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Teacher shortage UK – How can we convince our colleagues to stay?

Illustration of a line of employees carrying their workplace possessions out of a door

Without professional development and strict behaviour standards, don’t be surprised if your colleagues soon depart their posts…

Matthew Godfrey
by Matthew Godfrey
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In a recent poll of 1,800 teachers conducted by the NEU, around half of all respondents said they planned to quit within the next five years.

The most frequently cited reason for wanting to leave the profession was ‘workload’. Even more worryingly, a quarter of those teachers to have qualified within the past 10 years have themselves now left the profession. What exactly is the problem here, and can we resolve it?

My first teaching post was back in 2000, when I joined a London comprehensive as a newly qualified teacher of English. It was an extremely challenging school for a range of reasons. There was weak leadership, large class sizes and pupil behaviour that was, at times, appalling.

Despite the school having a core of talented and committed teachers, it was unusual for anyone to stay in post there for more than a few years.

They promoted me to head of English after a mere 18 months in the job. Much as I’d love to believe the decision was based purely on talent, the truth is that the school would have struggled to find anyone else suitable for the role.

The main reason for staff departures ultimately came down to SLT’s failure to get a grip on the pupils’ increasingly bad behaviour. With teachers spending most of their days firefighting, they couldn’t teach. Understandably, they soon became exhausted and demotivated.

Empowered to teach

Conversely, if teachers feel positively empowered to teach, and are valued and well-supported in other ways, they’re much likely to remain in post for many years.

I’ve seen evidence for this myself, via two positions I’ve assumed in recent years. The first is in my capacity as governor at a comprehensive school in Wembley, which serves an economically deprived area. Many pupils come from challenging backgrounds, and enter the school from underperforming primaries.

The school’s latest Progress 8 score for maths placed it at the top of all schools in England. Their overall Progress 8 score fifth nationally. 82% of its 2022 sixth form leavers secured places at Russell Group universities, including Oxbridge, LSE and Imperial.

It’s a school that has little difficulty retaining staff. It spends virtually no budget on supply, since staff absence rates are negligible.

According to the school’s headteacher, those teachers remain committed to the school because they feel valued, empowered and motivated by a strong set of values and a strict behaviour policy that’s consistently upheld and enforced at all levels of management.

Celebration and recognition

I’ve seen further evidence of what works in my current role as deputy head at a girl’s boarding school. I’m able to say that the majority of my colleagues have remained in their posts for decades, and that it’s rare for anyone to leave within five years.

The school is privileged to enjoy some excellent facilities and a beautiful campus. However, in my view, there are three key factors as to why people stay, which I’m confident could be implement at most schools across the country.

First, there’s a strong emphasis on professional development. Schools should offer a strong induction programme, but also ensure opportunities are provided each week for all teachers to share best practice and engage in educational research or development.

Second, our pupils are a joy to teach. Young people need to feel happy, valued and nurtured in their learning environment. From their very first day, we expect students to engage as fully as possible in their learning. We monitor their progress closely and reward them at every opportunity.

Third, the school’s leadership prioritises staff wellbeing. Professional standards are of utmost importance, of course. However, leaders also have to be attentive to matters of workload, and any other pressures or difficulties experienced by colleagues. Every teacher is unique; it’s the job of an SLT to celebrate and recognise the successes and efforts of their staff.

Regardless of academic or demographic profile, every school would do well to review and improve its strategies for recruiting and retaining great teachers. We need it now more than ever.

Matthew Godfrey is deputy head at Downe House School, Berkshire – an independent boarding schools for girls aged 11 to 18; for more information, visit

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