We need a recruitment and retention strategy for the whole workforce

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Deborah Lawson, general secretary, Voice

While individual initiatives to boost recruitment and retention are welcome, what we need desperately is a whole-education workforce strategy, says Deborah Lawson

The tradition at the beginning of a new year is to make resolutions, so the temptation to suggest education resolutions for government is appealing. Resolutions, however, are often quickly forgotten and don’t achieve the maker’s aspiration, even without political curveballs to contend with.

But there is no denying that, despite the initiatives announced last year, recruitment and retention of teachers remains in crisis and is exacerbated by the continuing reduction of support staff numbers through “efficiency savings”.

Incentivising recruitment into teaching through loan reimbursement, scholarships and bursaries is welcome – and may go some way to reverse the initial teacher training trend of recent years – but there is still some distance to travel to reverse the trend and stem the flow of departures from the profession within the first five years after qualifying.

It is not total doom and gloom, however, and we must note that the views of the profession appear to have been listened to regarding payments through these initiatives, which it is hoped will encourage more early career teachers to remain in the profession.

But at a time when 48 per cent of teachers in secondary schools have less than 10 years’ experience, and there has been a 4.2 per cent decrease in teaching assistants, without addressing the other issues which are driving teachers out of the profession in increasing numbers, will the new schemes just be delaying the inevitable?

The number of teachers leaving state-funded schools for reasons other than retirement continues to increase. And, although there has been some reversal in the number of teachers re-entering the profession after a career break and a fall in the number of teachers retiring, possibly due to pension and retirement age changes, the turnover of teachers remains in deficit.

All of this indicates that, in addition to incentives to recruit to the profession, there is an equally pressing need to address the issues which are driving teachers out of the profession and/or deterring them from seeking leadership roles or career progression. The interrelated issues of properly funded reward, workload driven by accountability, and CPD must be addressed if experienced teachers are to be retained. I know from Voice members how significantly workload influences retention – and not only in the early career of teachers – and we welcome further action to remove unnecessary workload at all career stages.

Lack of recruitment and retention of teachers is not confined to England. There are issues in Scotland and Wales too. While the reach of austerity continues to affect the public sector, lifting the pay cap for teachers may, theoretically, be possible, but will remain impossible if not properly funded.

The ministerial response to the joint unions’ request to restore pay levels to support recruitment and retention was disappointing, if to be expected. Teacher salary levels therefore look set to remain a bone of contention in England and Wales for the coming negotiation round, although the remit given to the STRB is almost identical to previous years.

What is needed is a whole education workforce strategy, one which has equal focus on the retention of qualified and experienced teachers, is properly funded and does not cut teaching assistant or support staff numbers further in endless rounds of restructuring.

Without an overall strategy, the recent initiatives, as good as they may eventually prove to be, lack cohesion. They are undoubtedly different strands of a teacher recruitment and retention strategy, but the rest of the education workforce – which is being devastated through endless rounds of “efficiency” savings – must be included in any workforce recruitment and retention strategy. Without support staff, who add value to teacher input, teacher burdens will increase further.

The initiatives announced, welcome as they may be, are rather like jigsaw pieces. The problem is that, without a big picture or a vision clearly communicated, the profession, and those considering entering it, remain in the dark about how the government believes the pieces should fit together.


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