recruitment and retention in education
9 min read/Published On: July 3, 2024/1840 words/

Addressing the Recruitment and Retention Crisis in Education: A Call for Systemic Change

Over the past few years, the education sector has been facing significant recruitment and retention challenges. In fact, recent reports show a significant rise in the number of teachers leaving education, with an estimated increase of 44% in 2022/23 compared to the previous year.

Exacerbated by increased workload pressures post-pandemic, teachers’ working hours have significantly increased, and despite the government supposedly prioritising workload reduction, the rising hours suggest a challenging road ahead.

The increased workload and extended hours, alongside other factors, have had a huge impact on teachers’ mental health and wellbeing. The pressures of the job have intensified, leading to higher levels of stress, burnout, and even mental health issues among educators. It is crucial to address these challenges not only to support teachers and improve recruitment and retention but also because of the impact their wellbeing has on their ability to effectively teach and support their students.

Why is the education sector facing recruitment and retention challenges?

There are several key recruitment and retention challenges facing the education sector.

High Levels of Stress and Burnout:

The pressures associated with teaching, especially in the context of behaviour management and pastoral care, are leading to high-stress levels and burnout. Fewer than 40% of school staff feel confident in their roles, a dramatic decrease from 79% in 2020. The relentless demands of the job are taking a toll on educators’ mental health, driving many to leave the profession prematurely. In fact, 91% of teachers felt their mental health had been negatively affected by their jobs in the past 12 months, highlighting the urgent need for changes to address these challenges.

Classroom Behaviour:

Disruptive classroom behaviour is a significant factor contributing to teacher stress and burnout. A recent survey shows that a shocking 62% of teachers said that they are currently, or have previously, considered leaving the profession because of poor pupil behaviour.

Long Working Hours:

Teachers in England also consistently work longer hours than people in other professions. In fact, recent reports show that teachers’ workload and working hours are the main reasons for the increasing number of those considering leaving the profession. With rising demands and insufficient compensation, the education sector is struggling to maintain a reliable workforce.

Salary:

Salary is another factor affecting recruitment and retention. Teachers’ pay has grown more slowly than pay in the rest of the labour market since 2010/11, making the profession less competitive. In 2023/24, teachers’ pay was 12 percent lower in real terms than in 2010/11. This was 15 percentage points lower than average UK earnings growth over the same period, a wider gap than in 2018/19, just before the pandemic. The lack of competitive pay makes it challenging to attract and retain talented educators.

Inadequate Training and Professional Development:

Teachers have also reported inadequate training and ongoing professional development, exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and stress. Without robust support systems to help teachers cope with the demands of their roles, they struggle to manage their responsibilities effectively, further contributing to the retention crisis.

The Effect on Teacher Wellbeing and Mental Health

recruitment and retention in education

With teachers facing so many challenges within their roles, it’s no surprise that many of them are reporting mental health challenges. A third of teachers are experiencing burnout, with more than half having difficulty sleeping and almost four in five saying they are stressed.

These high-stress levels and burnout are directly linked to recruitment and retention issues. Excessive workloads, combined with the pressures of behaviour management and pastoral care, are leading to significant mental health challenges.

However, not only are the teachers negatively affected by the sector’s issues, but they are also impacting students. Teacher wellbeing is crucial for maintaining high teaching standards. Stressed, overwhelmed teachers are less able to engage effectively with students, impacting the quality of education. In a study conducted by Leeds Beckett University, most teachers admitted that their mental wellbeing affects their performance as an educator, especially their classroom teaching ability.

Creating an environment where teachers feel supported and valued is essential for the success of our education system. This need for change is to protect teachers and their mental health and prevent adverse effects on students.

Impact on Vulnerable Children

The implications of teacher wellbeing and retention are particularly significant for vulnerable children. The constant changes in teaching staff result in a lack of continuity in education, which is particularly detrimental to vulnerable children who require stable and consistent support to thrive academically.

The relationship between pupils and teachers is central to school life and pupil outcomes in terms of attainment, classroom behaviour, teachers’ sense of fulfilment and commitment, and pupils’ emotional health. Pupils learn through social interaction, not just knowledge transfer. Social interaction in the classroom of a stressed, overwhelmed, unsupported teacher is distinctly different from that of a supported teacher with a strong sense of professional autonomy and self-efficacy.

In the long term, disruptions can have severe consequences for vulnerable children, including lower educational attainment, increased behavioural issues, and a higher risk of mental health problems. These outcomes not only affect individuals but also have broader societal implications. We risk continuing cycles of disadvantage and underachievement among the most vulnerable by failing to provide a stable educational environment.

Research by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) has shown that the influence of individual teachers on pupils’ mental health is as significant as their influence on academic test scores. This highlights the impact a teacher’s mental health has on their effectiveness in the classroom and in turn, the wellbeing of students.

recruitment and retention in education

Trauma-Informed Training as a Key Solution

Disruptive behaviour in the classroom is both challenging for teachers and detrimental to students. Given its significant impact on teachers’ wellbeing, it is crucial to address the underlying reasons behind it. If teachers can recognise and address the causes of disruption more comprehensively and feel equipped to do so, then that will help improve classroom behavioural management and, therefore, reduce stress and workload.

We often assume that disruptive pupils are simply being naughty. However, it is rarely that simple. This behaviour often stems from underlying issues such as attachment problems and trauma. Recognising this complexity is key to addressing the problem effectively.

One effective strategy to support teachers and manage classroom disruptions is through trauma-informed training. Understanding that disruptive actions often indicate trauma can transform behaviour management. By equipping teachers with the skills to identify and respond appropriately, we can improve classroom dynamics and reduce teacher stress.

AC Education offers trauma-informed training led by specialists. The training covers essential areas attachment and trauma, strategies for reducing exclusions, and emotionally-based school avoidance.  These courses provide a comprehensive approach to addressing the challenges faced by educators today. By understanding and addressing the root causes of disruptive behaviour, teachers can create a more supportive and stable classroom environment, helping vulnerable students to thrive academically and emotionally.

While trauma-informed training is not a solution for every issue related to recruitment and retention, it can significantly alleviate the challenges that drive many teachers to leave due to student behaviour. Reducing the daily stresses associated with managing challenging situations supports teachers’ mental health, contributing to their job satisfaction and retention.

Government and Policy Support

The government has introduced several measures aimed at improving teacher recruitment and retention. On 15 January 2024, the new measures announced set out how they would initially tackle this problem. These include £1.5 million of new investment to deliver a three-year mental health and wellbeing support package for school and college leaders, providing professional supervision and counselling to at least 2,500 leaders.

The government is also committed to publishing new guidance for schools—expected to be completed this year—on how to prevent and tackle bullying and harassment of school staff. These measures have been announced after extensive consultation with school leaders and teachers around the improvements they believe will ensure that teaching remains an attractive and rewarding profession.

Separately, the Workload Reduction Taskforce has agreed on early recommendations to help reduce teacher workload and encourage education staff wellbeing. The task force aims to reduce teachers’ and leaders’ working weeks by five hours within the next three years.

Recommendations

Whilst the government has provided some funding to help staff wellbeing, significant gaps remain. More comprehensive and sustained policy support is needed to address the root causes of the recruitment and retention crisis. This includes better school funding, more robust support systems for teachers, and systemic changes to reduce workload and improve working conditions.

Research has shown that excessive workload and lack of work-life balance are critical drivers of poor mental health among teachers. Addressing teacher workload would lead to better retention in the sector, creating a more stable learning environment for students.

While it is encouraging that the Workload Reduction Taskforce has made early recommendations to help reduce teacher workload and promote staff wellbeing, more needs to be done from a government perspective such as:

  • Mandating a cap on the number of hours teachers can work each week.
  • Providing additional funding for schools to enable senior leaders to properly resource schools with staff such as administrative staff and teaching assistants to reduce the burden on teachers.
  • Providing increased school funding to enable senior leaders to properly resource schools with staff and
  • Investing in technology and training that streamline administrative tasks and improve efficiency.
  • Boosting funds for teacher CPD to support them to feel better equipped to deal with the increasing levels of complex student need and disruptive behaviour.

One of the most important recommendations for supporting teachers’ mental wellbeing and in turn, reducing the recruitment and retention issues within the sector is establishing robust mental health support systems. Senior leaders in schools need to be supporting staff and putting measures in place to reduce burnout and enhance wellbeing. Fostering an environment where teachers feel valued and supported is essential for their wellbeing and retention. A suggestion would be that schools assign a senior leader whose responsibility is to improve wellbeing and reduce workload.

AC Education’s Summer Wellbeing Offer

recruitment and retention in education

While large-scale change requires systemic shifts, at AC Education, we are committed to doing our part to support educators and improve outcomes for vulnerable children.

We have recently announced our exclusive summer offering: a series of bite-sized self-care webinars designed to support those who care for vulnerable children and young people.

Our expert trainer, Elspeth Soutar, a mindfulness coach and independent social worker with over 40 years of experience, will host three enriching 30-minute pre-recorded webinars that can be enjoyed anytime over the summer. These sessions include mindfulness practices, strategies to reconnect with professional purposes, and methods to overcome compassion fatigue. These initiatives are part of our commitment to supporting educators and ensuring they have the tools they need to thrive.

Conclusion

The recruitment and retention crisis in education is a complex issue with significant implications for teachers and children. Addressing this crisis requires comprehensive and sustained efforts at both the policy and school levels.

We can significantly improve teacher wellbeing by implementing effective policy-level solutions and fostering supportive school environments. This, in turn, creates a stable and nurturing educational setting, essential for the development and success of all students, particularly vulnerable children, ensuring a brighter future for the entire education sector.