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 Talking Point
Has our ‘throwaway’ culture caused the teacher retention crisis?
When you look around your staffroom; do you see colleagues who are invested in, who feel empowered and trusted enough to stay for the ‘long haul’? Do you consider teachers the pillars of your school? Asks Ben Coombes...
 As a society, we run the risk
of our rampant consumerism in ltrating the workplace – thinking that if there is any con ict in ethos and approach, then the relationship has no future, and we should invest our limited resources elsewhere.
You only have to glance at
the newspapers to see that teacher retention is a very real problem, and one that could seriously impact on our children and economy for years (if not decades) to come. It is unilaterally acknowledged that more teachers are leaving the profession than are being persuaded to join it, and the Department of Education appears to have run out of tricks up its sleeves. There is no money to be able to offer corporately attractive salaries, and the funds for advertising and recruiting
are fast running out. So surely, the obvious answer is to spend the money available investing in our current teaching body,
through effective educational management? Seamus Nevin, head of policy research at the Institute of Directors agrees, saying “A constructive working environment is fundamental to staff retention – and managers have an essential role to play in setting the tone”.
Performance appraisals are seen as an important, if not fundamental, part of effective management. Although, in their current form they are not an appealing process for anyone – management
or teacher, so no wonder the attitude of “if in doubt, chuck it out” prevails. The present method of teaching appraisals adds yet more paperwork, and red tape, to teachers’ ever-growing mountain, both of which have been cited as reasons teachers are leaving the profession; and it’s no wonder when TES reports that the average primary school teacher already spends four days on paperwork for every ten days of teaching. However, without properly appraising our staffroom, and thereby generating an accurate overview of the positive and negative aspects, we cannot begin to manage properly, or understand the issues, let alone put in place retention mechanisms. So whilst performance appraisals are a valuable resource in improving the under-achiever, they need to be
 t for purpose (showing faith not fear) and utilized to empower the professional, rather than provide management with an excuse to not have to manage.
As it stands, the current appraisal system is “one size  ts all”; an approach all good teachers know not to adopt in
their classroom, as it does not allow for a true re ection of strengths and weaknesses. It is possibly the greatest irony of
all in the education system that we do not show our teachers
the same respect, and level of individualization, that we expect them to show pupils. The present appraisal method encourages reporting on staff in a binary manner – “up to standard” or “needs improvement”. With the multitude of responsibilities senior managers are expected to juggle, can we blame them for looking for the quick and easy option of “managing out” (which is not really managing at all) the under- performers who might jeopardize the all-important Inspection rating? Removing the “odd one out” is, after all, what we’ve been taught to do in every other aspect of our life, but goes against everything teachers stand for in their classes.
So how should school work
to retain staff? To have a harmonious staffroom we must ensure cohesion and mutual respect; teachers who feel they are treated as professionals, and invested in, will in turn be more willing to apply themselves to
a common goal. David Rock’s SCARF model for leadership (based on neuroscienti c  ndings) includes ‘A’ for Autonomy, and that is what we should be encouraging. There is often the temptation, especially when you are time-poor, to tell a colleague how to perform a task, forgetting that they too are a trained professional, with their own ideas and approaches. If we develop a process that is  t for
Ben Coombes left a 30-year career in education to found IWeYou; a consultancy dedicated to improvement – whether it
be individuals, corporations or education. Based in Bruton, Somerset, Ben travels
all over the UK to deliver his appraisal programme to both schools and businesses. Please drop an email to for a no obligation conversation about how he can help you administer this approach in your school.
purpose, based on generating peer responsibility in a peer- designed process where the standards and expectation come from collegial responsibility, then perhaps our teachers will begin to feel more empowered and valued. It costs around £4,000 to recruit a new teacher (according to the Select Education annual review) surely £4,000 that would be better spent compounding our initial investment in our staff body?
In sum, management in schools must adapt to survive (to paraphrase Charles Darwin).
The systems used to manage
staff must be to support staff – allow them to feel autonomous, creative and empowered. There also needs to be a school-wide change of mentality; both in
the Leadership Team and the staffroom so that there is a unity of purpose, an acceptance of individuality and a respect for our professionals. Education is most effective when it is consistent
– we are doing no-one any favours with a constant turnover of teachers, and eventually the recruitment pool will run dry, and where will we be then?
    “Employers have gone away from the idea that an employee is a long- term asset to the company, someone to be nurtured
and developed, to a new notion that they are
Barbara Ehrenreich
  44 Independent Schools Magazine
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