The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Trusts in the driving seat to take on the teacher retention crisis

Every trust executive needs to prioritise taking care of their teachers and leaders. The evidence on exit rates shows that we cannot afford not to do so.

Earlier this year, the Department for Education’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy articulated the complex challenges we face to attract and keep talented educators in our schools – including a competitive labour market, high levels of attrition at the beginning of teachers’ careers, unmanageable workload and a poor climate in which to foster positive, supportive school cultures.

The picture is a stark one. But the strategy also brought forward a set of clear, targeted recommendations and reforms to address these challenges – which have been widely, and warmly, welcomed by the education sector.

These included a long-overdue reform of early career support for new teachers, which is set out in the strategy’s flagship Early Career Framework (ECF).

One of the challenge factors highlighted in the DfE’s strategy was the competitive labour market. Talented graduates with subject specialisms are inundated with – often lucrative – career pathways to follow once they leave university. PGCE graduates have the option to teach in the independent or international sector, often with the promise of higher pay, sunnier climes, and/or better work-life balance.

At Ambition Institute we are staunch in our belief that, to attract and retain talented educators in the English state school system, we need a career development offer which competes with other sectors. The ECF provides a great first step in building this offer.

At the same time, we recognise that teaching is complex. Learning to do it well requires time and a carefully thought-through training programme – and this is exactly what the ECF aims to deliver.

The targeted curriculum enables new teachers to develop subject knowledge, foster good workload management practice, and build their confidence in the classroom – as well as fuelling their drive to keep getting better in their roles.

This is not just about increasing retention of new teachers in the profession: it is about incrementally building their expertise from the very beginning of their careers, so that we can nurture a workforce which is equipped and supported to give children the very best education.

Right now, Ambition Institute is piloting two programmes connected to the ECF, helping to test the DfE’s thinking on what works and fine-tune the offer to the system before it is fully rolled out in 2020. These pilots focus on the crucial role of in-school mentors in early career support. Mentors feature heavily in the planned ECF, so it’s important we establish best approaches to train the trainer.

This piloting phase is so important because it is crucial for us to get this early support right: it will provide the building blocks for the next generation of educators.

And trusts have an important leadership role to play here. Over 200,000 educators – approximately 44% of the school workforce – now work in an academy: making you, the executive and governance leaders of academy trusts, amongst the largest employers in the education sector.

This puts you in the driving seat for enacting the reforms emerging from the Recruitment and Retention Strategy, including taking up the development offer provided by the ECF to support new entrants.

But this is just the first step in developing a coherent, rewarding professional development offer for your teams. We need to support educators – at every stage in their career – by giving them the knowledge and skills to take ownership of their roles and their careers in teaching. Without this, we are never going to stem the tide of exits from the profession or drive the take-up that we need from future generations of graduates who share our mission to give every child an amazing education.

Every trust executive needs to prioritise taking care of their teachers and leaders. The evidence on exit rates shows that we cannot afford not to do so.

Marie Hamer

In June, Ambition Institute and the Education Policy Institute will release new research into developing teachers and leaders in academy trusts. In this research we have sought to develop the DfE’s work in the Recruitment and Retention Strategy by focusing on the strategic potential for trusts to address the challenges facing the school system.

We will present workforce strategies and enabling practices which have been deployed by trusts with strong staff retention and progression – and which can be emulated by system leaders in their own contexts for the benefit of their staff and, ultimately, pupils.

Look out for the research, to be released on 11th June. In the meantime, do not hesitate to get in contact with my colleagues at Ambition Institute to hear more about our pilot ECF work, or indeed any of our programmes. We all need to work together to solve the workforce challenges facing the school sector – and realise the full potential of our fantastic teachers and leaders.