A new research review from the Education Endowment Foundation, published today (9th June, 2023), reveals some promising angles for school leaders to try and address the increasing challenges of teacher attrition and recruitment. The review, conducted by a team of researchers from the UCL Institute of Education led by Dr Becky Taylor, summarised a range of research to explore ways to improve recruitment and retention.

  • Financial incentives included school- and teacher-level performance bonuses, recruitment bonuses, loan forgiveness, higher salaries and equitable funding for schools.

  • Other system-level factors identified during the search included the suggestion that local labour market strategies might increase the distribution of quality teachers toward disadvantaged schools, although the evidence for this was poor quality. Accountability systems were found to make it harder for schools to retain quality teachers. One study found that long-term retention was worse for alternative route teachers and one study suggested that quality teachers might be more evenly distributed across schools if schools were less segregated.

  • The highest-quality evidence was for an association with workload/working conditions.

  • Heavier workloads were consistently associated with poorer retention and reducing workloads with increased retention.

  • Specific aspects of workload included teaching a specialist subject (vs other subjects in which the teacher was not expert) and the number of courses taught, the challenge of the assigned classes and the availability of time for planning.

  • As well as workload, working conditions were also highlighted including length of contracted day, leave entitlement and allocation of duties. One article suggested that, in many cases, working conditions were a stronger influence on retention than salary, while another suggested that women were more likely than men to leave as a result of working conditions, potentially due to being more likely to be second wage earners.

  • Induction support, coaching and mentoring was identified by eight studies as supporting recruitment and retention, especially induction programmes (which may include coaching or mentoring) for early career teachers.

  • Eight studies identified effective school leaders as important in recruiting and retaining teachers.  Qualitative studies indicated that effective school leaders might have characteristics such as being aware of staff needs and supportive of them; and visibility, listening to staff, providing support and allocating work appropriately.

  • Collaboration between colleagues was identified in two quantitative and two mixed methods studies. Forms of collaboration included involvement in meaningful learning communities.

  • Professional development, including both professional courses and access to higher education programmes, was identified in three quantitative and one mixed methods study.

  • Two quantitative studies identified the importance of relationships with parents and students with better relationships strengthening retention. Qualitative and theoretical studies identified the following factors: the need for teachers who did not share ethnic background with students to build effective relationships with them; knowledge of students and their context; the need for teachers to develop close relationships with students and value their individuality; the need for parental support for the school.

  • Other factors associated as related positively with recruitment and retention were the school environment fostering a greater sense of autonomy, agency and control, including a role in decision making; empowerment of teachers through classroom autonomy; and a sense of control over their working lives.

  • Additionally, studies identified better discipline and more positive behaviour within the school; teacher status and respect; school climate; leadership opportunities for teachers; provision of support staff and resources ; a shared focus on learning within the school; and school characteristics. 

  • Quantitative and mixed methods studies supported the relationship between intrinsic motivation, teacher efficacy, local connections, fitting in to the school or role, having a sense of vocation or moral purpose and emotional factors including stress and fatigue with recruitment and retention of teachers.

These factors chime from some of our own studies, including:

  • Lowering teacher stress through CPD & teamwork: in which Dr Sam Sims finds that “Holding other workload constant, extra hours spent on professional development or collaborative working are associated with an improvement in work-related stress and wellbeing”
  • Understanding what makes some schools stressful places to work: in which Dr Sam Sims finds that supportive school leadership and a reasonable administrative workload are positively correlated with lower stress
  • A culture of improvement: reviewing the research on teacher working conditions: where David Weston, Bethan Hindley and Maria Cunningham find that five conditions are associated with improved outcomes for students and improved teacher retention:
    • Creating opportunities for effective teacher collaboration to explore student data, plan and review lessons and curricula, and plan and moderate assessments,
    • Involving teachers in whole school planning, decision-making and improvement,
    • Creating a culture of mutual trust, respect, enthusiasm in which communication is open and honest,
    • Build a sense of shared mission, with shared goals, clear priorities and high expectations of professional behaviours and of students’ learning, and
    • Facilitating classroom safety and behaviour, where disruption and bullying are very rare and teachers feel strongly supported by senior leaders in their efforts to maintain this classroom environment.

While none of this research suggests a magic bullet, here are 6 suggestions that leaders of schools, trusts, childcare settings and colleges can start to do right now.

  1. Benchmark the effectiveness of your current staff culture and professional development. A clear map of where things stand will highlight low hanging fruit for quick wins as well as some solid strategies for longer-term gains. Options include diagnostic reviews of culture and CPD which come with follow-up coaching and capacity-building training, or a free Teacher Working Environment Survey (based on Dr Sam Sims’ research).

  2. Consider how to support staff around improving pupil behaviour: it has benefits for pupils and staff, reducing stress, improving wellbeing and enabling both pupils and staff to learn much more effectively. Consider the ideas from the Improving behaviour in schools report from EEF and ensure that you have at least one member of staff engaging in a government-funded National Professional Qualification in Leading Behaviour and Culture. Engage with a local Behaviour Hub.

  3. Invest in the leadership of professional development, with senior organisational leaders engaging in a deep research-review-plan-do approach guided through a CPD Leadership qualification, supporting lead practitioners and lead mentors with an NPQ in Leading Teacher Development and then consider the strategic, cross-school level with an NPQ in Executive Leadership. Reflect on the EEF guidance on professional development and the DfE CPD Standards.

  4. Consider strategic reviews of teacher workload using the government School workload reduction toolkit, exploring areas around curriculum, data, workload, duties, feedback and marking and staff communications, among other areas.

  5. Invest in ongoing career development for all staff, drawing on the full suite of government-funded NPQs, consider putting teachers forward to work toward Chartered Teacher Status or a Master’s level course in the education or leadership field.

  6. Consider opportunities around coaching, including the government funded Early Headship Coaching Offer or investing in building Pedadgogical (aka Instructional) coaching capacity in your setting.

Get in touch

If you’d like to discuss anything you’ve read here, or find out more about how the Teacher Development Trust can provide support to your school or Trust, then please book a conversation with the team. We look forward to speaking with you!