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Karen Burns

Let’s stay together – in a MAT

Personalising the art of retention is key to keeping staff. Karen Burns describes why multi-academy trusts provide more options to aid the retention of talent.

Overwhelmingly the biggest contributor to staff retention is the feel and experience of working in a school on a day to day basis. It can be encouraged by additional incentives such as pay increase, specific responsibility and promotion.

However, these ‘enticements’ will only be effective if the staff member concerned has a wish to stay in the setting in which they currently work. This can only be achieved by a commitment to promoting ongoing positive staff morale within your school.

Often, an increase in a staff member’s responsibility or leadership role will result in them spending less time in the classroom. The world of education has the constant struggle of taking our highest quality teachers out of the classroom, the very place where they excel, in order for them to develop professionally.

Preventing burnout

Two points should be made here. Firstly, an excellent practitioner should hopefully find ways to impart their pedagogy and teaching methods to others to increase the amount of strong teaching across the school.

Secondly, headteachers we must give these people the opportunity to develop in order that we keep them in our school - part-time outstanding classroom teaching is always preferable to full time practice of a lesser quality.

The key to keeping good people is to treat them well, empower them, empathise and appreciate. An acknowledgement of teachers’ workloads and actions to support them in achieving a positive work life balance are essential.

‘Burnout’ has been defined as follows:

'A state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.' (Pines & Aronson, 1988)

'A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a case, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.' (Freudenberger, 1980)

Both quotes are particularly relevant to the life of a teacher who experiences emotional stress daily.

Teaching is a ‘human’ vocation and the natural emotional element of the role cannot be underestimated. That coupled with an ongoing battle in striving to meet constantly rising national standards results in a daily existence likely to result in the description above.

What’s your driver?

It is for this reason that headteachers and their senior leaders are most effective when they exercise emotional intelligence with all staff and the greatest impact is secured when empathy, understanding and support are administered without a drop in achievement of standards.

With a foundation of goodwill in school, and the resulting keenness for staff to work in your setting, the art of retention then becomes more personalised. A balance must be sought where key staff are offered particular incentives, which are aligned with their personal ‘drivers’, without tenuous skewing of school development, finance and staffing models. 

The personal drivers of staff vary as a result of their level of experience, personal situation and character traits. For some a promotion and new title is the attraction whereas for others it is the opportunity to gain further responsibility or the chance to lead others and to establish themselves more credibly within the school community and beyond.

A skilled headteacher can recognise the wants and desires of their staff and to use the practical options available to them to capture enthusiasm and willingness. Emotional intelligence is the biggest player in this and the scope of opportunities available to heads within a multi-academy trust is much increased from that presented to a head in a single school.

Innovation and collaboration

Clearly within a MAT the opportunities to develop staff and to create innovative projects through collaboration are far increased beyond the limitations of a single setting. It is easier to finance uplifts and allowances to staff within a MAT as academies can broker support to one another, eliminating the need for external consultancy which is often more expensive.

While a detached view is imperative in the quality assurance of whole school performance, specific developments of approach within the academies and across the MAT are best led by the personnel who will execute them.

MATs offer the opportunity for partnership networking across roles, subjects and age groups which cannot be facilitated in a single setting

Essentially the old model of subject advisors and specialists in the LA can be re-invented using staff from the academies within the MAT. This not only provides opportunities internally for those wishing to progress to an advisory capacity but also facilitates a level of consistency in delivery and monitoring across the MAT.

Coach and keep

There is a raft of options open to MATs to aid retention of talent: creating executive leadership posts, designing collaborative projects and implementing innovative approaches led by specialists identified in the various schools within the MAT.

These projects can be utilised to enhance the professional development of staff across all levels, for example teaching and learning development to the middle leadership of subject and year group collaboration and then the more strategic roles held at senior leadership level.

 A balance must be sought where key staff are offered particular incentives, which are aligned with their personal ‘drivers’

MATs offer the opportunity for partnership networking across roles, subjects and age groups which cannot be facilitated in a single setting. Coaching and mentoring is also an opportunity for staff to develop. The formation of partnerships from different establishments allows for an emotional detachment which is not possible within one school.

Headteachers have always been encouraged to build the skills of their leaders and support them in their pathway to new opportunities. The benefit of the MAT agenda is that this can be achieved within the group and that talent can stay within the communities of the schools involved.

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