Desperate times, golden handshakes, and sticking plasters

Something I wrote for the Ed Support blog recently:

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And despite desperate reassurance from the Schools Minister that everything’s fine, many schools are indeed desperate to recruit the teachers they need.

So it is perhaps no surprise that creative school leaders are rolling out the red carpet for their most attractive applicants, vying for their trade in what has become an employees’ market. Days off in lieu during term time for family or personal events, free lunches, golden handshakes; these perks are common in other fields where employers have to jostle for the attention of potential recruits, but they are relatively new to the schools sector.

This is no bad thing in itself, of course. Why shouldn’t teachers be treated as fairly as other employees? But such perks are only really sticking plasters, and only go so far. Incentives and sweeteners can’t address the wider system-level problem of teacher supply; only government can sort that. Perhaps more importantly for schools, this sort of window dressing doesn’t actually address their longer term problem either, which is about how to keep the people they recruit. Because when it comes to retention, it’s what happens after the post-recruitment honeymoon period that really counts.

All the evidence, both from our research here at Ed Support, and from others in the sector, indicates that teachers are more likely to stay with an employer when they have clear professional development opportunities, supportive leadership teams who trust them and give them autonomy, effective behaviour management practices, and realistic expectations in relation to their performance management. So the quality of your environment and ‘perks’; like free lunches and days off might get people through your door, but only through respecting your staff as professionals and caring for them as individuals, will you attract their loyalty and commitment.

Of course, it is all very well and easy for schools to claim these things in recruitment material, but you’ve got to walk the walk too, and so this is about culture. Perks and incentives are all well and good, but most teachers – especially those with a few years of experience under their belts – will look way beyond short-term benefits and even remuneration when they look for new posts. They are actively selecting schools with the best development opportunities, and the most supportive cultures.

So if potential recruits spend their interview days at your school hearing from the team about your structured professional development programme, perhaps developed with the Teacher Development Trust; or about how you have followed some of England’s most innovative school leaders, and no longer base your performance management primarily (if at all) on high-stakes lesson observations; or about how you demonstrate your care for their wellbeing through a Positive Workplace Programme and confidential helpline; if your recruits see that your existing staff feel valued, developed, and insulated by a supportive professional community, then they will join, and they will stay.