Is there a balance between appreciation and challenge for teachers?

Balanced stones

National and international research consistently shows that the most significant factor in raising educational achievement is the employment and retention of good quality teachers.

Teacher recruitment and retention; an historical context

Dragging teacher

Historically, the recruitment and retention of teachers has been problematic.

In recent history, the UK Government has introduced many initiatives to tackle the problems of teacher recruitment and retention (Menter, 2002), including bursaries for people undertaking teacher training, nationwide TV advertising campaigns and ‘Golden Hello’ financial deals for those entering subject areas deemed to be in short supply of teachers. The ‘Repayment of Teachers Loans Scheme’ was introduced as a pilot initiative between 2002 and 2004.  This was designed to impact teacher retention as well as recruitment by paying off the student loans of teachers remaining in the profession.

Teacher recruitment and retention; current trends

A decade or so of government initiatives has been successful in increasing numbers of people entering the profession. However, Head Teachers say that recruiting new teachers in 2012 has been more difficult than it was in 2011, with the situation in London being the trickiest (Howson, 2012). This coincides with the news that recruitment to both undergraduate and postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) courses has declined this year, despite an increase in demand for teachers in the coming years, particularly in the primary sector.

Why do teachers leave the profession?

stressed teacher

Statistics consistently reveal teaching to be one of the most stressful occupations.

According to Health and Safety Executive figures, teaching is the occupation with the third highest amount of work-related stress (Smith, 2000). Head Teachers have concerns about morale within the profession, with more than half reporting morale as ‘poor’, or worse, and less than 10% saying it is ‘good’, or better (Howson, 2012). The NUT state that teachers work in excess of 50 hours per week, with many working more than 60 hours. Workload and work-related stress, as well as poor pupil behaviour, are frequently quoted as deciding factors for teachers prematurely exiting the profession (Barmby, 2009).

Recent comments made by Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector at Ofsted, have angered teachers and their unions, and done little to make teachers feel valued. Wilshaw’s suggestions that teachers should be working harder and for longer hours, instead of complaining about stress, did not go down well in education circles. “If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’, you know you are doing something right”, the chief inspector of schools stated shortly after taking up the post. Such comments could be considered counterproductive to getting the most out of the workforce.

Is it any surprise that teacher recruitment and retention is predicted to be an issue in the near future? A report for the Pearson Think Tank, by leading academic, Professor John Howson, provides an analysis of the current situation and the future implications of teacher supply and demand. The report focuses on both quantity and quality in the teacher workforce, establishing emerging risks and opportunities to avoid potentially disastrous consequences.

What they did

The author conducted a survey of 360 senior leaders from schools across England and Wales. They were asked 11 questions about their recent experiences in recruiting teachers, their view of the labour market and staff views on a number of workforce and morale issues.

He quantitatively analysed a number of published and unpublished data sets concerned with current and recent ITT recruitment. His sources included the Graduate Teacher Training Registry and UCAS.

He also included surveys of advertised job vacancies in his analysis.

What they found

Threats to future teacher supply

Low morale

Surveys reveal that many Head Teachers are concerned about low morale in the workforce.

At present the Government is not facing widespread teacher shortages, but a range of factors suggest some threats of future shortage:

  • Decline in recruitment to ITT courses in 2012.
  • Demand for primary teachers is set to increase rapidly.
  • Shortfall of ITT recruits in some subjects (e.g. English, Sciences and Mathematics).
  • Head Teachers report recruitment to be more difficult in 2012, and schools have concerns over the future supply of teachers by 2015.
  • Head Teachers are concerned about low morale within education.
  • Head teacher posts are particularly difficult to recruit.


The author was clear to state that The Government needs to take action to prevent a future crisis occurring in supply of teachers. Below are some of the recommendations suggested for government (and Ofsted, for point 3) to deal with the emerging issues:

Baby saying thank you

The government and Ofsted should find ways to articulate  appreciation for the achievements of teachers and provide support where necessary.

1: Look closely at warning signs around some secondary subject areas.

2. Consider more bursaries for primary ITT.

3: Articulate appreciation and support as well as challenge to the profession.

4: Ensure that with training, there is a better match between supply and demand in the teacher labour market.

5: Work with partners, and specifically dioceses, to ensure a school faces no more difficulty in recruiting a new head teacher than it does when advertising any other teaching vacancy.

6: Closely monitor the effects of the pay freeze on teacher recruitment.

7: Consider evidence before instigating any other moves towards performance-related pay.

8: Limit QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) to a particular sector, and provide re-training opportunities to those wishing to switch sectors.

9: Consider the true cost of different routes into teaching when assessing how to allocate places between different training routes.

10: Ensure that only candidates with the highest qualifications and personal attributes to become a successful teacher are allowed to train.

The authors concluded

At present, the Government is not facing widespread teacher shortages, but politicians that ignore warning signs risk making problems in the future… The Government needs to take action to prevent a future crisis occurring. Not least because the period of falling rolls in the secondary sector is coming to an end and pupil numbers are already rising in the primary sector – especially in parts of the country where the demand for graduates in the wider economy is at its greatest… The Government (and Ofsted) need urgently to find ways to articulate appreciation and support as well as challenge to the profession, in recognition of the damaging impact to morale that a combination of punitive and pejorative discourses, and a raft of rapid and dramatic policy changes, is having.

The Education Elf’s View

The Education ElfClearly, a report of this nature that primarily focuses on survey data, can only tell us so much about the current climate. As individuals, we bring our own interpretations and biases to this kind of debate, but there is undoubtedly a trend in the job market that needs to be addressed.

Along with many other elves in our woodland community, I have been debating the issues of teacher recruitment and retention for quite some time. Why do so many excellent human teachers leave the profession, while our elfin elders remain forever respected in our community? I took this discussion to some wise old elders this week and together we found some insights in Finland and Football.

Searching the woodland wide web, we came across an excellent documentary, “The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System” (You can watch this video below). Finland’s school system consistently ranks top of the world by virtually every measure. This film documents an education system where all students:

  • Achieve highly
  • Start school at a later age
  • Have fewer lessons
  • Have a shorter school day
  • Have a 3 month summer holiday
  • Have little homework
  • Are rarely tested

It is of little coincidence that the film also touches on some poignant facts about the significant role of teachers who:

  • Are respected professionals
  • Receive tenure quickly
  • Are rarely evaluated
  • Earn average salaries
  • Have a strong union

Surely, there are lessons here from which we can all learn, particularly government and Ofsted, who seem to air damaging criticisms of the profession, without openly celebrating the positives. Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said Ofsted should concentrate on helping schools improve and stop focusing on criticism. “It is really not helpful for Michael Wilshaw to rubbish the amount of stress teachers are under. The pressures on teaching staff and heads are enormous and growing due to the constant churn of government initiatives, tinkering with the curriculum, introducing new tests, and pressure to get pupils through exams to prove their school is performing well. And Ofsted is part of the problem with its continual changing of the inspections goal posts.”

Leaders within the government and within Ofsted sometimes exhibit a lack of understanding of even the basic principles of effective leadership. Rather shamefully, they could even turn to ‘Match of the Day’ for some helpful guidance on how to lead more effectively. There they will witness many a football manager praising their teams for their good performance, highlighting positives and giving credit where it is due, before laying down criticism and areas for future improvements. An old Elfin proverb states “If you want one year’s prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years’ prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years’ prosperity, grow elves!” Surely, appreciation, support and respect, along with targeted challenge for the people who are so fundamental to our education system are long overdue.


Howson J. The Future Teacher Workforce: quality and quantity A Report for the Pearson Think Tank (pdf) (2012)

Menter I.  Border Crossing – Teacher Supply and Retention in England and Scotland (pdf) (2002) Scottish Educational Review, 34, 40-50.

Barmby, P. W. Improving teacher recruitment and retention : the importance of workload and pupil behaviour (pdf) (2006) Educational research., 48 (3). pp. 247-265.

Smith A, Brice C, Collins A, Matthews V and McNamara R The scale of occupational stress: A further analysis of the impact of demographic factors and type of job (pdf) (2000) Health and Safety Executive

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Leah Tomlin

Leah is Assistant Head of Henleaze Junior School in Bristol. She has over 10 years teaching experience, with a further 10 year background in scientific research. She has first hand experience of the challenges faced by teachers and school leaders who have poor access to the evidence, few skills to read and appraise research and little or no time to spend keeping up to date. Here's hoping this blog can help!

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