How to recruit and retain the best teachers

Lisa Fathers from the Bright Futures Educational Trust shares some of the methods, ways of working, and successful programmes she’s seen that’s made a difference to boosting recruitment and retention in schools

I have been in the education sector for the last 24 years and served in a variety of roles. Every single year it has remained a privilege to be able to impact on the lives of children and young people. As a strategic leader leading two Teaching School Hubs and the wider training offer, maintaining a team of engaged and supported staff is something I’m very passionate about and I care deeply care about the current issues regarding teacher recruitment and retention in the education sector.
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding job but can be challenging, and the pandemic certainly added to these challenges.
Unsurprisingly this led to a reluctance among many teachers to change jobs at a time where there was already so much uncontrollable external upheaval. A positive from this was that schools experienced greater stability in their staffing. But for those hoping to move roles this could have been a negative, with the a report from The Gatsby Foundation revealing that from March 2020 onwards, the number of teacher recruitment adverts posted by schools fell well below those seen in pre-pandemic years. These factors have had a continued impact on retention and recruitment, even in the incredibly rewarding and unique sector that is teaching. I know that this year teacher and leadership recruitment has been very challenging.

To make sure that our education system remains in good shape, as a sector we need to attract more new teachers to help the next generation fulfil their potential. We must also support our existing excellent teachers in order for better retention across the sector. The following insights outline some of the methods, ways of working, and successful programmes I’ve seen that can really make a difference to boosting schools’ recruitment and retention.

Rethinking the hiring process – new recruitment methods

Most of us hope we wouldn’t let our own biases and opinions negatively influence decisions we make in the recruitment process – but unfortunately unconscious bias is natural and tricky to overcome. Within our trust our HR Director has driven a number of ways to improve recruitment. For example, introducing blind recruitment can help stop stereotypes and assumptions we might hold from influencing recruitment choices, helping to further promote a diverse workforce in regards to age, gender, ethnicity, background and geographical region. This process involves removing a candidate’s name and any other identifying factors from applications – such as age, address or location, years of experience, and school or university names. Blind Recruitment focuses on skills rather than background – helping to ensure we diversify the teaching workforce.
Beyond the application process, the pandemic forced many schools to reconsider the interview process. With remote interviews using Zoom and Microsoft Teams becoming the norm, it helped schools widen their pool of potential teachers to across the nation, and even worldwide to international teachers, who bring a range of skills including teaching language subjects. As we move out of the pandemic, schools can continue to explore perhaps a hybrid model for interviewing.

Streamlining the application process

We know teachers are busy, so you don’t want them to have to dig through recruitment websites to find your vacancy. Similarly, a complicated and lengthy application form can be off-putting and demotivating for the applicant. If we can simplify and centralise the application process for prospective teachers, it will make it easier for those looking for a new role – and significantly cut cost for schools. One recourse already out there is the Department for Education’s Teaching Vacancies service. It is a free national service for advertising teaching roles, where schools can tap into a national pool of teachers without paying a penny.
Roles can be filtered by job-seeking teachers based on criteria including location, job title, education phase, working pattern (flexible hours, part-time) and ECT suitability, allowing teachers to streamline their application process. The service offers a new Easy Apply form which schools can use to help save job-seeking teachers time. Teachers can create an account on the website and save parts of their application information such as employment history, education, and qualifications, ready to submit for their next application. This means teachers don’t have to spend time copying and pasting or tweaking the same application for multiple roles – leaving them more time to tailor their personal statement for their chosen school.
Flexible working is here to stay

Flexible working has become an increasing priority for the workforce since the pandemic. Offering flexible working arrangements can help ensure that teaching suits employees at different stages of their life, which can range from those with caring responsibilities, to those returning to the profession and teachers who wish to combine their career with professional development or work in their field of study. This has been seen in practice at the Manchester Communication Academy, with 17 per cent of staff working part time. As a result, all the staff are on permanent contracts, and the school has a 90 per cent staff retention rate.
Flexible working can also improve staff engagement and satisfaction levels, leading to better retention and reduced recruitment costs. Teaching Vacancies allows school leaders to advertise specifically for flexible roles. Since the service launched, nearly one in five vacancies advertised have been flexible, and this figure is expected to rise to meet the growing demand. Make it clear that your school supports flexible working in all job ads. This will widen the pool of talent your school attracts, and in turn your team will reflect the diversity of the community they serve in.

Teacher wellbeing

Prioritising teacher wellbeing as well as their individual mental health is critical to retaining staff. Some practical measures for supporting teaching wellbeing include having regular discussions with staff about workload pressures and giving them the opportunity to have a say in decisions that affect them. If you are an ECT mentor, make sure you are checking up on their wellbeing and not just their workload. For further guidance on this you can have a look at the Government’s education staff wellbeing charter, which you can also print off and put in the staffroom to let your staff know you are following these guidelines. You can also introduce staff and department forums where teachers can anonymously have their say on the running of the school, which will make them feel heard. I would also urge all schools to check out the Well Schools Movement which will give you access to school-led practice and examples, events, podcasts and webinars as well as guidance and support from like-minded colleagues.

Career development

Ensure your teachers are given access to the training they need. Offering robust professional development programmes will lead to the staff feeling they can grow and learn within the school. I could urge you to connect with your local Teaching School Hub for the ECF and the fully funded  National Professional Qualifications (NPQ). The specialist and leadership NPQs provide training and support for teachers and school leaders at all levels by utilising insight from sector experts, the best available evidence and collective wisdom of the profession. Highlight the registration date in Autumn 2022 and encourage teachers to sign up for email alerts when registration reopens. Other training opportunities are also available, like free CPD and webinars online.
We know that from a strategic perspective, feedback, coaching and mentoring and support from senior leadership is a useful tool in making sure teachers feel valued, respected and that the school is invested in their development, which in turn will aid both internal retention as well as making your school a more inviting place which encourages recruitment.
There is no one-size fits all for teacher retention and recruitment. Schools all over the country have different strategies based on their region, subject pool and diversity. However, implementing practical changes regarding recruitment resources, flexible working options and teacher support can make a huge difference to the recruitment and retention landscape at your school.

About the author

Lisa Fathers, executive leader, serving on the executive leadership team for Bright Futures has had an impactful journey in the education sector. Lisa has a wide strategic leadership portfolio, including strategic leadership of professional development, school improvement outreach work, system leadership and partnerships, plus, marketing and communications.

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