Managing Teacher Recruitment, Training and Retention
With many schools, teaching unions and teachers expressing concerns about how safe the classroom is – despite reassurance from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), an article by Yvonne Williams in the Times Educational Supplement (TES), asks how many teachers have decided to quit their profession.
Yvonne Williams is head of English and drama in a secondary school in the South of England. In her December 2020 article, written before the recent spate of school closures, she argued that the risks of infection, as well as the stresses, strains, and fear over novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 and Covid-19, were made it more likely for people to quit their teaching jobs during the crisis:
“Exhausted teachers will be more vulnerable to illness and some may be burned out already. Many will be asking themselves whether there is any point in carrying on if their health and wellbeing – as well as that of vulnerable members of their family – are constantly compromised. How many teachers will decide that this is a good time to give up teaching – vocation or not?” Her article is politically charged. However, it offers a glimpse into how many teachers are said to feel.
Extraordinary work and commitment
Justin Reilly, CEO of safeguarding software providers, Impero, comments on the political tussle that is overshadowing teachers and schools openings and closures: “The political tussle over whether schools should open or remain closed has cast a shadow over the extraordinary work and commitment we have seen from teachers all over the country throughout this pandemic. Teachers want to teach, which is precisely what they have done, regardless of whether schools are open or closed. I hope that anyone wishing to enter the profession knows this above anything else.”
He proclaims teaching to be a vocation and not simply a job. For many teachers he therefore believes the draw to teach will be present irrespective of the current pandemic and school closures. From his own perspective, as a former teacher, he confirms that teaching is a gratifying and fulfilling job.
He also explains: “The Department for Education has said that initial teacher training (ITT) providers can reduce the 120 days needed in a school setting, should schools be closed due to COVID-19, which should come as a relief to those who are training.”
Leaving the profession
However, it is true that some teachers have considered leaving their profession, and that school closures have made it harder to recruit new teachers due to restrictions regarding onsite visits. Simon Lock examined this in his TES article, ‘How will Covid affect teacher recruitment this year?’, published on 28th January 2021. He reveals that normally the beginning of a new year would be a time for a surge in job applications and interviews, which commonly would usually lead to a rush of careers fairs, which allow “staff to weigh up whether to renew contracts or set out for pastures new.”
“Many schools are looking at this lull as a precursor to busier months ahead, with burnout and pent-up desires to relocate likely to unsettle educators later in the year”, he writes while finding that during the national lockdown means that many teachers are reluctant to make big career decisions.
Speaking to Kulvarn Atwal, an executive headteacher in the London Borough of Redbridge, Lock realises that there is much uncertainty at the moment. Atwal says fewer people have been applying for jobs and promotions. Schools visits are off limits, and so most interviews are conducted online, remotely.
Reilly adds: “Teachers often have heavy workloads and deal with challenging behaviours, which can be exhausting and stressful. Recent research from Hays Education Training found that 65% of teachers have considered leaving the profession due to poor wellbeing, and over one third (37%) have considered this in the last two years. “Other evidence shows that a third of teachers leave the profession within five years of starting.”
He says teaching throughout the pandemic has been the most challenging period for many teachers in recent memory. He therefore thinks it’s reasonable to predict that the number of teachers leaving the profession might increase. However, teachers generally don’t feel their schools are letting them down. Yet they do feel they haven’t had the support they expect to receive from the government and from the Department for Education.
Reilly explains that it’s been extremely difficult to main high safeguarding standards during the pandemic. To tackle it, the Department for Education launched its £8 million Wellbeing for Education Return programme. However, he reveals, there 32,770 schools in the UK. On the face of it there appears to be much support from the department but given the number of schools in the country the reality is that they will be receiving less than £250 each.
He adds: “By comparison, NHS England and NHS Improvement announced in October 2020 that they would invest an extra £15 million to strengthen mental health support for nurses, paramedics, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff.”
In stark contrast there has never been a prescriptive scheme for mental health and wellbeing for schools in the UK, he discloses: “The closest we’ve had was a document called “blueprint for counselling and schools” in 2015, and the Department for Education hasn’t updated its mental health guidance since late 2018.”
Duty of care for learning
He emphasises that the first duty of care for any teacher and schools is to ensure that their students are safe and happy. Schools will no doubt feel likewise when it comes to their staff, and happy and motivated teachers will inevitably create the right environment for most pupils to benefit from effective learning. He adds that every school and teacher have a responsibility for child protection and safeguarding before commenting: “Still, the total responsibility shouldn’t be on teachers and pastoral staff – there must be funding for qualified support to work alongside them. I think the lack of support has been particularly hard for teachers during the pandemic.”
So, how can schools help teachers to manage their stress, look after their mental health, and enable teachers to remain motivated to ensure they don’t feel a need to leave their profession? Firstly, he commends schools for having done an incredible job by banding together to support each other through the pandemic. He nevertheless advises school leaders to give teachers the tools they need to teach and to look after their students in the new hybrid learning setting we have found ourselves in.”
He explains: “Cloud-based classroom management, device management and learner wellbeing solutions help teachers create engaging digital lessons, record student safety concerns, and actively monitor student wellbeing, from wherever they are. These tools help teachers focus on what they do best – teach and look after their students’ wellbeing.”
In terms of the way forward to manage teaching resources, and perhaps to retain and train teachers, he would like to see schools collaborating – including with lessons. Social media can be used to share lesson plans and ideas, or even to help with the recruitment of new teaching talent.
It’s also important to note that teacher recruitment hasn’t completely stalled. Some schools are still recruiting, and yet, as Reilly suggests, there will be others that would like to see a more formalised system for teachers to share the workload and collaborate across schools to deliver the best lessons and materials. He concludes that this could “have an enormous impact on their wellbeing”, and teacher retention.