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What does it mean for teachers to ‘play our part?’

Recent events have thrown into sharp relief just how precarious the recruitment situation in schools really is – and what we have do to manage it

  • What does it mean for teachers to ‘play our part?’

I’d already written an article talking about teacher retention, and the new information coming out from Ofsted, the NFER and Teacher Development Trust. 

However, as I sat waiting for the school shutdown to begin, it seemed to me that the world will have changed a great deal by the time we’re back in full-time, and that we’ll need to think again.

There’s no doubt that feeling needed is a nice thing for us. Right now, we all need to play our part in allowing others to do their jobs for good of the country – but this ‘playing our part’ will feel different to individual teachers.

Some will find it hard to see beyond the years of deliberately misleading public messages about how we’re being funded that have helped erode trust in this batch of politicians. ‘Playing our part’ in this instance can feel like the government is once again is taking us for granted. For others, being part of the solution and ‘giving back’ will feel energising, and feed into the very reason they became a teacher in the first place. Depending on which camp you’re in, the current situation could be an excellent incentive to stay or the last straw!

Off the hook

There’s no doubt that we can’t recruit our way out of the current teacher shortages. We need to keep more of those we already have, which is a message that’s been embraced by unions and headteachers. However, we can’t allow the government to simply – and not for the first time – throw the problem in our direction and say, ‘It’s up to schools and heads to solve this.’ That’s simply letting them off the hook for the part they’ve played in getting us to this position and absolving them of the need to help get us out of it.

The evidence around teacher retention is quite clear – help teachers to grow and develop, and they’ll want to stay in the profession for longer. Yet when I’ve voiced this before, the objection I always hear is “If I do that, they’ll just leave for a promotion elsewhere, or another school will headhunt them.”

Of course, that can be frustrating. But if we all develop our staff across the system, we’ll encourage more university students to become teachers and therefore avoid the issues we currently have in finding replacements.

The biggest differences

Another big factor affecting our teacher retention and recruitment rates is the behaviour of our government leaders. Their frequent comments about how education ‘needs to improve’, and how this justifies changes in assessment regimes and a deficit model inspection system won’t make people outside the profession see it as something to aspire to. However, as those of us inside the profession know, the job is an utter privilege. Certainly not always easy, but a privilege nevertheless.

I’ve found that getting irate with the latest set of announcements will do nothing to improve the situation, and just add to the negativity that already exists. I don’t know who said it first, but ‘controlling the controllables’ seems to be the best advice for any of us trying to keep our staff. We should all be brave enough to ask our staff to honestly tell us the worst things about working in our schools and focus on what we can do to lessen those.

I’ve done this with a few schools now. If you’re the head, you may need to brace yourself for the answers as they can be tough – but in many cases I’ve seen the process improve staff morale and retention significantly. The staff responses you see will often concern workload and behaviour, which can help us focus on the stuff that’ll make the biggest difference to your colleagues’ wellbeing.

At a time when education seems to be cited as the answer to most of society’s ills, it’s vital that we focus on those things that will make the biggest difference. There’s no doubt in my mind that this amounts to recruiting and retaining the best staff who can deliver great lessons to our young people – not another conversation about the ‘intent of our curriculum,’ or a lesson graded by someone that probably couldn’t do the job themselves.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99)

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