Manifesto 2024

Five policies to improve retention (while we await funding)

A new government won’t be able to dodge the issue of pay for long, but there are ways it can make staying in the profession more attractive

A new government won’t be able to dodge the issue of pay for long, but there are ways it can make staying in the profession more attractive

22 Mar 2024, 5:00

Among the many challenges facing the next government, one of the biggest and most immediate for the sector will be ensuring there are enough good teachers. We need to recruit great people into the profession and we need to ensure they stay. 

Money is key. In a tight labour market, we are all competing for talent, and it doesn’t help that teachers’ pay has fallen relative to other professions. The IFS estimate that experienced teachers have seen a 13-per cent real-terms cut in pay since 2010. Albeit that average earnings only went up by 2 per cent in that time, that’s a 15 per cent gap and it makes a big difference.   

The state of the country’s finances makes it unlikely that any of the major parties will go into the election promising to significantly upgrade teacher pay. But if it can’t be done in the first term of a new government, it ought to be a priority for the second.

In the short term, a new government could go a long way to improving retention by restoring morale. Here are five policies to get started.

Improve the mood music

This is important for keeping people in teaching and attracting new recruits.  There is still a way to go to repair the relationship between the government and the sector after the strain we saw in last year’s strikes.

Schools feel like, and increasingly are, among the most functional services in their communities and the people working in them are struggling to deliver much more than they are funded or resourced to do.  The changing nature of the social contract between home and school and the after-effects of Covid all make a job that has always been difficult feel almost impossible.  Showing a sincere understanding of teachers’ critical role in our society, economy and culture, doesn’t cost a penny.

Teachers are some of the most trusted professionals in the country but there is a sense that they are not valued as much as they should be whether in parts of the media or by government. 

Review accountability

This should be done in the round, including uses of assessment data, inspection reports and oversight responsibilities of local authorities and DfE regional offices. Accountability measures have a bigger impact on school and teacher behaviour (and workload) than curriculum and assessment design. They need to be considered collectively, which remarkably has never happened before. 

Introduce student loan forgiveness schemes

Why charge tuition fees to trainees when we are so short of them? Yes, there are bursaries for many subjects, but why undermine this offer with the spectre of additional student debt which will most likely eventually be written off anyway? It would not be a significant cost at a national level but is a significant deterrent to recruits, especially those from less well-off backgrounds. 

Enlist support from tech innovators

Following our enforced immersion in edtech during the pandemic and with the promise of an AI revolution, we need to work closely with tech companies to make sure we have the tools we need to maximise pupils’ learning and reduce unnecessary workload. 

Get public services to work better together

Schools are at the sharp end of supporting children and families in crisis. We see first-hand the lack of a joined-up approach from the other services. In fact, schools are often in the co-ordinating role. Government needs to design in efficient collaboration and design out perverse incentives.  

There is, of course, much that we can do as a sector to improve teacher recruitment and retention – and much that is already being done. When it comes to effective government action, the good news is that it doesn’t all come down to money; It is not what motivates people to devote their lives to education.

However, there is no escaping the fact one’s salary represents recognition of the value of one’s work. We need a government who will go beyond mere words and deliver something concrete, either to make teachers’ work more sustainable or to remunerate it better. Ideally both.

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  1. Wizzo Bravo

    Everything is broken in schools. It’s going to take much, much more than this to improve things.

    For instance, primary is not meeting the needs of children. They are not developing the basic functional skills that they need for life because of an Ofsted driven agenda that is far too secretarial. Children are in seats for far too long. They need time outdoors. They need investment in their personal development which raises self esteem and the chance of success across a range of areas.

    Yes, accountability is far too overbearing but it comes from a position of concern that schools will deliver. That’s not going to change and I just don’t see the next government having the strength of will to see off Ofsted and replace it with anything more helpful. Institutional inertia will out.

    I am afraid that nothing will be fixed that will improve retention without a significant injection of funding. Schools need a funding formula that does not financially penalise the retention of experienced staff. Teachers pay could be removed from a school’s costs and they could be paid from central government but that won’t happen because the academy system has seriously screwed up any kind of long term recruitment and retention strategy. The most frightening thing for new teachers is seeing the workload in some schools, especially small ones. Yes, the holidays are long but gone are the days when teachers actually did not work in those periods. For many new and experienced teachers, 6 day weeks of 60+ hours have become the norm. From my own experience, since two weeks before the first lockdown, I have probably enjoyed 8 weeks of actual work free holiday.

    One thing that would improve retention would be dedicated time to carry out curriculum development, monitoring, resources management and other administrative tasks that have sucked the life out of the job. But once again, that would cost money.

    Our school is dirty. We haven’t got the money for enough cleaning hours. We have no caretaker. Our head does half the decorating or fixing jobs. Shoddy purchasing and construction supervision from the local authority have blessed our school with heating that doesn’t work, a roof that leaks, lighting that is progressively failing, exterior doors which don’t properly lock because of misalignment and windows that can’t be opened – this in a school built in 2007. This creates a depressing environment where there is no time to fix things because of the race to tick yet another “for Ofsted” box.

    The big problem with the English education system is that it is a house built on sand. There is no education strategy, or long term vision, or leadership that has ever understood the need to invest in our young people through schools. We want world class on a B and M budget, and there are too many spivs happy to oblige.

    • wendy smith

      Education……. The contract with parents is broken the parents won’t send their children to school because they are selfish irresponsible people

      Also education our school is filthy the heating doesn’t work it’s in disrepair

      Why would we send our kids there…..

      • Caroline

        So true about schools having the ability to retain experienced staff. It is demoralising after nearly 30 years to see peers in other professions respected and financially rewarded for their expertise and experience, whilst expert teachers are forced out of the profession to save money.

  2. Tired Teacher

    Everyone has great ideas about what needs to be done to retain Teachers however I feel these are way off the mark in terms of Secondary Education. The Education system is beyond broken, Academys should have never been allowed to take over Schools. These are run like businesses and very bad businesses at that. Budgets are small, class sizes too large, not enough staff that are actually able to teach their specialism. Yes pay could be better and workload reduced however one of the biggest factors is student behaviour. There is no respect anymore, kids don’t want to learn or listen. The internal truancy is off the scale. There is so much anxiety and other needs that often cannot be met with such a large class size and lack of Teaching Assistants due to budget cuts. I’ve taught for 13 years and now do supply as I just can’t cope with the job anymore. I’m hoping to leave teaching in the next 6 months. I love my subject but I can’t do my job anymore as I’m firefighting poor behaviour constantly. I dread my own kids going to secondary in such a broken education system. Teachers are called out often due to the amount of holidays we get however we need those to recover and catch up on work that we haven’t got time to do in the working day.

    • ANONYMOUS disappointed teacher

      I completely agree with all points made about the education sector and teaching workload. Behaviour is thd main issue. Lack of parental support is the second issue. I gave up on a permenant teaching pist working in excess of 60 hours per week to go on supply. I am long term delivering history lessons prepared by another member of staff. History is not my specialism. But I have 22 years experience teaching and my overall knowledge helps. I barely teach. I fire fight behaviour. I try to support SEN students but cannot give them thd time and support they need. TA’s are few are far between and their attendance is inconsistent. As supply I am treated poorly by staff and students because “your just sub” .. my experience holds nothing with students because they don’t value supply staff ..its just seen as free lessons. So much money is being wasted on academy and trust management hierarchies rather than on TA’s, subject specific teaching staff and school resources. Academies can’t keep current staff dud to burn out and poor worklife balance.
      Supply agencies are creaming off any budget that is left. Supply agencies charge schools exorbitant fees and pay supply staff as little as possible. When local authorities had their own supply pools if was mych more efficient and cost effective. Children learning and expectations have changed.
      The education system hasnt moved on. Students are being failed and they know it.

    • R-elationships broken
      E-ducators not valued
      S-chools crumbling
      P-arents don’t parent
      E- veryone demoralised
      C- ultural breakdowns
      T-rust evaporated

      Without positive Relationships, Educators valued, Schools upkept, Parents taking responsibilty, Everyone in unison, Cultural tolerance and Trust re-established we will never reap the society we wanted to shape from the first day we all joined this wonderful profession – our vocation. We must have and demand for change and hope to bring back RESPECT…

  3. Patrick Obikwu

    Enhancing teacher retention in schools doesn’t require rocket science. It boils down to implementing five straightforward measures:

    Enhancing student discipline
    Cultivating student respect
    Promoting positive student behavior
    Alleviating teacher workload
    Addressing issues with arrogant and incompetent school leadership

    • Totally agree with number five. Leadership are often bullies who were bullied themselves at school and now they believe that’s how to behave. They are incompetent and try to make themselves look good by making others doubt themselves and look bad. If you want retention sort out the management they are responsible for staffing and their schools.

      • Just find these articles so vague and wooly. e g. number 1: value teachers, show understanding – someone saying ‘poor dear’ after a student has threatened to hit you or ‘that must be awful’ that you spent all day Sunday marking doesn’t help.

  4. Colin Hartshorn

    Everyone has got ideas on this topic. I am retiring from teaching this year at 56 after 20 years. My reasons, my classes feel like I’m baby sitting not educating, I don’t feel appreciated particularly by parents and students. I can go for 5 hours without a coffee and afternoon lessons are populated by exhausted staff and students. The environment has changed so much since 2004.
    Here is a new way of thinking. School teachers and TAs are the most important staff, like doctors and nurses in a hospital. No admin staff should be paid more than someone who educates kids. Headteachers are admin, academy CEOs are admins, business managers are admin. Admin staff help teachers do their job but do not actually do the job. Pay scarce qualified maths teachers, chemistry, physics and CS more than PE teachers.
    The school environment is going down the road of micro managing and exploiting educated professionals who get jobs easily in industry. Why are we surprised?

  5. I liken staff well-being to the last meal cook from Blackadder. “I’ll cook them anything they ask for…as long as they ask for sausages”.

    I’ve sat through too many meetings and discussions on well-being and it’s always the same. More cake in the staff-room. We tried ‘meeting free’ weeks on the last week of every term. That was actually nice but didn’t last.

    There are many reasons why teachers get fed up and ultimately leave the profession and a lot of them would be personal to the individual.
    However I suspect a fairly consistent triangle (triangulation – see, endless buzzwords and jargon aren’t helping either) would be workload, behaviour and monitoring. I suspect that if just one of those was dealt with – properly dealt with – then the other two could be more manageable. At the moment, however, I am stuck in a world where my spare time is spent writing planning documents so that my teaching can be checked, lessons delivered to a backdrop of low level behaviour and then subjected to endless ‘ book looks’ and ‘drop ins’.
    That is unsustainable. I am currently off with stress until Easter. SLT have been very supportive. “We’ll have a chat when you get back and see what we can do to help”. Sadly, like Blackadder’s death-row inmates, unless I ask for sausages then I’m going to end up disappointed!