We are Engage• 3 Min read

13th August 2021

Teacher Retention Strategies To Employ at Your School

In the UK, many teachers are leaving the profession at a time where the number of secondary school students are growing, leaving schools struggling to get the quality staff they need in order to provide brilliant education to children. This teacher retention crisis is affecting some subject specialisms, geographic areas and social groups more than others. Subjects suffering from staffing shortages include maths, sciences and modern languages. In some subjects, nearly half of new teachers leave within their first five years, and across the board a third don’t stick with the profession. 

  Why are teachers leaving the profession?

One of the biggest problems facing the teaching profession is the fact that teachers are paid less than nearly all other professional occupations. Graduates with degrees, particularly in some of the shortage subjects such as physics and maths, find that teaching salaries are uncompetitive compared to other jobs. 

Another motivating factor, often quoted by teachers leaving the profession, has consistently been an unmanageable workload. Many noted that their work prevented them from spending time with their families. Although school leaders have put in place strategies to reduce teacher workload in many areas, it’s still an issue that needs further addressing. Teachers also cite feeling pressured by Ofsted inspections, performance tables and emphasis on exam results as a reason for considering changing career.

Those who have quit teaching have also described a frustration with a perceived lack of respect from the government and media, saying they feel undervalued and not listened to. This sentiment was only exaggerated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many teachers expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s approach to safety measures in school. Many believed that there had been inadequate support for them while they were dealing with new and unprecedented challenges, and felt that their work-life balance had deteriorated.

   How does teacher retention affect students?

Struggling schools, including those in special measures and schools in disadvantaged areas, have the most serious problems with teacher recruitment and retention. Unfortunately, this means that the issue is serving to exacerbate existing problems of inequality. Teachers with a lot of experience and qualifications who would be willing to teach in schools in inner-city or very rural areas, or those in special measures, are very difficult to find.

Problems with teacher retention directly harm the quality of education students receive, with classes becoming more crowded as teacher numbers fall and student numbers continue to rise. Failure to retain staff past the first few years of their teaching careers means that the number of more experienced teachers is lower than ever, and students are less likely to benefit from that experience. 

   What contributes to teacher retention?

Professional development opportunities can be a powerful motivator for teachers to remain in a post or to take on roles that they might not otherwise. Surveys of teachers have suggested that many would be more willing to work in a special measures school if they had half the timetabled teaching hours with more professional development and non-teaching time. 

A culture of collaboration and participation in a professional learning community helps to keep teachers motivated and invested in their own growth and learning. When newly qualified and early career teachers are able regularly to observe and learn from more experienced colleagues, they take inspiration from their peers, become more successful in their own classrooms, and find their work more exciting and rewarding.

Greater autonomy in the workplace also has benefits for teachers, with less bureaucracy and paperwork reducing workload stress and meaning teachers can dedicate more time to the work they are passionate about.

   How can teacher retention be improved?

Some of the potential solutions to teacher retention problems are best undertaken at a central or local government level, for example by ensuring that schools in disadvantaged areas that hire many younger teachers receive enough funding in order to pay higher starter salaries. In the UK some strategies are already being tried, including:

  • A government initiative offering annual payments to early career maths and physics teachers in areas with particularly high demand, such as in the north of the country, as a measure to try to incentivise them to enter and stay in the profession.
  • ‘Staying on bonuses’ of up to £9000 now being paid to early career teachers in maths, languages and the sciences in order to encourage them to continue working in state schools.
  • Changing the way that Ofsted inspections are conducted in order to more holistically assess pupils’ personal and academic progress, to ensure that performance assessment is not simply based on exam results

These large-scale measures are not the only contributors towards the retention of staff, and there is plenty of scope for school leaders to introduce new policies into their schools in order to keep teachers motivated and satisfied with their jobs.

  • Positive feedback and support from senior leadership, particularly from headteachers, can help teachers to feel more respected and valued, whether that is congratulating them verbally on a strong series of lessons, or backing them up in a disciplinary issue.
  • Maintaining the school environment and keeping it up to date also helps job satisfaction. When a teacher sees their school looking tidy and presentable rather than run-down, and has access to up to date technology and teaching aids, which allow them to enhance their lessons, they tend to take more pride in their work and feel more content. 
  • Taking steps to improve work-life balance and reduce workload through timetable reorganisation or using the steps in the government’s workload reduction toolkit.
  • Part-time and flexible working is far less common in teaching than it is in other professions in the UK, but there is evidence that there may be demand for more part-time roles, so offering flexible work solutions might be a way to retain staff. 

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