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It’s the Retention, Stupid #SaturdayThunk

The original message hung on Bill Clinton’s Little Rock headquarters reminded workers of the three key campaign messages: Change or more of the same; the economy, stupid and don’t forget health care.  At last government ministers are beginning to agree with Ros McMullen that there is a staffing crisis coming, change is needed rather than more of the same.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc


The current focus seems to be on recruitment with £30,000 tax free bursaries promised for some in their training year.  This is bordering on madness; it is more than a teacher’s annual salary, if they are on the main scale, during their first six years of teaching.  I’m convinced that we can’t recruit our way out of the impending staffing crisis.  Teachers are leaving the profession at too great a rate particularly in their early years.  The crisis will only be solved by massively improving retention rates but how best to do that?  Many businesses would look at increasing salaries or benefit packages.  The first has been ruled out by the Chancellor and the second is unlikely to have a huge impact as teachers’ sick pay, maternity pay and holiday leave are relatively good compared to others.

The biggest issues facing the profession are to do with the prevailing culture and workload.  Working parties, even very well meaning ones, are not going to have much impact.  Fundamental change to the system is required.  Ofsted’s new short inspection is a start but change to the accountability system needs to be much greater and faster.  Government need to step up to the plate on this issue and act decisively.

Head teachers and governors can help by looking at their own systems and asking,

“Just how stupid is this?” 

Annual performance pay is nonsensical and we have never implemented it for teachers.  Instead we have annual appraisal with staff automatically moving from M1-M3.  A decision is made whether s/he will progress to M4 based on three years of information and then there is automatic progression from M4-6.  Not perfect but much better than many teachers’ experience in schools.

Students don’t move a GCSE grade every six weeks so we should stop collecting data so often To determine a GCSE or A-level grade properly needs a full mock, an exam board marking scheme, moderation of papers and use of that year’s grade boundaries.  We now only collect whole school data a couple of times per year.  Our next move has to be on marking and its monitoring as we haven’t got this right at all.  I don’t need a working party to tell me, the staff have already done so.  If we were to ask staff “how?” I don’t think there will be a shortage of suggestions.  Our staff still work incredibly hard, many of them too hard, but if the work is manageable, meaningful and helps them do a good job people tend to mind less. 

As leaders, we need to start to sort these things out.  Don’t wait or staff will start looking for greener pastures and there will be a lot of those on offer in the years ahead.  What madness will you be abandoning this year?

#SaturdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two minutes as you’re relaxing or busy running around on you day off.



4 thoughts on “It’s the Retention, Stupid #SaturdayThunk

  1. I like this post Stephen.

    Made me think of HT’s needing to filter out 90% of external BS to help teachers get on with the job.

    I’m only new to leadership, but I seem to get the vibe that looking in books and coming into lessons to talk to children gives the best picture about what is actually going on in that class?

    Surely this means we can think about easing some pressures on teachers? Ease the in depth, teacher-pupil-teacher response marked bits of work? 2 page lesson plans? Ease the high stakes PRP observations?

    As you said, the profession is in a dangerous situation in terms of retention. As a father to a 2 year old and another due in January, if I can’t get a balance to be a good father and husband, then yes, I would leave too.

    I think leaders have a responsibility to manage this sensibly as the external pressures will always be there.

    Posted by conorheaven | October 11, 2015, 9:24 am
  2. After listening to you speak last week at the SSAT K Cohort I was rather interested that your comments around retention and looking after teachers on that day were echoed all over Sky News this morning. So the information is out there. The next question is what are the politicians going to do about it once they have finished hitting each other over the head with it? The problem is not going to go away and even sensible senior leaders are not going to be able to stem change and protect their staff adequately.

    How can parameters suddenly change so dramatically that outstanding teachers suddenly become wanting? I love teaching and the thought of doing anything else is abhorrent; however, my husband would like us to spend some time together at some point.

    Posted by Helen Masters | October 11, 2015, 6:22 pm

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