Supporting school teachers

How can we keep valuable teachers in post?
Image: Jacobs Foundation
Image: Jacobs Foundation

Increasing numbers of school students coincides with inadequate teacher recruitment and teacher resignations in England. Keeping teachers in post is therefore a priority. Why are teachers leaving the profession, and what can be done to keep them?

The number of students entering secondary school continues increasing, and yet teacher numbers are falling. Earlier this year, Jack Worth from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) described the factors contributing to insufficient secondary school teacher numbers a ‘perfect storm’.

Interviews with teachers who had recently left or were considering leaving, alongside surveys of teachers, have highlighted some of the key reasons teachers are leaving the education profession. Given that teachers are known to be extremely busy, it is unsurprising that these studies showed workloads to be an important reason. However, they also revealed that the situation is more nuanced.

Pressure from above, in the form of inspections and policy changes to curricula, were cited as the causes of high workloads. These high workloads also led teachers to experience poor health and feeling undervalued. The studies also revealed a number of ‘protective factors’ – parts of the job associated with a lower intent to leave teaching. Job satisfaction was the strongest protective factor, and others included pride, adequate resources, support from management, and salary. These protective factors are a good place to look when considering how best to keep teachers in post.

Engage, value, trust, reward, and support teachers

As a result of these findings, NFER recommended a number of steps for improving the retention of teachers. Teachers may be re-engaged and motivated through rewards, resources, wellbeing support through mentoring or mental health services, flexible working provision, and opportunities for teachers to spend time in other schools to explore options for staying within teaching.

Researchers who collaborate with teachers, such as those undertaking educational neuroscience research, should have an understanding of the issues around teacher retention and wellbeing. While researchers typically have their own concerns around recruiting participants and collecting data in a timely manner, it’s important to be mindful of the stress that many teachers face in their jobs.

“Fulfilled teachers will surely be better teachers, who ultimately provide the best possible learning conditions for their students.”

It may be that collaborating with scientists brings further satisfaction to a teacher’s job, but it is possible that it is seen as another activity taking up valuable time. For some teachers, engaging in research may not have been a personal choice, but a requirement from a senior colleague. Researchers should therefore seek to create good relationships with teachers, try to minimise disruption, and establish the extent to which individual teachers want to engage.

Researchers can play an important part in testing the effectiveness of efforts to support teachers. Researchers are increasingly recognising the need to look beyond pupil attainment in research, and the NFER recommendations are a good place to start in investigating the effectiveness of efforts to improve teacher satisfaction and retention. Fulfilled teachers will surely be better teachers, who ultimately provide the best possible learning conditions for their students.

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