achieving in our curriculum resources.

Second, we identified behaviour as a key issue for teachers. Behaviour in our school is very good, but if we are to genuinely achieve the conditions in which all our teachers can thrive then we need to make managing behaviour a non-issue for our staff. This required us to dramatically simplify our behaviour system, removing several tiers and leaving much less wriggle room for students to exploit.

If a student disrupts in any way they are warned, if they do it again they are removed for the rest of the day by the senior leadership and incur a detention that is centrally organised and not the responsibility of the teacher.

Overnight, this had a positive impact on teacher workload and instantly ramped up the importance of getting the basics right in lessons for students.

We are continuing this approach in several other aspects of a teacher’s working day, identifying barriers and creating strategies to remove them so that all of our teachers can focus on delivering the curriculum in the most effective way possible.

My next challenge is to take this approach into every area of the school and I am looking forward to focusing on support staff. I want to work with them to strip away as many of the non-essential tasks as possible, creating streamlined and efficient ways of working so that we get to a point soon where we can genuinely say, with complete confidence, that every member of staff has the working conditions in which they can thrive.

  • The author is a headteacher in his sixth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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