Retaining the best teachers

I had an exchange on twitter last week with our excellent Head of ICT (@morewebber) following his proposal to create a MMORPG called “School”. We discussed the relative merits of a free or pay-to-play experience of the game called “School” – you can read the conversation here. In amongst this conversation @morewebber posed a real humdinger of a question:

So what can we do to ensure that the best teachers are retained in the profession and, more specifically, in the state sector? As a profession we need to make sure that we can retain the best staff, and it’s largely the responsibility of school leaders to ensure this happens. Here’s what I would suggest we need:

Professional Development

This should go without saying. Good quality continuous professional development is an absolute bottom line essential for the retention of teachers within the profession as well as the continued improvement of the quality of the service we provide. Ross Morrison McGill has written a fantastic manifesto on CPD for the Guardian’s Teacher Network as well as a more radical suggestion as part of the #blogsync “Universal Panacea” project, and Sir Tim Brighouse has called for a national body to oversee professional development. This may or may not come to pass; I hope it does. However, it is the responsibility of each school to provide good quality CPD for all its staff. Not “going on a course” CPD necessarily – although this has its place – but continuous professional development. A daily dialogue about improving practice does not happen by itself and, if we want to develop great teachers who continue to improve throughout their careers, then CPD is the most important personnel investment a school can make.

Career Progression

Opportunities for promotion are really important to give teachers a long career in teaching. It’s important to recognise that progression to middle or senior leadership is not for everyone and other responsibilities are really helpful in encouraging staff to develop particular skills. The days of having a national career progression structure are gone – the Advanced Skills Teacher status still exists within the DfE structure although the role’s definition is no longer clear. In the new era, it is up to individual schools to set their own structures up. The challenge to Headteachers and senior teams is to provide the structures within their schools to allow staff routes into responsibility within the institution.

I have been learning a lot over the last week about system leadership. The theory of system leadership states that Headteachers and school leaders, whilst accountable for the education of the children within their institutions, are responsible for the education of all children. Thus when we train student teachers on teaching practice, or develop NQTs, or provide opportunities for Heads of Department, Year or House to lead whole school initiatives, we are preparing them for roles in other schools. The children in those other schools benefit from the hard work we have done in our school to develop those staff. And we, in turn, benefit from the work done by others to train and develop the staff that we recruit. Retention of great staff within a school is a strong temptation – “we want to hang on to them, let’s see if we can find a role to keep them here” – but it is one that needs to be resisted unless there is an existing role or need that can be fulfilled by that member of staff. Sometimes the best thing is for them to move on, gain experience of a different context, and improve the lives of children in a different school.


If a member of staff has an idea, it should be encouraged. Innovation is the lifeblood of a great teacher. You want to start a club? Run a trip? Coach a team? Go for it. Want to try a new idea with your teaching? Yes, of course you can. Of course, not everything is possible (or affordable), but if there’s a spark of an idea it’s the school’s duty to encourage and fan it into flame, not douse it in the cold water of habit or cynicism.


So many great ideas founder in their application because insufficient support is provided to the staff who are supposed to be putting it into action. How many SmartBoards are there in your school being used as projector screens? And why? Because staff weren’t trained to use them properly. Good teachers need to be supported in the same way or they too will flounder. Everybody struggles and it is precisely at that moment that a colleague, middle or senior leader will be there in a good school to help.

Happy Schools

At their best, schools are surely the greatest places to work in the world. Getting the culture and ethos right makes this so. School leaders need to shield teachers as much as possible from stress (the umbrella), hold on to what’s valuable (the sieve), ensure there is an appropriate work/life balance, and make as much space for fun and laughter in a day’s work as possible. Give and take, flexibility, and sensitivity are crucial so that staff feel supported, looked after, and happy to come to work. And if they’re happy to come to work today, they’ll come back tomorrow and give their all to the best job in the world.

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