Skip to content

Navigation breadcrumbs

  1. Home
  2. News
Opinion25th March 2024

Five policies to improve retention (while we await funding)

This article was written by Ark CEO Lucy Heller, originally published in Schools Week on Friday 22 March 2024.

Among the many challenges facing the next government, one of the biggest and most immediate for the sector will be ensuring there are enough good teachers. We need to recruit great people into the profession and we need to ensure they stay.

Money is key. In a tight labour market, we are all competing for talent, and it doesn’t help that teachers’ pay has fallen relative to other professions. The IFS estimate that experienced teachers have seen a 13-per cent real-terms cut in pay since 2010. Albeit that average earnings only went up by 2 per cent in that time, that’s a 15 per cent gap and it makes a big difference.

The state of the country’s finances makes it unlikely that any of the major parties will go into the election promising to significantly upgrade teacher pay. But if it can’t be done in the first term of a new government, it ought to be a priority for the second.

In the short term, a new government could go a long way to improving retention by restoring morale. Here are five policies to get started.

Improve the mood music

This is important for keeping people in teaching and attracting new recruits. There is still a way to go to repair the relationship between the government and the sector after the strain we saw in last year’s strikes.

Schools feel like, and increasingly are, among the most functional services in their communities and the people working in them are struggling to deliver much more than they are funded or resourced to do. The changing nature of the social contract between home and school and the after-effects of Covid all make a job that has always been difficult feel almost impossible. Showing a sincere understanding of teachers’ critical role in our society, economy and culture, doesn’t cost a penny.

Teachers are some of the most trusted professionals in the country but there is a sense that they are not valued as much as they should be whether in parts of the media or by government.

Review accountability

This should be done in the round, including uses of assessment data, inspection reports and oversight responsibilities of local authorities and DfE regional offices. Accountability measures have a bigger impact on school and teacher behaviour (and workload) than curriculum and assessment design. They need to be considered collectively, which remarkably has never happened before.

Introduce student loan forgiveness schemes

Why charge tuition fees to trainees when we are so short of them? Yes, there are bursaries for many subjects, but why undermine this offer with the spectre of additional student debt which will most likely eventually be written off anyway? It would not be a significant cost at a national level but is a significant deterrent to recruits, especially those from less well-off backgrounds.

Enlist support from tech innovators

Following our enforced immersion in edtech during the pandemic and with the promise of an AI revolution, we need to work closely with tech companies to make sure we have the tools we need to maximise pupils’ learning and reduce unnecessary workload.

Get public services to work better together

Schools are at the sharp end of supporting children and families in crisis. We see first-hand the lack of a joined-up approach from the other services. In fact, schools are often in the co-ordinating role. Government needs to design in efficient collaboration and design out perverse incentives.

There is, of course, much that we can do as a sector to improve teacher recruitment and retention – and much that is already being done. When it comes to effective government action, the good news is that it doesn’t all come down to money; It is not what motivates people to devote their lives to education.

However, there is no escaping the fact one’s salary represents recognition of the value of one’s work. We need a government who will go beyond mere words and deliver something concrete, either to make teachers’ work more sustainable or to remunerate it better. Ideally both.