The difficulties in staff intake and retention currently being felt by the state sector are well documented. The recruitment of teachers in core subjects is proving a particular challenge, with government targets for the recruitment of teachers being missed by 7%. According to the National Association of Head Teachers, 21% of schools failed to recruit at all in 2016. Moreover, the picture does not look like improving unless something is done to address the drop-out rate of newly qualified teachers, currently running at nearly 40%.
But how is the recruitment and retention landscape looking in the independent sector – and how are independent schools looking after and retaining staff?
Abingdon’s St Helen and St Katharine School (SHSK) monitors staff satisfaction and career development closely. “We are very much committed to continuous professional development (CPD), and we encourage our staff to develop via diverse routes, from Open University qualifications via work with the Teacher Development Trust and outside INSET provision to local TeachMeets,” explained John Hunt, Director of Staff.
The school has always taken a strong interest in its teachers’ career aspirations – but CPD is a particular focus currently.
We are working with an external specialist, Coaching Impact, to develop coaching and leadership training for current and aspiring middle and senior leaders,” said John.
“We want to develop leaders who will stay with us, but we also feel a wider responsibility for training future leaders for the profession.”
SHSK’s ‘Joint Staff Consultative Committee’ is central to the school’s concern with staff welfare, working with the school’s leadership and HR teams to keep its well-being policy current and relevant, and providing a forum for ongoing dialogue around staff well-being – from pay and work patterns to counselling and gym access. The school’s recruitment focus has also been widening, from the traditional PGCE routes into graduate pathways. “The profession needs subject specialists with passion and flair, committed to inspiring and developing young people,” John reasoned. “While we remain keen to engage with new teachers joining us through the traditional route of a PGCE, we are also happy to recruit high-calibre graduates directly from university, whom we can then support to complete a formal teaching qualification on the job.”
Elsewhere, staff at Burgess Hill Girls can take the Independent Schools’ Qualification in Management (ISQAM) as a bolster to career development. Heather Cavanagh, Head of Junior School, explained how the ISQAM is helping the School Leadership Team (SLT) to identify and nurture teaching talent: “When teachers come for interview, CPD is often at the top of their list of questions. There is no doubt that being able to provide a clear path to leadership for talented teachers is invaluable both for recruitment and retention. We find the ISQAM programme flexible and well-suited to the needs of our teaching team. And, at £500 per level/per participant, it’s also very cost effective.”
The ISQAM aims to improve standards in teaching and learning by providing training for heads of department (in the first instance) and other managers, in the key practical skills they require.
It also aims to encourage ongoing CPD for (middle) managers; to establish best practice and sector-wide standards in relation to these skills; and to provide a qualification understood by schools. While much of the course involves face-to-face learning, some elements lend themselves well to centrally produced online resources such as vodcasts and other distance-learning materials.
The ISQAM also provides a structure and support for in-school mentoring.
An in-school mentor – perhaps an experienced head of department – is an essential part of the delivery of the course.
“In order to successfully complete the course, the individual is expected to be self-motivated and to time manage efficiently – both essential skills of future leaders,” said Heather. “The role of the mentor is to support the participant by moderating judgements made and action plans produced – and to facilitate professional reflection, debate and discussion.”
Schools can tailor staff recruitment and CPD in a variety of different ways. Worksop College has taken the practical route of running its own graduate scheme, giving newly graduated candidates a foot on the ladder as well as bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to the school. Contracts are initially for one year, although the vast majority of the scheme’s graduates become full-time members of teaching staff. Worksop has also recently introduced a ‘co-opt’ onto its SLT, giving staff a taste of senior management and helping the school to identify future leaders.
Further south, Bath’s Kingswood School has teamed up with consultants FreeRiver Consulting to develop a bespoke system of leadership development at school – regardless of position within the school.
“It’s more about raising awareness of particular aspects of leadership to enable all staff to develop and grow at Kingswood,” explained Garrod Musto, Director of CPD.
Garrod believes that developing in-house leadership schemes is far more powerful than sending staff on day courses:
“All sessions are attended at the end of the school day, meaning no need for cover staff, travel costs or missed lessons.
The course also encourages staff to reflect on their roles – and, with up to 16 staff at a time going through the course, it is a great way to promote a dialogue about leadership across all aspects of school life.”
Garrod is under no illusions, however, about the current teacher recruitment and retention landscape. “Workload and staff capacity is an ongoing issue. I suspect that the current economic climate will also mean that cuts to school budgets will result in some difficult decisions regarding staffing levels, leading to additional pressure on school staff. This, coupled with pension changes, pay freezes and curriculum changes may mean further staff departures, further exacerbating the current issues,” said Garrod.
Do the responsibilities facing today’s teachers range wider than ever (one recent article argued that, “teachers are now expected to be social workers, anti-terrorist police, dieticians and the rest”)? And if so, how should training and CPD reflect that?
“The pressures now placed upon teachers are numerous,” acknowledged Garrod. “Compliance with inspection regimes and statutory demands mean that staff are required to take on different roles and manage data entry in a way previously unheard of.”
“Equally, schools are now expected to provide not only ‘education’ in a traditional, formal sense, but also to help the students to adjust to modern life. Much is being made about the effect of technology and social media on student health. Student well-being is a theme which no doubt will become more central to the work of teachers and schools.”
Given this backdrop, CPD becomes more important than ever – and should accurately reflect the needs and priorities of a school and its staff. “First and foremost, time should be set aside for the development of staff as teachers, and for honing their classroom practice. Over and above that, additional capacity should be available to respond to changes in government policy,” said Garrod.
Edward Bond, Director of Professional Development at Haileybury School, reflected on the changes in CPD within teaching over recent decades: “CPD for teachers used to be confined to one-day ‘jollies’ on exam feedback or the use of IT in your subject. Today, we want heads of department to have more ownership on developing their teams, working with individuals, improving their teaching skills and extending their knowledge. Appraisal and review are no longer confined to an annual meeting – they are now addressed continually, over a period of time.”
“We also have a much better understanding of young people’s needs today, meaning that pastoral and wellbeing training have come much more to the fore,” continued Edward. “As a boarding school, we need to have first-rate pastoral care, so we are always ready to investigate new ideas and apply what we believe will be helpful in our context.”
Edward also underlined that professional development can – should – be much more than the acquisition of diplomas.
“We encourage our teachers to consider M.Eds or M.A.s in educational leadership, but nothing replaces experience gained on small-scale projects – anything from leading teaching on key stage three, via taking a role in a school’s digital strategy, to working with The Parent Association over a period of time.”