If you want to attract and retain teachers be more human and less corporate

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22 November 2016 by Mark Wright
Teachers are becoming gold dust, partly because there isn’t enough gold dust sprinkled into their pay packets to reward them for the job they do and the hours they work. 

But there is good news for cash-strapped schools and colleges.

New research on teacher retention by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), released in September, has found that pay is not the key to retaining teachers. Job satisfaction, being valued by supportive management, feeling part of a school or college community and being proud of where they work are all more likely to make teachers stay.

And there is more good news.

Leaders are in a position to make a huge difference when it comes to cultivating the supportive culture that is vital to retaining good staff. With a predicted 13% increase in pupil numbers by 2025 - and a growing teacher shortage that means even leaders of outstanding schools are struggling to staff their classrooms – leaders need to take on board the NFER’s findings.

Here is the bad news. In short, some leaders will need to rethink the way they lead.

Too many schools and colleges have become unattractive places to work precisely because they fail to make teachers feel valued or supported. The rise of a corporate approach to delivering education, where ‘results’ are all that matters and ‘failure’ despite the workload input can too often lead to punitive measures, have been ushered in. 

AMiE members report feeling captured by a system that is squeezing the life out of both themselves and their learners. These concerns led to a motion at ATL’s Annual Conference, calling on us to look into how education is managed now. In response, we have produced a report Business as usual: the increasing corporatization of education leadership and management.

It provides a summary of how a business agenda has impacted on leadership thinking and therefore on teachers, schools and colleges, drawing on the voices of AMiE members struggling to cope with the unrelenting workload. It offers some steers on what at the very least needs to change if we are to create workplaces that teachers wish to work in. 

Findings from research carried out by the University of Warwick, which AMiE was involved in, found that many people in middle and senior leadership positions had been given no support when they went into management. The research found that while many leaders remain committed to the moral purpose of education, excessive workload, lack of support and professional development makes it difficult for them to live up to their values.

Business practices can be beneficial if they are conducive to both learner outcomes as well as teacher well-being.  The problem has been that the type of business practices imported into education have too often been the wrong ones, such as micromanagement, performance-related pay and cut-throat competitiveness. This has led to a focus on results at the expense of teachers’ needs - such as sufficient rest.

If schools and colleges want to hold on to staff and be head of the queue in order to tempt scarce teachers in future they can’t afford to ignore the findings of Business as usual or the NFER’s research.

A new AMiE-ATL publication, Leading in Tough Times: keeping ethics at the heart of your practice, is now available. A mix of theory and practice, the booklet describes different types of ethical leadership, and then covers a range of scenarios, many of them real-life examples, where a leader’s ethics may be tested.

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