Will cash incentives solve the teacher recruitment and retention crisis?

Date 30.01.2019

Dr Helen Scott, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Humanities at the University of Northampton shares her thoughts, as a former teacher.

The BBC has recently reported on government plans unveiled to tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis, which would see cash incentives given to teachers to stay on in the profession, and to encourage more people to become teachers. These plans also include giving new teachers more support, development and lighter teaching loads over their first two years after qualifying; so that they have time and space to make the important adjustment from a beginning, novice professional to one who feels confident and competent to operate in the classroom. Support to enable an increase in job share arrangements, as the teaching profession, especially in primary schools, is largely female, feature too. These moves come alongside promises from Ofsted to make the inspection regime focus less on data, therefore requiring less collection and analysis from teachers, and more on the overall educational experience of children and young people, taking account of the varying local contexts different schools operate within.

But could they work?

These proposals, although mostly not at all novel, are all welcomed. The big question is will any of them go far enough to establish teaching as an attractive, long term, career choice? A report by the National Audit office (2017: Should I Stay or Should I Go? NFER Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession) suggested that pay levels were not the major reason teachers enter, or leave the profession. Rather, the difficult working conditions, long hours, unnecessary paperwork, responding to constant changes in policy direction, increased testing regimes, which were cited as key reasons for people leaving the profession in their droves, often for much lower skilled, lower paid jobs, which were less stressful.

For the last two decades, several different kinds of payments have been offered at the point of training to become a teacher and in the early career phase-for example, training bursaries, “golden handshakes/cuffs”-which have clearly not been successful as we can see from the position we’re now in. Teachers’ recent pay rise was also welcomed, but those monies were not “new” -rather from existing funds previously earmarked for other, important education and school improvement initiatives. Taking a broader policy view, an uncomfortable truth for successive governments in recent times has been the failure of its School Direct scheme to address the teacher recruitment and retention issue. The scheme, which aimed to enable schools to take more of the lead in training teachers, away from universities, to “grow their own” and to increase the quality of teachers entering the profession, has had limited positive impact. The School Direct Salaried route (where students are paid a salary and employed by a school whilst training) has enabled some individuals to become teachers who would not otherwise have been able to. However, overall School Direct has created fragmentation in the system of recruiting students to become teachers, applicants are confused about the many training routes and the benefits or otherwise to choosing one over the other and places for School Direct recruit less well than university-based routes, across the country.

These proposals are welcomed; there does seem to be a concerted effort to tackle the issues from more than one perspective (improving working conditions as well as pay) and joining up proposals (Ofsted’s planned changes as well as these ideas) questions remain over whether they can be implemented to scale, in time to make a real difference to teacher supply and retention and to the daily working conditions of hardworking teachers.

The time to give early career teachers more opportunities to develop their skills through CPD is one I fully support. At the University of Northampton we have a number of tailored courses to help teachers to stay up to date with current policy and curriculum developments. Just one example is the brand new Postgraduate Certificate Secondary Mathematics Specialist Teacher programme. This is specifically aimed at giving high quality professional development for teachers of secondary mathematics, who are not necessarily mathematics specialists. The focus of the programme is to develop teachers’ subject and pedagogical knowledge, particularly within mathematical thinking and reasoning. Overall, developing their knowledge, skills and confidence, clearly the best thing for that teacher, and the pupils they teach.

Click here for more information about the University of Northampton’s education courses