June 2018


  • Back to the future
    Geoff Barton says it's important we look to the future of education but in doing so, we mustn't ignore the significant challenges we face at present. More
  • Smarter learning
    Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to transform learning by drawing on a range of data to pinpoint each child's specific learning needs as they work. Education needs to embrace it, says CEO of a school improvement platform Priya Lakhani OBE. More
  • A step in the right direction
    ASCL has campaigned for fair education funding for over 30 years. Here, former President Peter Downes highlights key moments from our quest and says, although the proposed new formula isn't perfect, ASCL and its members can be proud that the principle for which it has campaigned has been accepted. More
  • Keep your head
    One ASCL member shares his experience of going through the redundancy process and says he can't speak highly enough of the help he was given by ASCL when he needed it most. More
  • Is the grass greener?
    Why are so many teachers leaving the profession? Jack Worth, Senior Economist at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), looks at the latest research. More
  • Changing the narrative
    ASCL PD Associate, Carly Waterman, explains how collaboration could help change the narrative of the recruitment and retention problem in schools and colleges. More
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ASCL PD Associate, Carly Waterman, explains how collaboration could help change the narrative of the recruitment and retention problem in schools and colleges.

Changing the narrative

Words are powerful; they shape and create a narrative. The word ‘crisis’ has become synonymous with recruitment and retention. In its sensationalism it suggests an imminent danger that demands a quick-fix. However, instead of fire-fighting, education leaders have the opportunity to talk about a long-term vision for recruitment and retention that is characterised by collaboration, not crisis. They can build principled strategic partnerships that work across the artificial boundaries of MATs, local authorities (LAs) and phases of education, to address systemic challenges.

An approach of this kind is being taken by South Yorkshire where higher education institutions, initial teacher education (ITE) providers, MATs, Teaching School Alliances (TSAs) and the local authorities for Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield are working together to attract, recruit and, most crucially, develop high-quality teachers. The long-term solution includes a strategic plan for ITE recruitment, prioritising professional development for all teachers and creative use of the workforce to ensure a pipeline of strong leaders.

Professor Samantha Twiselton, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education, explained at the Headteachers’ Roundtable Summit in February, that the model in South Yorkshire “presents a possibility for change; where collaboration is valued above competition from leaders whose gaze is fixed beyond the invisible borders of their own institution, school or group of schools”.

Shifting perspectives

A further opportunity exists for leaders who stop seeing the boundaries of their own schools or MATs as barriers. In terms of recruitment and employment, this requires a brave, ethical and non-competitive approach. It is a shift in perspective.

But what does this mean in practice? It means looking at the employment of teachers through a different lens. Perhaps working full-time or even part-time in one school, on a fixed-term or permanent contract, is unattractive to the teachers of the future. We should think instead about mobilising a workforce that demands flexible working, job shares, short-term projects, multiple locations, sabbaticals, career breaks and remote working. The more creative you can be, the more likely you are to attract excellence.

It is to the profession’s credit that strides have already been made in this direction. The DfE has pledged to support flexible working (https://tinyurl.com/y7uymggb) and ASCL, in collaboration with other organisations, continues to press the government to move this agenda forward.

Flexible working on its own is not the panacea of course, and no-one championing it claims that it is. But it is a start. Recent TES figures suggest that vacancies that mention flexible working get 17% more interest. Leaders who see the potential in championing flexible working across MATs, cities and regions may find that they are the first to see the benefit of this creative approach to employment.

Collaborative storytelling

Such approach to collaboration can also be harnessed to tell the story of a town, city or region. This is happening successfully in Leicester where primaries, secondaries and special schools are working together to attract, recruit and retain high-quality teachers to the city, not just to individual schools. Jane Ridgewell, Headteacher of Highfields Primary School, feels it is worth investing time and resources, and says, “The pay-off is that everyone is involved in developing the best teachers for Leicester’s children.”

In collaboration with the Leicester Educational Strategic Partnership, Leicester’s schools are working on building a vibrant community of teachers who use city and online spaces to socialise, support one another, share ideas and run events like teach-meets and lead-meets. Anne Birch, Chair of the partnership explains that Leicester’s schools and other members of the partnership are ploughing time and energy into promoting the city using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the hashtag #teachleicester.

Anne says, “This is a good example of how partnership working and mutual support is helping to improve the profile and online presence of Leicester as a great place to live, work and learn. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to know if this kind of approach will have impact, but Leicester leaders are not looking for a measurable quick-fix. Instead, we are taking a long-term view that celebrating Leicester and supporting its teachers will build a better, more sustainable workforce.”

Tales of woe

All this talk of system-led solutions to a recruitment problem, can of course hide the real issue – workload. Having a heavy workload is the dominant narrative of the teaching profession; it puts pushes great teachers out. A DfE survey of teacher workload from February 2017 included the finding that teachers in England reported working an average of 54.4 hours a week (https://tinyurl.com/yccvtuju). Even without depressing statistics like that, we all know the tale told about teachers – how they spend all weekend marking, how they have no social life, how they are married to their job. Every week brings a new tale of burnt-out, stressed teachers, forced to leave the profession they love because the burden of workload and accountability has become too much to bear.

A new narrative

In an effort to rewrite the narrative, ASCL’s General Secretary Geoff Barton, in a TES article in January (https://tinyurl.com/yaf7owsf), asked school leaders to be bolder, less compliant and less timid – and to stop jumping through accountability hoops. He said that leaders should think “more about the big picture, by rejecting the myth that piling more accountability on teachers – more marking, more data – somehow leads to better teaching or translates into deeper learning”. CEO of a MAT and Chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable, Stephen Tierney echoed this when he asked leaders to ‘go upstream’ to find solutions. He wrote in February that school leaders need to ‘‘stop doing daft things’’ like insisting on data collections every six weeks and unreasonable marking policies.

The collective voices of such influential educational leaders give us reasons to be hopeful that the story we tell about teaching is changing. Stephen Tierney reminds us that “we don’t need permission” and calls on leaders to use their collective wisdom to make a difference.

Creative storytelling

Creative and courageous leadership has the potential to make that difference. For example, what about ‘selling’ a career in education, as opposed to a career in teaching? A career that spans schools, universities, teaching schools, charities, unions, local authorities and other education organisations? A career that evolves, never stagnates and presents fresh challenges – that is rooted in education, but not restricted to school? What if this became the norm, or the reason to become an educator in the first place? The potential for creative thinking across the whole sector is vast, but it will take strong leaders working in collaboration to unlock it.

As leaders, you have the potential to be the authors of a new story about education – one that rejects a quick-fix approach to problems like recruitment and retention, and instead champions ethical and creative collaboration. Who wouldn’t want to play a part in a story like that?

Your CPD

ASCL’s first round of NPQEL is now underway. For information about how you can join the second cohort, visit www.ascl.org.uk/npqel

Every week brings a new tale of burnt-out, stressed teachers, forced to leave the profession they love because the burden of workload and accountability has become too much to bear.

Carly Waterman
ASCL PD Associate providing expertise in Assessment, Curriculum, Performance Management and Mental Health.