The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Elizabeth Holmes

Finders, keepers: improve wellbeing to retain the best staff

The recruitment and retention of staff can be testing at the best of times. Time spent finding and hiring the best person for the job is wasted if the job doesn't entice them to stay in the role.

Discussions around staff retention usually follow the premise that keeping staff is good. This isn’t necessarily the case.

The moderate movement of school staff can be incredibly beneficial for our schools. Gaining experience of multiple settings can add greatly to a teacher’s skills and abilities, and seems to enable expertise to be spread more widely.

This cannot be about retention at the expense of professional development, but even so, it seems there is a recruitment and retention crisis in our schools right now (the NUT among others has repeatedly raised concerns about this), for myriad reasons including workload and the unlikelihood of being able to strike any balance between life inside and outside work, accountability pressures, and insufficient numbers of trainees.

Retention needs to focus on a balance between the needs of the school and the needs of individual teachers; between professional and personal development.

Naturally there’s only so much schools can do to retain staff, but it’s worth considering whether there’s anything more you can do. We need to move on from staff remaining in post simply because they need a job. So what have schools been trying in order to improve staff retention rates?

Wellbeing matters

Morale can be raised through simple and effective measures, such as:

  • setting the tone for communication between staff
  • introducing wellbeing-friendly guidance around when emails need to be responded to (i.e. not during evenings and weekends)
  • placing wellbeing at the heart of how a school operates
  • engaging staff as much as possible in discussion about wellbeing and ways it can be improved upon in a realistic and sustainable way.

Focus on CPD

With effective CPD and an environment in which ongoing professional and personal development is the norm, teachers shouldn’t feel as though they are stagnating.

It’s worth questioning whether staff have the opportunity to pursue professional interests, to gain specialised knowledge about an area of their work and to become expert practitioners. If not, there may be a risk of losing staff you’d rather hang on to.

Keeping lines of communication open so that staff know they can ask for their ideal CPD situation and the leadership team will at least listen, can certainly help.

A sustainable wellbeing culture, promoted throughout your school, will make working life easier for everyone.

Optimus members can access our download-and-deliver training course on 'Staff Wellbeing' to become wellbeing wizards!    

Fully utilise staff

In a quick poll of teacher friends and family (hardly scientific research, I know) not one felt that their skills were being fully utilised at school. When staff have particular experiences or skills, use them. Feeling undervalued and under-deployed can be utterly demoralising.

Reward staff

So many staff perform admirably, year in, year out. How can they be rewarded with something tangible? Positive feedback is essential, but what else could you do?

Be appreciative

Staff in many schools give above and beyond the call of duty. A withdrawal of goodwill would have a significantly negative impact on the work of a school. Acknowledging that costs nothing and might be the difference between cooperative staff and a workforce that feels consistently downtrodden. 

Career planning

For staff considering moving out of the profession altogether, a career overview can help.

  • What are the drivers for them wanting to leave?
  • Are they being pushed or pulled?
  • Are there factors in their current situation that can be addressed to prevent loss to the profession?
  • What is their ideal situation?
  • What growth and development opportunities can you offer?
  • Can a move or promotion within your school be arranged in order to retain great staff?

Ensure that all staff know exactly what opportunities exist for them in your setting.

There is clearly no quick fix to the issue of staff retention as too many major issues such as workload and training need to be addressed on a national basis, but we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that relatively small measures such as those suggested above as food for thought might have in encouraging teachers to stay in post.

As discussed, this cannot be about restricting movement in the profession, but if we can take a small step towards improving satisfaction levels in post, few would argue against that.

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