Teacher retention has long been one of the biggest challenges facing the UK education sector. Recent research suggests that a quarter of teachers quit within their first year, with another poll showing that four in 10 plan to leave the industry within the next five years.
The majority of these cite excessive workloads as a key frustration, as it’s not uncommon for teachers to work up to 70 hours a week. Despite this, Gov.uk states that not enough time is actually spent with students. Instead, more than half of a teacher’s day is taken up by non-teaching tasks, from marking to lesson planning.
Last year, the education secretary pledged to tackle the issue and unveiled a new toolkit showing school staff how to ditch time-consuming issues such as onerous marking policies and demanding parents. This has faced harsh criticism; the National Education Union, for example, recently argued that the measures do not go far enough. Indeed, despite government efforts, the majority of teachers say their work-life balance has worsened over the past year.
So, given that – in reality – it seems that little is being done to implement the promises made by the Department for Education, the onus often falls on schools to help reduce teacher strain and ensure their staff remain in the profession long-term.
But how can headteachers and governing boards hope to solve teacher retention rates against a backdrop of increasing budget cuts and Ofsted pressures?
More than half of a teacher’s day is taken up by non-teaching tasks, from marking to lesson planning.
How can edtech help?
UK schools spend around £900 million on education technology every year. However, with so many different tools currently on the market, it’s vital that schools only spend their tight budgets on those that are genuinely fit for purpose.
This is particularly critical given the tendency for teachers to disregard technology that doesn’t drive tangible efficiencies. Take the rollout of interactive whiteboards, for example, which has widely been regarded as a failure. It went ahead without teacher support and, after creating no major benefits to teachers or pupils, resulted in ostensible failure.
Innovation for innovation’s sake, then, is unwise – as is “forced” implementation of new technology. It’s understandable that teachers may be unwilling to incorporate new methods into their already stretched day, but if they are part of the decision-making process, this is likely to see more success.
Time is another major consideration. Schools need to ensure tools are not going to add to teacher workloads and any technology that’s introduced to the classroom must get it right first time.
Asking questions such as:
- Is it quick to implement?
- Does it require little training to use?
- Will it significantly reduce the time spent on time-consuming, non-teaching tasks?
will help with this.
Wellbeing is key – and not just in the classroom
A supportive environment for teachers is vital. A report in the USA found that providing sufficient support to teachers during their initial years of teaching helps reduce staff turnover.
While UK schools have various staff support systems in place, studies have suggested that the sector suffers from a general sense of ‘sink or swim’.
While UK schools have various staff support systems in place, studies have suggested that the sector suffers from a general sense of ‘sink or swim’. Encouraging peers to have open and honest conversations, creating in-depth induction programmes for newly qualified teachers (NQTs) and holding regular one-to-ones with senior members of staff is key to achieving this.
However, none of it is possible if teachers are so time-poor that they don’t have the headspace to even consider their own mental wellbeing. By implementing robust edtech systems, teachers can ‘win back’ their days, evenings and weekends, spend valuable time with family and friends, and reduce the likelihood of burnout on a widespread scale.
Edtech has the potential to significantly boost teacher retention rates. But with so many conflicting – and often overlapping – tools available, it can be difficult to find the right one. Many schools will therefore put off making the choice altogether.
Our industry has an important job to do to convince education decision-makers that the benefits massively outweigh the negatives when it comes to edtech. In a broader sense, the government also needs to do more to support the sector, having spent around £20,000 training each NQT, plus up to £30,000 for bursaries in key subjects.
It’s critical that we all work together to help talented teachers stay in the profession long-term.